Benoît Jobert, co-founder of The Babel Community, stressed at the Hospitality Asset Forum the need to develop coliving residences that meet the needs of young professionals to meet and settle in a new city.
At Babel Community, we develop hybrid buildings that include coliving, coworking, a food court, sports and events. I co-founded this company in 2004 in Marseille based on a rather simple idea which started from the fact that many people wanted to live in shared accommodation but that the offer was relatively poor. The only offer that existed was intermediation between people who offered rooms to people who wanted to live in shared accommodation.
We created an offer that we subsequently developed in about ten cities in France, which consisted of taking on large rental properties, "pimping" them, decorating them and offering them room by room to people who wanted to share a space. These people were looking for flexibility, all-inclusiveness and conviviality.
What struck us from the start was that students were not at all interested in this offer. The people who came to see us about an offer built like this were rather young working people.
Since 2004, we have been trying to analyse the demand of this population, which is no longer a student population, but which is not entirely settled in a city and in its personal life either. This phase of life is getting longer and longer for many reasons. Both because people are more and more mobile and because there are many constraints, particularly economic ones. The feeling of becoming a homeowner is something that they are putting off more and more.
This phase between the ages of 22 and 35 is getting longer and yet people need accommodation, especially at key moments in their lives such as moving to a city for professional reasons. The bulk of our activity is how we accommodate a newcomer to a city. They are looking for different things when they arrive in a city they don't know. They want to find accommodation immediately, so they are looking for an equipped and furnished offer that is available at the moment. They also want it to be simple, with an affordable price and if possible they want to meet people. The Babel Community was built around this same search.
Since 2017, we have opened 4 residences, which are fairly large buildings, ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 m², and in which we always find the same elements. Coliving constitutes 70% of our proposal, i.e. rooms all equipped with sanitary facilities that are shared, as well as independent flats for the most part. All are equipped, furnished with internet connection and there are cleaning options.
The other common base is coworking and we decided to include this offer in our buildings for two reasons. The first is that coworking is extremely complementary to coliving and the second is that we want buildings that are full of life all the time. A building dedicated solely to accommodation is not very dynamic during the day, whereas if you include coworking, you have people working and living all the time. This gives life to the restaurant, which is also open to the neighbourhood. What we are looking for these days are buildings that are full of life and open to the neighbourhood. This is one of the first things that local authorities come to us for.
Today, The Babel Community consists of four residences, two in Marseille, one in Montpelier and another in Grenoble, in buildings that systematically had nothing to do with each other. The first was a housing building, the second was an office building that we completely renovated, the third was a former Galeries Lafayette and the last was a piece of university in Grenoble that we are currently renovating.
We do a lot of refurbishment because we have both a very central concept and a concept that allows us to enter any building. Coworking consists of office trams that we can install anywhere in the building, for example in the former Galeries Lafayette, we did it on the top floor and the restaurant on the rooftop, whereas in general these spaces are found on the ground floor. We therefore adapt to the existing building.
We've been signing a lot of new VEFAs lately. If the first residences were in some ways laboratories, today we have the ideal residence. We are now able to start with new buildings that are relatively coherent.
When we set up in a city, we systematically come and act in the same way. So our sales people are primarily talking to the Human Resources Directors of large local companies because we are essentially housing company employees. In the end, a company's HR department is looking for something more than a job and a salary to attract new employees. HR must therefore explain to them why they should come here and why they should not, with accommodation being a fundamental element.
We started from the idea that there was a gap. Indeed, under one month it seems logical to go to a hotel, between one and three months there are medium-term solutions such as apartment hotels, but we felt that there was a problem beyond three months. Nobody wants to go to an estate agency and pay agency fees just for 4-5 months, it doesn't make sense. In the same way, when you know you're going to be in a city for several months, you might be looking for something a bit bigger than a hotel room, but you still want to meet people.
In our residences, where between 200 and 300 people live and work at any one time, all of whom have relatively the same profile, even though we are open to all, the main motivation is to meet people. Every Friday evening the residents are invited for a drink, once a month they are invited to eat together in the presence of the director who introduces all the newcomers. There are Whatsapp groups in each of our residences so that they can communicate more easily with each other, to ask for a service or to propose an outing.
It's interesting to see that the coworkers and the colivers are not the same people but sometimes have identical searches. And that's what they're looking for, a real friendly community in a city where they don't know anyone. We believe that we are a real brick in what is called the residential pathway up to about 12-14 months. There was indeed a missing brick that we are trying to provide.
We are now developing rather large buildings in partnership with developers and investors, notably the Caisse des Dépôts, which is a co-investor in our buildings. We will soon be opening in Lille and Bordeaux, plus three projects in the Ile-de-France region. This development is necessary from an economic point of view but also to create visibility and a reflex because these are new professions. Clients need to have the reflex to come to coliving, but also HR needs to have the reflex to want to create a French partnership with us.
Today, when we ask a national employer, such as the SNCF, which finds our offer very interesting, it appreciates the project but it does not want to sign a partnership with an actor present in Montpelier, Marseille and Grenoble. On the other hand, if we start to be present in about fifteen cities, they start to be interested. We therefore have a real networking challenge.
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