Sleep­ing Tight

Cap­sule ho­tels find a promis­ing mar­ket in the bustling tourist des­ti­na­tion that is Sin­ga­pore


Ac­cord­ing to Sin­ga­pore Tourism Board (STB), there were 420 li­censed ho­tels in Sin­ga­pore in 2017, in­clud­ing hos­tels with more than four rooms; to­gether they of­fered a to­tal of 67,084 rooms. As at Q4 2017, the sup­ply of ho­tels in the pipe­line was 3,372, count­ing new de­vel­op­ment and re­de­vel­op­ment projects with plan­ning ap­provals. Of these, 2,630 were un­der con­struc­tion while another 742 were planned for de­vel­op­ment. Although the fig­ures sug­gest a crowded in­dus­try, some en­trepreneurs are still able to find spa­ces where they can grow niche ac­com­mo­da­tions. One such thriv­ing area is cap­sule ho­tel, which pro­vides ba­sic ac­com­mo­da­tion in the form of a cli­mate-con­trolled sleep pods fit­ted with ameni­ties such as a tele­vi­sion set, sound sys­tem and Wi-Fi. The con­cept – ka­puseru hoteru – orig­i­nated in Ja­pan where these es­tab­lish­ments of­fered cap­sules, stacked side by side and on top of each other, as overnight ac­com­mo­da­tion. With chang­ing pat­terns in trav­eler habits and pref­er­ences, cap­sule ho­tels are be­com­ing pop­u­lar par­tic­u­larly in crowded ur­ban des­ti­na­tions and among bud­get trav­el­ers. In Sin­ga­pore, about 30 cap­sule ho­tels op­er­ate, each one of­fer­ing fa­cil­i­ties that go be­yond ba­sic, in­clud­ing loung­ing rooms, locker ar­eas, and laun­dry ar­eas – as well as unique vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ences. Sin­ga­pore is sat­u­rated with lux­ury, pre­mium ho­tels on one end, and low bud­get, no-frills ho­tels on the other, says Ms. Sonia Anya Tay, COO & co-founder of RB Hos­pi­tal­ity Pte Ltd, own­ers and op­er­a­tor of CUBE Bou­tique Cap­sule Ho­tels. She be­lieves es­tab­lish­ments such as theirs fill the gap in ho­tel ac­com­mo­da­tion.

“We of­fer rest­ful, stylish ac­com­mo­da­tion with the mod­ern, thought­ful conveniences es­sen­tial for to­day’s trav­ellers. Our ho­tel is ideal for trav­el­ers on the go – those who do not see the need for a pool, spa or other fa­cil­i­ties on the premises, and yet rel­ish the fine, per­sonal touches of a bou­tique ho­tel at very rea­son­able prices.” Ms. Tay ob­serves that ma­jor­ity of their cus­tomers are cat­e­go­rized as ‘so­cia­ble global ex­plor­ers’ who yearn for out of the or­di­nary and im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ences. They also tend to be in the 18 to 35 age group. “We at­tract a new breed of in­de­pen­dent, IT savvy business trav­ellers who value com­fort with­out sac­ri­fic­ing on the es­sen­tial fea­tures of business travel,” she adds as she re­cites a list of trav­eler must-haves: Pow­er­ful Wi-Fi, se­cu­rity, pri­vacy, break­fast, clean bath­rooms, 24/7 re­cep­tion/house­keep­ing at very af­ford­able prices. CUBE also caters to larger groups such as those who are in town to com­pete in sport­ing or cho­ral con­tests. Safety, se­cu­rity, clean­li­ness, and com­fort­able bed­ding are among their ba­sic re­quire­ments. “Our plush, com­fort­able cap­sule beds are equipped with es­sen­tial fea­tures in­clud­ing pow­er­ful Wi-Fi, uni­ver­sal elec­tri­cal out­lets, stor­age lock­ers with dig­i­tal se­cu­rity; and our bath­rooms with shower/toi­letries/hairdryer and wash­ing ma­chines have proven a hit with our guests. They also get to en­joy com­pli­men­tary lo­cal break­fast and 24/7 re­cep­tion and house­keep­ing ser­vices.” The ex­pe­ri­ence at CUBE Bou­tique Cap­sule Ho­tels is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from a typ­i­cal cap­sule ho­tel. “Gen­er­ally, cap­sule ho­tels of­fer ba­sic, no frills ac­com­mo­da­tion. We like to think that we are the first in of­fer­ing such a business model.” Through ex­ten­sive trav­els and with a grow­ing fam­ily, Ms. Tay be­came con­scious of the fac­tors and ne­ces­si­ties for a com­fort­able stay. “We wanted to dif­fer­en­ti­ate our ho­tels from the typ­i­cal cap­sule ho­tel, and this is re­flected in the de­sign, ser­vice and ameni­ties. Our cap­sule ho­tels are built in hand­somely re­stored con­ser­va­tion shop­houses or au­then­tic pre-war build­ings with a rich his­tory.” Their cap­sule ho­tels are also and sited in pop­u­lar tourist ar­eas with easy ac­cess to pub­lic trans­port. “Our con­cept comes with a 24/7 re­cep­tion and house­keep­ing ser­vice, and a com­mu­nal din­ing area. In con­trast to the Ja­panese model, the CUBE cap­sules are more in tune with the life­style ex­pe­ri­ences within a com­mu­nity. Our lo­ca­tions in Chi­na­town and Kam­pong Glam are a re­flec­tion of com­mu­nity in­te­gra­tion.”

A love for travel and the ris­ing costs associated with it prompted Ms Tay to ven­ture into the business of cap­sule ho­tels. “We want to make travel af­ford­able and fun. My hus­band Bene­dict (Choa) was from a prop­erty fund back­ground, and has a keen in­ter­est in civil en­gi­neer­ing and con­struc­tion, and this in­ter­est played an im­por­tant role in the de­sign and tech­ni­cal as­pects of CUBE,” says Ms. Tay. Mean­while, her past ex­pe­ri­ence with business de­vel­op­ment and pro­cure­ment in the FMCG in­dus­try also helped with the launch. “Prior to open­ing the first CUBE, we con­ducted a lot of re­search in the hos­pi­tal­ity mar­ket, pri­mar­ily the hos­tels and mid-tier lux­ury ho­tels and cus­tomer travel stay re­quire­ments.” Cer­tain parts of the mil­lion-dol­lar project, in­clud­ing the pro­pri­etary fa­cil­i­ties and tech­nol­ogy, re­quired heavy in­vest­ment. Another size­able in­vest­ment was staff train­ing, and de­vel­op­ing SOPs for the par­tic­u­lar business model. Be­sides rent from the cap­sules, the business also earns rev­enue from rental of F&B out­lets, and tick­eted tours. The Chi­na­town out­let also earns an in­come from drinks at the F&B sta­tion. Ms. Tay says that CUBE’s cap­sules have been de­signed and en­gi­neered based on pro­pri­etary spec­i­fi­ca­tions, e.g., in­su­lated bed pan­els, sus­pended fam­ily beds, and mod­u­lar dry wall par­ti­tion toi­lets that en­able cost sav­ings, ef­fi­cient con­struc­tion/repli­ca­tion, and op­er­a­tion. “The model is eas­ily repli­cated. Our man­power costs are low com­pared to a full-ser­vice ho­tel.”


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