Selina: the empire of digital nomads


I hadn’t planned anything before leaving for Costa Rica. Nothing. The voice inside me was telling me : « you’ll see when you get there. » The excitement of planning nothing was a big part of the thrill. I was open to all trajectories and intuitions.

The day before my plane, I realized I really needed to book at least one night in San José, the capital. I knew I was not going to stay long there but it was a first necessary stop. On Booking I found a cool-looking hostel cheap and well located. The picture of the Selina showed a wide sunny rooftop, plenty of patios filled with palm trees and yoga classes. The marketing targeted me well, I was in! I booked a bunk bed in a dormitory and told myself once again: « i’ll see when i get there if i want to stay longer or not… »

selina_patiosquare_webInterior patio – Selina, San José (Costa Rica)

(Lire en français)

The place and the people

The taxi drives me to Selina. I walk around to discover the place in more detail. It’s clearly a hub for trendy backpackers traveling from around the world with their smartphones and laptops. The place is cozy and I feel at home right away. The hostel lobby is a big terrace with a bar. Benches seats, hammocks and rattan chairs surround the central patio. There are many different spaces to be alone or together, to cook, work, eat, watch a movie or just chill out.

The breakfast being tasty and the people friendly, i decide almost instantly that i am going to stay here for 4 or 5 days to make plans.

dining-room-selina-SR_web.jpgBar-restaurant-patio – Selina, San José (Costa Rica)

Tourists usually don’t stay long in San José. Everyone goes from there to other locations. People go to Costa Rica to surf, explore the jungles and tan under coconut trees. Even if Selina is located in the city, it provides travelers with a good taste of the Caribbean atmosphere they are looking for. Locals also go to Selina since it is a hotspot to cowork during the day or have a drink in the evening. Next to a crew of backpackers, bloggers organize their photo shoots in the elaborate decor. 

patio-selina-SJ_web.jpgTerrasse – Selina, San José (Costa Rica)

I discuss with a few travelers and discover a whole new lifestyle i had never thought about before… Most of those people are not only travelling, it is their normal life. They are digital nomads. On a usual day, they work a few hours in front of their computers, and are on holiday the rest of the time. 

chaise-rotin_selina-SJ_web.jpgCozy chair – Selina, San José (Costa Rica)

Notes, from a design viewpoint : 

  • The wifi works really well and is fast (it’s almost more important than hot water in the showers nowadays)
  • The common spaces are decorated and colorful with murals and hand made drawings. There are positive mantras and activity lists. Some are organized outside (canoe trip, Arenal volcano hike..) and some are here (meet-up, yoga class, meditation workshops..)
  • Outlets everywhere: super easy to charge phone, batteries, computer and camera.
  • Open patios and transparent ceilings create a sun-filled environment to grow plants and flowers.
  • Construction structure is simple and efficient. It’s an architecture of beams and steel metal. The furniture is a happy mix of chinage and upcycled pieces.
  • In addition to the bar, there is a collective kitchen with shared fridges, for those who travel on budget and those who have weird diet restrictions.
  • The dormitories are minimal and clean. With the best thing a digital nomad can find there: a USB outlet to directly plug your phone next to your bed


Travel as a way of life 

In only one generation, traveling has become way more accessible and cheaper. Low cost planes, online reservations, social media and GPS have simplified a lot our lives as explorers.The business of hospitality don’t want to miss the Millennials target population which already represents 50% of their customers. A generation born between the early 1980’s and the late 1990’s who grew up as « digital natives » seamlessly connected to communication technologies.

« Selina was born out of a desire to celebrate the nomadic lifestyle. We’re here to innovate, disrupt, and remake the travel industry » – Selina

living-room-selina-SR_web.jpgCollective kitchen – Selina, San José (Costa Rica)

« Bleisure » is the blending of business with leisure, also called « workcation » (work + vacation). According to studies conducted by the hotel industry, half of the business trips now fall into this category. 50% of the people who travel for work now extend their stay inviting their partner, friends or family to join them.This growing trend of boutique hotels is followed in Europe by Netherland group CitizenM, and in the US by the Moxys developed by Marriot. 

black-board_selina-SJ_web.jpgPool and activity board – Selina, San José (Costa Rica)

« Millennials traveling for business are looking for fun, social events that connect them to the city where they were staying. » (Washington Post). Another Netherland hotel brand called Zoku offers a hotel and co-living experience. The bedrooms are modular lofts aimed at short or longer stays. It’s a small studio located near lively common spaces. You can either be independent and stay in your room or share spaces with people who want to have social interactions. Their manifesto is:  « A place you can call a second home, even on your first visit. So much more than a long stay hotel. It’s a neighborhood. »


Community lifestyles, a growing business

Selina is already well spread out across South and Central America (not less than 10 only in Costa Rica!) The brand has hostels in Europe (Portugal, Greece, Germany, Austria, Great Britain) and is expanding to the US (a potential huge market). The first American Selina will open in Miami in 2020. With a growing know-how, the company is constantly looking for real estate and buildings to convert into those new generation hospitality places. 

