The nature of travel, especially work travel, is undergoing a seismic change. In the post-COVID future, we may travel less frequently but stay for longer; companies may hire more remotely and workers may travel to their headquarters for extended periods. But we’ve been seeing evidence of a greater generational shift around our travel expectations since long before COVID hit. Today’s young professionals are not gravitating toward five-star luxury hotels with chocolates on the pillows. They’re looking for experiences in the neighborhoods with the best food, art, and culture.
When booking accommodations, however, we are often faced with a binary choice: A hotel or a home rental. The former is typically expensive and cookie-cutter, but reliable, whereas the latter is often cheaper and has more character, but is a roll of the dice along every other vector (cleanliness, amenities etc.).
This bifurcation of choices is even more pronounced when traveling internationally. You might opt for a hotel because you’re less comfortable taking a risk with a check-in process that isn’t 100 percent guaranteed in a neighborhood you’re not familiar with. Or you may go the hotel route because you’ll be guaranteed basic amenities and don’t feel confident in your ability to find a local gym or late night food nearby. Or you might really need reliable internet access.
We have generally accepted this trade-off as fact. But as members of the increasingly nomadic younger generation, the team at Casai is challenging this trade-off by building a new hospitality brand from the ground up.
Casai procures new, high-end buildings in desirable neighborhoods in urban centers, starting in Mexico City. The company designs and furnishes the interiors to complement the local culture and sources most of its materials from local artists. Visitors can expect a consistent Casai experience with reliable tech at every touchpoint, including keyless check-in, a Google Home device, Chromecast-powered TVs, high-speed WiFi, and a 24×7 concierge—all controlled from the Casai app. You can book a Casai directly through Casai.com, as well as through all the usual channels (Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia, etc.).
The team places a heavy emphasis on building sustainable local tourism economies. Several of their apartments feature rotating exhibits of local artwork that guests can purchase with their phones. For developers and landlords, Casai is able to command a premium for its experience and deliver close to 90 percent occupancy rates. The company has nearly 200 units and plans to expand in Mexico City and beyond.
Given that some of the best known hotel brands have been around for a century (Hilton was founded in 1919, Marriott in 1927), when making the investment, we asked: What would it take for a newcomer to disrupt an industry that has been dominated by a handful of long established names?
To start, a founding team with a vision that lives at the intersection of two worlds—in this case, real estate and tech. Then the ability to bring together a multidisciplinary team with the skills to operationalize dozens of knobs and dials across diverse domains: real estate supply acquisition, international supply chain, interior design (including a hardware component), product/engineering for an online marketplaces, and hotel operations (cleaning, maintenance etc.) built for a distributed set of properties. CEO Nico Barawid was inspired to found Casai, in part, by his experience traveling the world as the former head of international expansion at Nova Credit. Casai’s co-founder and COO, María del Carmen Herrerías Salazar, was formerly the FP&A manager at Grupo Presidente, one of Mexico’s largest hotel operators. Together, Nico and María have brought together a team of collaborators from Google, Amazon, WeWork, Selina, McKinsey, and more.
As the world returns to travel, our needs will likely change significantly—so should our accommodation expectations. As in other industries, incumbents can adapt, but only so quickly. The most interesting investment opportunities lie at the intersection of domains: hospitality, technology, real estate, and design. Through its world-class, multidisciplinary team, Casai delivers the distinctive local character and culture we seek in our travels, alongside the reliable, responsive service and creature comforts we crave. “I booked a Casai” will soon come to represent the next generation of hospitality.