Investment manager LaSalle is betting on Numa, a hotel startup. The deal suggests that some institutional investors are tantalized by a market segment that draws little interest from big brands.
Hotel owners have long faced two choices: run independently or become franchisees. But a third path is emerging for owners of smaller, urban properties, thanks to startups such as Numa.
- On April 27, Numa received a vote of confidence in its plan to build a third hospitality model.
- LaSalle, a real estate investment manager that’s a subsidiary of major hotel investing adviser JLL, launched a $525 million (€500 million) pan-European strategy of aggregating branded travel lodging.
- Numa will run the properties as travel lodging.
Numa, based in Berlin, belongs to a wave of similar startups.
The model typically has a few parts.
- The brand essentially “borrows” properties owned by investors, developers, and hotel operators.
- It runs the units as either licensed hotels or licensed short-stay apartments. Most guests travel for leisure on short stays or for remote work on visits of up to a few months.
- The companies automate many processes to drastically cut the labor costs to save money and hopefully create more profit.
Numa won LaSalle’s support for several reasons.
- It has contracted more than 2,700 units. Roughly a third are in operation today. The deal with LaSalle will add to that 2,700.
- Numa claimed its occupancy averaged 85 percent in the past year, despite the omicron wave. No building has been unprofitable in the past 18 months.
- It claimed an average revenue per available room (a common hotel performance metric) of $98 (€86). That compares favorably to German averages in the limited-service end of the market.
- Most of its units are in Germany. Germans are notoriously cheap about travel lodging, as third-party data shows. So when the startup expands in France, Spain, and other markets, it should have more pricing power to generate higher margins.
LaSalle’s backing of Numa is significant because it could represent a big push by institutional capital to enter European hospitality.
- Startups like Numa target a segment that the Accors and Marriotts have broadly neglected: small, urban properties with fewer than 100 guestrooms.
- In Europe, a majority of hotels are less than 100 guestrooms.
- Numa represents a potential operating partner that can make these properties adequately profitable for institutional investors.
- Property owners can lease to Numa or sell to the LaSalle-Numa combination.
- Numa has no reception desks. Guests check in virtually, uploading photos of their identification documents. The data, such as name and date of birth, are extracted by software and checked for authenticity. Guests unlock their room doors digitally.
- The startup handles special requests, such as late check-in, remotely.
- About 60 percent of its technology stack, such as its pricing algorithm, was developed by its 40-member technical team, the company said.
Why would consumers stay at a Numa property instead of a traditional branded hotel on the franchise model?
- At Numa, the average guest age is 35.
- “That’s 14 years younger than the average age of guests at hotels in Europe,” said Numa founder and CEO Christian Gaiser. “It’s a group that first traveled on Airbnb because it was cheap. Now they have more disposable income, but they still want a similar guest experience.”
- Numa wants customers to recognize its brand as consistently offering certain amenities, such as free Wi-Fi and minibars with a handful of free items.
- It typically gives each building a name. The name is kind of a sub-brand, highlighting Instagrammable decor or features.
- Its sub-branded buildings include Sketch, a hotel in Berlin’s hip Friedrichshain district near popular techno venues. The hotel has custom graffiti and preserved industrial decor. “If this building could talk, it could tell so many amazing stories,” Gaiser said, quoting an investor.
- Its latest building in Vienna is named Wood because workers built it from spruce timber in a city where most buildings are stone or concrete.
Numa has raised $60 million in venture capital to date. But hotel companies traditionally haven’t raised venture capital, where investors usually expect high multiples of return on their investment. Can Numa truly be a fast-growth company?
- Gaiser said that venture capitalists focus on capital efficiency and that Numa delivers on that score. It’s well above-average at quickly turning a property with small margins into one producing high ones, he said. It keeps the cost of launching new locations down. The startup’s resilience during the pandemic, when it maintained neutral-to-positive cash flow while other hotels were losing money, suggests it has managed downside risk well.
- Other sectors, such as grocery, have famously had low margins, too, yet venture-backed firms have successfully built profitable scale-ups like Germany-based Hello Fresh.
- “Why shouldn’t this happen in the hotel space, too?” Gaiser said.
LaSalle, an investment manager that’s a subsidiary of JLL (Jones Lang LaSalle), a publicly held real estate financial and professional services company, is making a half-billion-euro bet on Numa. Many hoteliers will watch how this bet plays out.
I always read feedback, and I rely on readers for story ideas. Feel free to email me.