ELSE Hotel, sited at the 1930’s Lee Rubber Building will open its doors this July. Here’s a sneak peak at the credo that informs this potentially iconic property.
Do you remember those early ruminations; that the hotel industry was creepingly closer to capitulation with every new Airbnb listing? Most folks have now realised ‘disruption’ – still very much a key buzzword – also delivers its own dose of uncertainty through unexpected consequences. Travellers, vacationers, homestay hackers have returned to an indefatigable truth: no matter how much technology has impacted the hospitality industry – the human touch – will always sway opinion.
Beyond service convenience, novel entertainment and easy booking systems; if your hotel brand has a manifest personality, a voice and face of its own, and captivating stories to share; these accelerants will ensure growth and success.
Remember, best-in-class awards do not always go to the lodging with the most expensive furniture or the latest gizmos. Service without warmth is simply a transaction. And transactions cannot achieve sustainable success.
Which brings us to Justin Chen (JC) and Javier Perez (JP), co-founders of Else Hotel. We throw them a series of personal and professional questions. These are their insightful answers.
Tell us about yourselves, where did you grow up?
JP: I grew up in Puerto Rico, then Florida. I travelled between both countries till I was 14. I then moved to Chicago, New York, and eventually Switzerland, Bangkok and then Singapore.
JC: My earliest years were in Mali, West Africa. Then I spent some time in Canada before we (my family and I) transitioned to Singapore. I went to school in Singapore, then went to California for college and work before splitting my time between Singapore, Shanghai, and Hong Kong for my family’s business. I’ve returned to Shanghai, where I’m currently based.
What was childhood like for you? Share a memorable childhood event, or perhaps the earliest memory you can recall.
JP: My childhood was very loving. I grew up not knowing my biological father. But I never felt his absence because my mum and surrounding family made certain I was loved. There are so many memories I can recall, way too many to remember.
I have great memories of me fishing with my stepdad. One of the most memorable moments ingrained in my mind is one of my grandparents. They used to hold onto my leg while I sat in the back seat, while they were driving for that connection, and I still do that today with my kids.
JC: My earliest childhood memories involve Mali and Canada; both places were lowly populated and weren’t sprawling cities. I grew up mostly outdoors – exploring the woods, digging up rocks, and playing with frogs. It’s something that’s strikingly not present as much in our digital world. So, I remember my childhood being very free, very unencumbered.
How did you develop a sense of ambition?
JP: From my grandfather, at a very young age. He didn’t go to high school, he didn’t go to university – he grew up in 1930s Puerto Rico – a whole different time! But he eventually opened up multiple businesses and I grew up around his businesses, and he was also very supportive of my aspirations.
JC: Even though my family operated a business, there wasn’t a great sense that we had to follow a specific path necessarily. I was grateful that my parents never put that expectation on us and gave us the freedom to explore our own path in life. My ambition really started from my own personal character. I see myself naturally as an idealist. I’ve always been interested in the bigger thoughts, trends and how things can be further improved and done better.
What kind of guests are you hoping to attract?
JP: We want to serve guests seeking a unique travel experience. We position ourselves as a personal space for respite and retreat from the hustle and bustle, while offering an alternative way to disconnect and connect for the modern day traveler.
JC: We would like to receive metropolitan, global citizens, people who live their life in different modes. We are aiming to provide a wellness – centric space amid our busy lives; that at the same time is plugged into the local pulse of the city.
What inspired the design elements of ELSE?
JP: There were a couple of things that were enforced in the design – simplicity, subtle luxury while still possessing warmth and texture throughout the space. We want Else to retain elements of home and feelings of comfort and relaxation in an intimate space. I really admire Studio Bikin’s intention in flooding the space with light and creating a sense of translucency throughout the premises. This gesture allows our guests to enjoy the central part of the building from different levels of the hotel.
JC: We were inspired to design a space that is personal and intimate. We stayed away from being corporate as it didn’t fit with the brand. Since we only had 49 rooms, we envisioned the property almost akin to a guesthouse – to imbue it with a character of being lived in.
What dining/lifestyle experiences will be unique to ELSE?
JP: Two distinct dining rooms have been designed to fit into the guests’ lifestyles. We aim for the spaces to feel contemporary, fun, and buzzy.
Raw Kitchen Hall is an elevated extension of its sister brand in Singapore. The restaurant is a casual-chic spot that stays true to the luxury of comfort food done well. Diners can select from Asian to Global flavors, with modern and familiar classics.
The Yellow Fin Horse will be a spectacular wood-fired restaurant serving up International and South-East Asian flavors with contemporary authenticity. It’ll be led by an incredibly talented Executive Chef, which we hope to reveal very soon!
What intangible attributes do you want your staff to express/exhibit?
JP: Confidence, an acute sense of anticipation, and being proactive. For example, instead of greeting the guests with “hi, how are you”, I would prefer if they provoked thought in the guests’ replies and asked, “are you heading anywhere today?”. Ultimately empowering team members to have their voice, personality, and perspectives.
JC: I agree with Javier; I think intuitiveness is essential and a sense of thoughtfulness. They’re not seen as characterless service staff. We hope that they can build relationships on a personal level.
What about the Lee Rubber building caught your imagination?
JC: When we started our search for a site in KL, we looked first for a site that could help tell the story of KL, a city that we felt was filled with unrecognized potential and creativity. When we stumbled across the Lee Rubber Building many years back in a faded dilapidated condition, it just spoke to us of that story, not just being in the heart of old Kuala Lumpur, but also having been the premises of the Lee Rubber Company, one of the most prominent entrepreneurs in Malaysia’s history.
To be graced with the opportunity to work off an iconic building such as the Lee Rubber Building was a privilege. Yet more than the space, my hope is that our guests resonate with the ethos and hospitality that we aim to deliver. The architecture maybe what draws them in, but our thoughtful hospitality is what we hope they take away with them.
ELSE Hotel is scheduled to open in July 2022. For more info, visit its official website.