Finding a home away from home while traveling is not an area where consumer lack options as of 2019 – but some travelers are still making trade-offs. Traditional hotels and motels have the benefit of consistency: One knows what they are getting end-to-end when they check into a Hilton or Marriott, as sameness of experience is critical to those brands.
Consistency, however, has the downside of being a bit, well, boring. And, of course, hotel rooms can be rather small and confining – particularly when staying in them for more than a night or two.
Over the last decade or so, the home-sharing experience has sprung up as an alternative, put on the map by Airbnb and its host of imitators. The consumer can usually get a lot more in terms of price-to-square-footage ratio – plus, they can get an experience that feels a little less industrial and a bit more like living as a local. Or, as Airbnb’s slogan puts it, they feel like they belong anywhere.
But, as Christian Gaiser, CEO of Berlin-based hospitality startup Cosi, noted in an interview, the Airbnb experience has issues of its own that tend to scare away some travelers.
“More and more guests prefer to stay in a unique apartment versus a boring hotel, i.e., travelers tend to book their stay at a private host via Airbnb,” he said. “[However], the experience can be frustrating … due to lack of quality and service: long check-in/check-out times, poor interior design, lack of cleanliness, not enough linens and no service hotline in case of questions, to name a few examples.”
The mainstream hotel experience may lack for color and space at times, Gaiser noted, but when away from home, customers are often willing to make that trade-off so they can be confident that they get what they expect when they arrive. And if things go wrong, there is an entire corporate infrastructure dedicated to fixing the problem.
The goal for Cosi’s founding team was to find a way to offer what they considered to be a “best of both worlds” experience for travelers.
Their solution, Gaiser said, involved building a “full-stack hospitality brand,” which would allow them to offer a custom experience, while also allowing the guest control it from end to end. To achieve that, the firm is looking to build well-run boutique hotels and locally managed apartments. To ensure that those apartment experiences are above-board, Cosi signs long-term leases with property owners and then furnishes the apartments to maintain full control of the aesthetics.
“On top of that, we offer a digital service along the entire guest journey from initial contact to loyalty,” he explained. “Finally, we rent out our apartments short-term as a hotel replacement.”
The company’s ideal traveler is looking to strike a balance between quality assurance and the “coziness” of being in a home away from their own home. In terms of demographics, Cosi is looking to woo tourists spending a few days in Berlin as well as business travelers who find themselves in the city for long stretches and want a space larger than a hotel room.
“Cosi creates a new category, but the closest direct competitors include smaller boutique hotels or traditional local-serviced apartment operators for tourists,” said Gaiser. “In a broader sense, we also compete with the big hotel companies like Marriott or Hilton in business travel.”
Travel is, of course, a competitive game full of massive players at scale, from the big chains to legions of small, independently owned options all over the world. And Cosi is small – today, it is limited to its home city of Berlin. However, the new firm recently picked up €5 million in seed funding pre-launch in a round led by Cherry Ventures and e.ventures.
But even as a small fish in an ocean full of global-scale sharks, Cosi is confident it can offer travelers something unique – and better than anyone else in its home city. As Gaiser pointed out, in the world of real estate, where it’s important to know the home market, there are some advantages to being small and close to the ground.
“It is a very local game,” he noted.