Game ChangersNikhil Manchharam leads the growth of YOTEL in Asia and says the technology-led, space capsule concept is “redefining what a hotel should be”.

Mission Controller

YOTEL Singapore's friendly in-room amenities robots, Yoshi and Yolanda, will be happy to provide you with room service
YOTEL Singapore's friendly in-room amenities robots, Yoshi and Yolanda, will be happy to provide you with room service
Walk into YOTEL Singapore and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped into the mission control of a space capsule. The look and feel is white and minimal with splashes of purple.

Two Yobots, one male and one female (distinguished by her eyelashes), catch the eye. Wifi-enabled, these robots deliver amenities and services to the room when summoned. 

Check-in and check-out are fully automated and your room key is self-generated. In the smart cabins, smart beds adjust themselves into sofas when required and there’s mood lighting at hand.

YOTEL Singapore's exterior
YOTEL Singapore's exterior

The day I was there, there were lots of guests (young Asian families) and just a couple of staff to help where necessary. For its 610 rooms, it employs 110 staff, a very efficient ratio in labour-starved Singapore.

Jasmine, who gave me a tour of the hotel, is typical of the staff demographic – early 20s – and exudes an air of confidence and animation. A hospitality student, she did her internship at W and decided to join YOTEL because she wanted to try something new and what she likes about her new role is that “I get to do everything”.

“We call ourselves Mission Control and Crew and we do everything, from concierge to billing,” she said. “There are many new things to learn. This way, I get to figure out what I like doing.”

Nikhil Manchharam, managing director Asia, told me that the majority of his staff does not come from hospitality. “We are looking for ‘alternative’ people who do not want to do just a job but want to be part of something new and different, people who want a style and identity.

“We have artists, performers, dancers among our crew. We want to create an environment where they can be themselves and which fits their lifestyle. That way, you bring out the personality.”

Beyond personality, YOTEL has positioned itself as setting an innovative style in hospitality through the use of technology and new thinking.

“We don’t want to replace jobs but our business needs a rethinking of systems and processes. The margin of human error has to be minimised,” said Manccharam. “We are not out to create technology for technology’s sake but we want to be more efficient and use technology to improve the returns on our expenses.

“The idea is to create a place where customers can live, work and play in a destination, and where local communities can integrate with transient travellers.

“This is the new economy and we are redefining what a hotel should be,” said Manccharam.

Having spent 18 years of his career with Starwood Hotels & Resorts where his last role was vice president, development & investments/asset management for APAC, Manccharam signed a partnership with YOTEL to expand the brand in the region.

Globally, he said, the goal is to have 60 Yotels by 2022, of which 12 to 15 would be in Asia. Singapore is its first property in Asia and it is developing the second YOTEL, with 130 cabins, at Jewel Changi Airport.

With an average room rate of S$170 and its location on Orchard Road, YOTEL is getting good ratings on TripAdvisor with a 4.0 score, and travellers rating “excellent” and “very good”. Its business mix is 50/50 leisure/corporate and it is evident it has a strategy to drive direct bookings as much as possible given its younger customer demographic.

The Yotel brand was started by Yo Sushi founders Simon Woodroffe and Gerard Greene in 2008 and the idea was to build quirky capsule hotels targeted “digital naturals” who are always online. 

Since then, the brand has clearly evolved and it is evident it will adapt its strategy to Asia through its local partnership in the region.  

Manccharam said, “YOTEL is the first hospitality brand that is about time. We want to help you make the best use of your time by helping you do what you want to do when you are staying with us.”

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