Interview with Kike Sarasola, founder of Room Mate at the inauguration of Room Mate Alain. The group is coming to Paris with the first of a long series of properties. Two other properties are already in the Paris pipeline as is a rental building for the BE MATE concept and Kike Sarasola pans to have 8 in the capital. These concepts were launched by an outsider of the hospitality industry (happytality he likes to call it), a former a former high-level athlete.
What is Room Mate, who are your investors?
Room Mate's story began in 2005. As a high level athlete, I have spent an enormous amount of time at hotels and each time I saw and experienced things I didn't like. At Room Mate it's possible to do a late check-out by paying 10€ per hour after 2pm. It's possible to enjoy breakfast until noon. We were the first to offer free Wi-Fi at Room Mate Mario the first property we opened in Madrid.
I once found myself travelling to New York forced to take a luxury hotel because there was no room left elsewhere. When I left, I was appalled by the waste. When you are on a trip, you spend very little time in the room in reality, you go out, visit, shop... you don't really use the room. I had noticed that the strong concepts were either economy or luxury. Room Mate is a place - in New York City I'm in Times Square for example - where you can find services and a smile.
Each property is named for a roommate, a friend who welcomes you when you arrive at an unfamiliar destination and can recommend a restaurant, an outing...
Ours is an asset light model: we rent the walls from our investors and manage the properties. We have forty or so investors who support institutionals such as Axa, Aquila Capital, Prelios, Covivio and family offices such as the Zara family which owns 3 buildings. Most of the time we have long term relations, it is very rare for an investor to sell their asset upon the opening of the hotel.
We do a lot of communications, for example hosting Reality TV shows emissions at our properties as we are currently doing with Room Mate Alain. Our community is active, our image is strong, 34% of our reservations are made directly.
Who are your clients?
Our clientele mix is 50% leisure and 50% business. 50% of our clientele is over 40. We host many families. In 2018 our occupancy rate across all properties is 88%. Our guests are mostly from the USA (14.82%), Spain (12.49%), United Kingdom (8.84%) and Germany (6.74%).
What are your development goals and your priority markets?
We are having a great deal of trouble returning to Paris. It took me 8 years to concretize a project, but the doors are open and we already have three new projects in the pipeline and we are giving very special attention to their location. Room Mate and BE MATE products are quite flexible and may be adapted to different types of buildings..
Currently, I have 26 properties open and 17 planned to open in the course of the next 24 months. We are opening two properties in Sicily very soon, then in Portugal. The strongest growth is happening in Mexico, Spain and Italy. As for France, I am trying to open properties in Bordeaux, on the Côte Basque, on the Côte d'Azur, and in Marseille.
I could reach 100 properties, no problem. The hard part will be keeping the feel of Room Mate. For now I am devoting 60% of my time to my "roomies". I continue to focus on Europe and America, particularly South America. To go to Asia and Africa it is necessary to have the right contacts, good opportunities.
How do you perceive the evolution of the hotel market?
I think things are going in the right direction. Some have understood to what extent the sector is changing. In Spain I was the first to adopt the Airbnb product with BE MATE in which I included hotel services. Customers are increasingly clients versatile, they want to live an experience. One day they may want highly standardized properties take "capsules" at Citizen M and the next day they will want properties like Room Mate or rent an apartment. I think it’s unfortunate that brands like Mama Shelter and Citizen M have been bought by major groups. In the end, I am the only one who is still independent while having an international presence.