Fahad Siddiqui, president of co-living brand Casa Campus, talks with Hotel News Now about a new segment of traveler and why many of them are choosing co-living over hotels, when given the option.
QUITO, Ecuador—Fahad Siddiqui sees co-living as a new era in housing for a new segment of travelers and says hoteliers are paying attention because there’s a lot they can learn from the concept.
Siddiqui, president of Buenos Aires-based co-living brand Casa Campus, describes his product as accommodations for students and young professionals who are looking to live like a local in a city, and interact with a community, for a period of at least two weeks and as long as two years.
The idea is an evolution, in some ways, of student housing, so it’s appropriate that Siddiqui, now 31, founded his first co-living brand while a university student in London. In November 2016, he started Casa Campus, which he touts as an innovator in co-living in Latin America.
“It’s an evolving concept and product. There’s people who do it in different ways,” he said during an interview with Hotel News Now at SAHIC. The concept seems more novel in Latin America than it did in London because there is no basis of student housing to build from in this region, he said.
For more on co-living and how it connects to hospitality, watch the video interview below:
Guest crossover, but different needs
What sets a co-living campus apart from a hotel, he said, is “people who tend to stay with us a bit longer, our average stay is about four months,” and thus, “the types of services and amenities they require is quite different to what a hotel needs.”
“In hotels, you tend not to talk to the person in the elevator. There’s no real reason to. They’re not going to add much to your experience staying for one or two nights. If you’re staying for a month, it may be worth getting to know the person you’re sharing an elevator with,” he said.
Where there is some overlap with hotels is in the guest demographic, particularly the young professionals, sometimes referred to as “digital nomads,” who are enabled in the digital age to work from anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection, and use this flexibility to roam the globe.
It’s “not so much the students; students don’t stay in nice hotels, in most cases,” he said.
“With the professionals, the digital nomads, who freelance and move around, do different things, you have the option of staying in a co-living building or a hotel. Some co-living buildings have a restriction of minimum stays; some don’t. The ones that don’t have more of an overlap with the hotel industry.
“There are entrepreneurs and digital nomads who are more solitary who don’t necessarily want to be involved in community, so they can be in a hotel and they’ll be happy, no problem. But those who have to stay in a city for longer periods of time, over a week, would prefer accommodation that has the spirit of community, access to other people, and has some independence.”
Part of the appeal with co-living for guests is in fending more for themselves, Siddiqui said.
“Hotels are great, but they’re fully serviced, and if you’re a freelancer or digital nomad today, you’re exploring the world, and you don’t get to explore as much when everything is taken care of for you. In a co-living space, that option is there,” he said.
Staff is still on the premises, but they don’t operate in quite the same way as with a hotel, he added.
“There is something to be said for the staff inside the building, whether it’s a hotel or co-living, for them to be on hand. They don’t have to hold their hand throughout the process, but they can at least be there as a reference point to give comfort to someone who’s not from the city,” he said.
“There’s a balancing act that needs to be done there. What helps in the co-living space is that person usually comes and gets involved with the events and activities that also happen in the building. So it’s less of a corporate-client relationship; it’s more of a social relationship. Which I think helps create social engagement and make them feel more local and comfortable.”
Therein lies some lessons for hoteliers.
“The hotel industry has been interested in this segment of people who want to feel like locals, thanks to Airbnb. However there hasn’t really been a product like co-living that’s been presented to them that could function and capture this market,” he said.
“From my experience, hoteliers are very interested in learning about it because it’s something new. It’s a whole new demographic of people living in a different way with different expectations. They want to understand how to capture that.”
Casa Campus currently has nine properties in Buenos Aires, with plans to expand that number to 40 across the region in the next four years, Siddiqui said.
“We’re confident we can open a Casa Campus building in any major city in the region or any country in the world and be full within a month or two months. We have that experience, that can be done, we know the demand is there,” he said, noting that any development outside of South America is likely three or four years away.
“Simultaneously even now, we’re evaluating proposals that come to us that we haven’t gone out to search for, in Miami, Spain, Portugal, and other kinds of countries that make sense for Casa Campus as a brand to go to,” he said.
“But for now, the market in South America is so big. Just in Brazil alone, the amount of buildings we could create is huge. From my initial conversations there, the demand is there, the interest in there, it’s just a case of making it happen.”