MAGAZINE: ‘Hometel’ concept attracts real estate talent

When is a hotel actually a living space and vice versa? As the lines between hospitality and residential property get blurred, more brands get launched into the market hoping to capture demand among travellers for home comforts.

One of the latest operators to hit the headlines is room2 which was conceived recently and likes to call itself the world’s first ‘hometel’ brand.

Room2 has been spun out of Lamington Group, a family-run real estate firm which has been operating for 52 years. In 2014, they built the first asset. Planning permission was a problem, say observers, but it is a business with significant potential.

In January, a second high-profile person joined room2 from the real estate world. Aymen Souihli has been appointed as investment manager to source new investment deals and growth opportunities. Souihli has a strong background in property having worked at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield for three years in France and Central Europe before joining Cheyne Capital where he closed more than £1 bn (€1.17 bn) of deals, including the three largest loans ever provided by the company.

He joins just weeks after an even better-known real estate professional began at room2. Mark Harris, a former head of UK real estate at The Carlyle Group, joined in November last year as strategic investment partner.

Room2 has two operational sites - in Southampton on the south coast of England and Hammersmith in West London - but more sites are in the offing. A pipeline of further properties includes sites in Chiswick, west London, Manchester, and Liverpool.

Robert Godwin, managing director and co-founder of the business, explained room2 was working on raising up to £250 mln to invest in the pipeline for the newly created hometel sector it is pioneering.

Hometel approach
A hometel is meant to be a cross between a place that resembles a home and the services of a hotel. As such, the group is attempting to combine the best elements of Airbnb with serviced apartments and boutique hotels for leisure guests seeking ‘alternative forms of residential accommodation’.

Godwin says short-term living propositions can be very confusing from a consumer and operator standpoint. ‘There’s huge variety on offer, and it’s easy to get lost,' he said. 'So, we had to define what we are, which is where we came up with the term, “hometel”. We want to take ownership of it.

'We don’t see ourselves as co-living. We sit between hotel and Airbnb. We lean closer to a hotel, meaning higher service levels - such as live music - and shorter length of stay. Co-living is more for mid-term to longer stay. But we have mid and long stay guests too.’

He adds that ‘leanness’ is one of the strengths of the hometel model. ‘We provide a service-lite model by keeping overheads low. Having cross-trained staff, the flexibility of the workforce is critical in terms of being functional, and technology is a major part. We’ve had a lot of continuous tech. We have heavily automated property management systems. For example, you can unlock the door on your mobile, as part of our focus on removing all pain points of check in and check out.’


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