Local knowledge: the stunning Singapore hostel that’s connecting communities

Checking into your accommodation becomes checking out the other guests at a new Singapore hostel with intentions to bring together local knowledge and foreigner’s experiences in a communal, welcoming and affordable environment.

By Holly Reeves

Millennials are changing modern travel says Silas Lee, founder of Coo, a Singapore travel destination with a digital difference.

“In the old days when I travelled I would go to the hotel and check-in, then check out and not talk to anyone,” he explains, “In the new generation they want to engage with people, they want to gain experience, they want to interact and they want to socialise.”

“Millennials are very different from baby boomers,” he says, “whenever they travel it is not about a material pursuit. These guys are super-smart; they go to the web and design their own itinerary – there are no package tours anymore. It is good that you learn from other people’s different experiences.”

Taking this idea and sprinkling it with the delights of new technology, Silas’ recently-opened “sociatel” combines the potential for social interaction and affordable accommodation into an innovative and truly local experience.

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How to find your new best friend

In the Coo format, Silas and his team have developed a digital platform where, on checking in, people create a profile with their interests and what they like to do. Using this information the design hostel’s system can suggest potential matches and connections among other guests whose company or experience travellers might find interesting. They are then encouraged to perhaps meet for breakfast, or compare notes on their next destination, in one of the industrial-looking but modern and friendly social areas.

 “I think my job is to create a very natural communal environment so that guests can come in and exchange ideas themselves,” Silas explains, adding he is also highly conscious of the need for affordability and value for money. Looking around at the cutting-edge, custom design you would imagine a stay at his Tiong Bahru location, not far from the city centre, would be expensive but he is committed to retaining the sensibilities of a budget hostel.

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“If you come here with a budget of less than SG$100 then you can have a bed for $40, and you can have a meal for $10 and that leaves you some spare cash to go around and do your stuff,” he explains. “If you see the space it is almost set up for people coming from the emerging markets, given the central location and given the price point it is very accessible.” The trade-off is on the amount of personal space you get for your money; the shared areas are good but sleeping bunks are fairly small.

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There does seem to be an imbalance, however, in the Coo offering. The facilities are well-designed for travellers and focus on value for money, with wi-fi internet, bicycle rental, breakfast and local calls included free of charge. However, the bistro’s menu contains items which cost half as much as the beds themselves. “There is a discount for guests and a good range of prices,” Silas says and a glance down what is on offer offers reassurance that ordering from the top end of the price range gets you locally-sourced and beautifully-presented meal options.

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Bringing the outside in

Looking to the future, Silas says the innovation doesn’t stop now the doors are open and in around nine months he hopes to be able to spread the scope of hospitality even further. “We are quite ambitious; down the line we also want to connect travellers with the local community. Say someone tells us they are intrigued by Singapore history, local people may open their home to a foreigner in return for learning about something else.” This mixing and blending of foreigners’ experiences and local understandings could be very exciting for an inquisitive first-time visitor.

“The first thing we need to do is make sure it works among the foreigners in terms of the exchange of ideas before we extend,” he says, “I have already been talking with some of the guys in Singapore that run private dining so we are already looking at potential areas of collaboration where I bring the foreigners into their space.” The former banker also believes in the power of his concept to do good, for example with charitable organisations, “I have some friends who say we could bring people in to cook for the orphanage and let them use their cooking skills,” Silas adds.

The most unexpected element of the project, he explains, has been the local appetite for the venture. “As of now we have occupancy of around 85% foreigners and 15% locals and we have had lots of enquiries. People say they want to stay here because of its proximity to town, they like the environment and they like the interaction with foreigners.”

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