Selina’s success is based on low prices and public offering. In each location you can choose between a classic bunk bed in a dormitory of 16 (which generally costs around 10-15$) and a comfortable family suite. They have all the gradients: small or big dormitories, different private rooms and more exotic lodging like yurts and glamping. They can accommodate everybody from solo traveler to business traveler and group of friends.

« Whether you’re a digital nomad, family on vacation, adventurous backpacker, or surfer looking for paradise, you’ve come to the right place.Meet your tribe when you stay with Selina.(Selina).

selina_granada_web.jpgExterior commun space – Selina, Granada (Nicaragua)

Intimacy and ease are for those who can afford it, but common spaces are for all. The design of the whole hotel imitates coworking spaces (like those of WeWork) which adapted the office premises to nomad workers. Private spaces are linked through attractive common areas, while the community spirit is fueled by events and activities on site.

Just as people who work as freelancers seek a community to work alone but together, solo travelers want their hotels to become sociability platforms.

The experience they offer is « all in one », they call it « an ecosystem of services and experiences  » Their hostels are muti-functions and multi-targets. People come for different reasons: eat, relax, meet other people ; and they stay for the same reasons, hashtag #SelinaLife.


Instagram-worthy ?

Selina appeals to the Airbnb generation, those who want to feel « at home » everywhere in the world. The design of their hostels is the opposite of the standardized facilities in hotels or motels. This quest for authenticity paradoxically tends to uniform the experience of the place. The decor replicates Instagram and Pinterest trends: raw materials, unfinished look walls, mismatched vintage furniture, fairy lights, colorful murals, plants and hand-written signs.

This « instagram-worthy » common taste spreads through likes and selfies. 

selina-granada_web.jpgBar terrace opened to the city – Selina, Granada (Nicaragua)

97 percent of Millennials post their travel experiences on social media through pictures, which then influences the travel choices of others while researching a prospective vacation. Those hotels follow the mainstream aesthetics to appeal to their targeted clients as well as their followers communities. They would be dumb not to use free marketing when they know that 3 in 4 travelers will post more than once everyday on social networks.

Selina has already taken advantage of this by offering a video and photo residency program to nomad visual artists: Selina Film Residency Program. Those who are recruited can stay and eat for free in several Selina hostels around the world, as long as they provide the brand with free visual content. Creative nomads are actually a sub-niche in the digital nomad population.


Virtuous cycle ?

Millennials are not only glued to their phones, they also care about the environment in a deeper way than the generation traveling before them. This breakthrough pushes more hotels to go greener, like the Radisson RED where you won’t find any paper in the rooms except for toilet paper. Oh well… one little step at a time.

Choosing a hotel is a way to choose a tribe, but it is also a way to support projects that benefit the planet, as well as the local communities and economy. Millennials are spending less money than the previous generation (a lot of them have huge student loans debts) but they want to spend it wisely. They believe they can win their power back by consuming in a responsible way.

selina-entrance-night_web.jpgEntrance at night – Selina, San José (Costa Rica)

To truly meet the expectations of our generation, hotels should at least drastically reduce their water and energy consumption, and aim for self-sufficiency through the use of renewable energies. They could also partner with neighbor farmers to provide their stores and restaurants with produces, or involve local students and artists in hosting conferences or workshops.

When they are part of a larger group, some hotels donate part of their profits to social or educational projects. The EMC2 hotel in Chicago (by Marriott) has built its entire identity upon the dialogue between art and science. The hotel gives support a project that encourages underprivileged youth in Chicago to study sciences (project Syncere) through an annual $ 90,000 donation. 

The good news? There is still a lot of room for improvement and a lot of ideas to find in order to reinvent the hospitality business. May it become less of a business and more of a synergetic effort for developing sustainable relationships between the new nomads, the places they explore and the communities who live there.


Source articles

-« Six ways hotels are targeting the millennial market (and benefiting us all) » – Article Washington Post 

-« Four Critical Strategies For Hoteliers To Win Millennial Business » – Article Forbes

-« How Millennials Are Influencing Change In The Hospitality Industry » – Article StayntouchArticle Stayntouch

-Hotel industry survey by Chase & Marriott

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