Hospitality newcomer on hunt in regional cities

Selina, a startup offering locations to stay and co-work for “digital nomads” has declared that both Liverpool and Manchester are in its sights as it looks to make an impact in Europe for the first time.

The business opened its first facility in Venao, Panama in 2014 and now has 25 operational locations around South and Central America, and Miami lined up as the first US base.

Billed as design-led accommodation with co-working and wellness facilities, the company’s rise has been funded by venture capital. In its most recent fundraising, it said, £70m has been raised from backers including Dubai-based private equity house Abraaj Group and Adam Meumann, founder of WeWork.

Selina is now seeking to establish its brand in Europe, with the UK being in its “first wave”. Along with Liverpool and Manchester, the UK cities it has named as targets are Brighhton, London and Edinburgh.

Shane O’Farrell, managing director for UK and Ireland, told Place North West: “We want to establish a UK presence as soon as possible. There are a number of deals in the pipeline, however which opens first will be dependent on a multitude of external factors – planning, construction, legals and so on.

“We’ll look at both existing and new build so long as the building is in an interesting location in the city – places where the locals go.

“Ideally we’d be looking at an existing hotel or structure for ease of planning, but we’ve converted former schools, monasteries and even a chocolate factory. We’ve brought to life many formerly iconic buildings across the world and are always looking for locations with interesting and unique elements.”

The facilities opened thus far by Selina vary in size, between 40 beds to 200. O’Farrell said that the business looks to hire an in-house team to build the business in each market, which will be supported by a network of local agents.

He said: “We are always delighted to hear from any agent who can facilitate a suitable property deal. In this case, we are of course happy to pay an introductory fee.”

“Our perfect location has something interesting going on to make it relevant, is up and coming, is accessible and is somewhere where the locals want to hang out or live. We want to get involved with local artists and communities and to make ourselves a destination for both travellers and locals to visit and share experiences.”

Interviews with founder Yoav Gery have puzzled as to how the business model is best described, with the most effective explanation seemingly along the lines that it is a disruptor to both hotel brands and AirBnB, in offering a hint of the backpacking travel spirit young professionals hark back to, combined with the level of security, comfort and service provided by a recognisable brand.

Although the brand is at pains to avoid being labelled a hostel operator, there is the flexibility of price point that travellers can expect to find at better hostels, with bunk rooms included at facilities, along with private rooms.

As to the North West sites, O’Farrell said there is no template for development: “We design our properties to reflect the character and energy of each location. A location in Belize will be radically different to one in London and we aim the room mix, F&B offering and experience to be relevant to the local market. We have built music recording studios, language schools, surf schools and even a small farm into some of our locations.”

He concluded: “We are adequately funded for our next phase of growth and have the ability to rapidly close on both leasehold and freehold properties. One of the unique aspects of our structure which sets us apart from other hospitality businesses is just how quickly we can make a decision and open a new property.”

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