Introducing a new way to travel in Latin America: Casai’s Nico Barawid

Mexico: Nico Barawid, the co-founder and CEO of Mexico City-based emerging hospitality brand Casai, speaks to ShortTermRentalz about the company’s milestone $48 million Series A round, building a “new vision for hospitality in Latin America”, and the latest tech trends that will become more commonplace in short-term rentals in 2021.

  • Please introduce yourself, the Casai brand and the role you play in the short-term rental industry.

I’m Nico Barawid, co-founder and CEO of Casai, the emerging markets hospitality brand. We offer people beautiful and intelligent living spaces with a high standard of excellence with luxury amenities, stunning locally-sourced design and sophisticated smart technology [like keyless check-in, google homes and Chromecast-powered TVs, high-speed WiFi and more that can be controlled from the Casai app].

Travellers want to live like a local but still want the comforts of a hotel. We founded Casai to play in this category, for the nomadic generation in mind. Casai apartments are luxuriously designed with the modern traveller and equipped with beautiful furnishings and amenities hand-crafted by local artisans, alongside one-of-a-kind smart tech.

  • Congratulations on your $48 million Series A round, believed to be a record amount raised by a company in Mexico – what do you think investors have seen in your business that made them want to invest?

Thank you! Casai is founded by diverse industry leaders in tech, design and hospitality. Our investors remain confident in our ability to scale based off our experience and unique knowledge in the LatAm markets.

Tech leadership: Co-founder and CEO, Nico Barawid [Nova Credit], CTO Andrés Páez Martínez [Google]

Design leadership: Alexa Backal [GAIA Design] and Cristina Crespo [VP Experience, previously ran WeWork’s international design studio]

Hospitality leadership: Co-founder and COO, María del Carmen Herrerías Salazar [head of financial planning at Grupo Presidente, one of Mexico’s largest hotel operators], and chief growth officer Daniel Hermann [head of growth capital at Selina]

Strategy leadership: Chief revenue officer Alberto Ramos came from McKinsey

Plus, Latin America’s popularity as a destination has grown since the beginning of last decade, the region experienced an increase of nearly 55 per cent in international tourist arrivals, and in 2019, Latin America was the second favourite destination for leisure travel among locals [Statista]. Also, the UNWTO [World Tourism Organisation] forecasts that Latin America will receive 78.2 million tourists by 2027, generating US $82 billion for the local economy.

  • How difficult was it to secure this capital in the midst of a global pandemic and what do you hope to put this funding towards?

Our investors remain bullish on the macro secular factors of the hospitality industry [see macro trends above], and remain confident and supportive of our team’s vision. Now, we are back to a 90 per cent occupancy rate and are remaining bullish on the future.

With our new capital, we are staying focused on more R&D for our Casai spaces and technology, and expanding into Brazil with plans to keep growing within Mexico.

  • You mention that you are aiming to build a “new vision for hospitality in Latin America” – what do you mean by this?

We are introducing a new way to travel and stay in apartments in Latin America – an experience that will always be consistent and luxurious like a hotel but feel local like an Airbnb.

We pride ourselves for a consistent experience of excellence through intelligent spaces, concierge, app and lounge, meeting a high standard tailored to the tech-savvy and convenience-oriented nomadic generation.

Our apartments are luxuriously designed with the modern traveller in mind and equipped with beautiful furnishings and amenities hand-crafted by local artisans, alongside one-of-a-kind smart tech.

Casai supports local communities in Latin America and emerging tourism economies as it infuses fresh capital into the ecosystems.

We also support Mexico City’s culture and economy by boosting business for local artisans who create the furniture, amenities and art that style Casai spaces [which is all available for purchase by Casai travellers] and by bringing new business to local businesses and startups [ride-hailing, food delivery and restaurants / bars].

We are designing our apartments to be an interactive exploration / celebration of the local artisans who helped build the space. Through QR codes displayed throughout the apartment, guests can learn about [and purchase from] artists who decorated the apartment.

  • What sort of demand are you seeing for short-term rental accommodation in Mexico and the rest of Latin America?

Prior to Covid, our length of stay was 90 per cent less than a week. And around April, during the height of the pandemic, 40 per cent of our guests were staying less than a week. Now, we are back to about 80-90 per cent a week. The majority of our guests are staying longer term. Our core focus is on people who are not looking for a place to live, but looking for accommodations for their travels.

Our guests have changed quite a bit – previously it was people coming from out of the country for the weekend. That type of traveller is still coming back slowly, but we are also seeing more domestic travellers in town for both leisure and business. We are also seeing a lot of interest in our spaces from international people like diplomats, people from embassies from Europe or the UN, plus large corporate companies like DiDi where executives cannot travel as easily between Asia and Mexico right now and need a place to live.

  • How will your team of diverse industry leaders help to establish Casai as a globally recognised brand?

We have drawn the most accomplished people we could whose backgrounds span such diverse companies as Selina, WeWork, Google, McKinsey, Microsoft, Airbnb and more. Having such impressive talent with such different backgrounds work together to create Casai is analogous to conducting an orchestra. The former consultants and data scientists help us build a strategy while world-class interior designers, engineers and marketing talent help us build the product.

Our core thesis is that global travellers in this environment are increasingly demanding the highest standards of excellence across multiple aspects of their stay. And the only way we can exceed those standards is by bringing onboard such a diverse array of professionals.

  • What tech concepts do you believe will become more commonplace in short-term rentals as a result of the pandemic and more remote working?

Before the pandemic, we were already designing tech for keyless check-in, smart lights, personalised and all-day concierge support and more. Our tech team also designed a hub called Butler, which controls all the connected devices in the apartments. Instead of guests having to download several apps to control devices, Butler powers Casai’s app, which powers the apartments by controlling Google Homes, keyless check-in and more.

Especially with the remote work trend kicking up, we will see more travellers with a higher standard of expectations when it comes to contact-free experiences, tech-savvy apartments and smart home devices. Hi-speed wi-fi is already table stakes when it comes to remote work in short-term rentals.

  • What are your long-term plans for expansion with Casai? Are you looking for international growth and which types of markets would you look to target?

For now, we are staying hyper-focused on expanding within Latin America and are also looking into weekend beach cities like Tulum and Puerto Vallarta.