How Selina is thriving to avoid devastating effects of the pandemic: an interview

Updated: Jan 12

Manuel Rito is Global Marketing Project Manager at Selina, a thriving hotel group which is being successful even amidst this pandemic.

NHC: Hello and welcome Manuel. Thank you very much for being NHC´s first interview guest. Your participation in representation of such a promising organization will for sure help the club in taking the first decisive steps towards offering meaningful content about this exciting industry.

Sure, it´s a pleasure to collaborate with you, thanks for having me.

NHC: I would like to know what your work at Selina is like. As a Global Marketing Project Manager, what kind of tasks and topics lie within your responsibility and what are perks and disadvantages of it?

Within the scope of Selina´s Global Marketing Team, which takes care of coordinating all the marketing projects and communication within the different markets, I am responsible for guaranteeing the optimized organization of projects within every Selina location to capture the most out of our direct revenues. From my position, I am able to see the markets act similarly or differently and can perceive the company as a whole, which is highly fascinating. For example, I can see similarities between ARG and BRA and use these to create synergies regarding communication. A downside would be perhaps the fact that we act too global and do not really have access to “local” customer insights. I would like for us to improve communication and marketing within the markets in order to drive the best possible revenue out of it. We are on our way there, we have market teams that tell us about the strongest locations and their USP´s, and we try to design the offering accordingly.

NHC: Furthermore, we would like to engage in a discussion about Selina as a growing company and as a brand within these difficult times. Why do you believe does Selina have the ability to survive this pandemic? On a general note, how do you think other players from the industry will act or are acting to avoid failure?

Even though we already operate in 70 locations, I believe we can still call ourselves a start-up, which implies that we have the ability to adapt our business model quite quick, other than many hospitality companies, which operate in a more traditional way and who usually take longer to undergo important changes. At Selina, we look forward to bringing locals and travelers together. As the crisis arrived, we thought that it made sense to offer Selina as a place to stay, as tourists would not be staying at our hotels for a while. After this helped us survive the first wave of the pandemic, we decided to fit our pricing for people that were more flexible concerning their workplace and therefore looked for longer stays.

We understood that the target segment of digital nomads is growing steadily, hence we made the decision to position ourselves to meet their needs. Therefore, we introduced the concept of a subscription model, which has been working outstandingly in many other industries and has also started to be quite successful for us. For the moment, we would like for 30-35% of the hotels to be occupied by this kind of traveler who, for a monthly fee, can stay for a full month in one single or many different locations, thus roaming around the world while having a place to work from. Even though this approach is quite harmful in terms of revenue management, we plan to maintain it, though on a smaller scale, in a post-covid scenario, as we believe that it is very important to address this growing segment of travelers that have a special attachment to the brand.

"We understood that the target segment of digital nomads is growing steadily, hence we made the decision to position ourselves to meet their needs."

NHC: What are Selina´s plans for international expansion, given that the implementation of a Covid vaccine is taking place, which is expected to have a positive effect on travel restrictions?

As of now, we do not really aim to expand to any specific locations in particular only depending on Covid´s evolution in their regions. Just like we proceeded to open up our new location last week in Copacabana (Brazil), we just target properties with high potential and local partners that are willing to engage with us. Strategically, however, we are growing in the US and are already quite strong in LATAM. With regards to the European market, we look forward to establishing a stronger presence in a post-covid scenario from 2021 on, specially in Spain and Germany. On another note, we have plans for expansion in Asia (China, Indonesia and Singapore, to name a few), which is motivated by our founder´s initial ideas. Once this goal is reached, it will add a huge value to connecting digital nomads on a global scale.

NHC: Excluding the digital nomads, which other target groups would you like to actively address?

Our desired target group is the one of digital nomads, but, in reality, classical backpackers, experience seekers (people that want privacy and thus a private room, but still go to the bar or other common spaces for the juvenile experience), and young families, are many more than that desired target group. Also, we like to engage on our relationship within the group of creative storytellers, which include, e.g., photographers. It makes us proud to offer a program such as the Selina Film Residency, which helps out creative people put their skills and creativity in practice.

NHC: Where do you see Selina in a couple of years, given the current growth, sustainable business model and ambitions? Do you think it could have the possibility to become a global player?

We have all the ingredients to succeed, as we offer workplaces and stayplaces. We are however missing some structure, which I see as a challenge for the next years. When we manage to overcome this issue, I am confident we will become the global leader in the “bleisure” (business+leisure segment) if we go well on it and really communicate our positioning clearly. We will for sure not compete with luxury hotels, as they are offering a very different service, but we want to be top-of-mind for customers when it comes to cool places to stay.

"We have all the ingredients to succeed."

NHC: How did your promotion for Black Friday turn out?

It was very successful, because competition did not seize the opportunity. It was the time to bring some cash in, but most hospitality players missed out on the chance. We gave the possibility to book till the end of next year with 24h-cancellation policy, so for us it was about empowering to feel safe about their booking, so not only about the discount. Therefore, we made more than $2.5m in three weeks out of this. Gift cards with flexibility were also really successful. Selina had the advantage at being agile.

NHC: Having worked in other industries, what does your experience in hospitality tell you about the perks and disadvantages of working in this sector, especially within a strategic position?

Either you love hospitality or you hate it. I love it and want to grow here. I am passionate about marketing and communication and I have a lot of freedoms to work on both here and to engage in partnerships without going through big burdens. However, I find this business quite stressful to work on, yet very exciting. You are selling experiences, if you like it and enjoy seeing results and working with people, this is for you. I do have to say, though, that you will get really picky when visiting other hospitality companies´ venues, as you get very much used to a kind of service. I very often work from the hotel, so that I can take a look at customers and talk to them, as they often have really meaningful stories to share and can help by sharing their insights.

For example, clients sharing their insecurity about present times inspired us to create a landing page for Covid in which everyone can see what the conditions for visiting another country are for them as a resident of a certain region in terms of quarantine or tests. Regarding working conditions, Selina offers very competitive conditions for corporate and global functions if benchmarked against companies from other industries around the world. Also, what is cool is that Selina allows you to work from anywhere you like around the world.

NHC: What can graduates planning to apply at Selina expect and why? Reversely, what does Selina expect from young graduates, and how can they contribute to business success and expansion?

We always expect them to be innovative, disruptive, goal-oriented, and to think outside the box. What is, I believe, increasingly important, is for them to be able to understand the company´s strategy and to be able to work around it and implement it with their ideas. That requires the right soft skills. We also empower creativity and proactivity. For example, if you want to create Selina gift boxes, just do it, it´s not like you need our top management´s permission. On another note, have a good vibe, drink some beers and enjoy your work, that´s all I can say!

"We always expect them (graduates) to be innovative, disruptive, goal-oriented, and to think outside the box."

NHC: With your experience within this market, what would you recommend young people with an interest in entrepreneurship within this exciting market?

If thinking about a post-covid scenario, lots of segments are just not being tackled. Just because there is a hotel, it must not be your competitor. It is important to be data-driven and to find your fit to be successful. With this and the right determination, you are very likely to find your space and thrive within the market.

NHC: What is Selina´s coolest location and why?

In Portugal, I really like Selina in Geres, as it is located out there in nature, which makes it really different and calm. Bocas del Toro in Panama offers a really good vibe and is located right above the water. There, you can have a really nice Caribbean party with mojitos. It was my first connection to the brand and from then on I couldn´t get off, so I would say it is my favorite Selina hotel.

NHC: Thank you very much for joining us today, it was a pleasure to have you.

Thank you, it´s always a great moment to talk about Selina.

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