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A ‘Tribe’ for students

Although the quality of education in India has evolved gradually over the years to meet international standards, the age-old cookie-cutter hostel-style student accommodation has resulted in a dip in the number of migrant students moving cities within the country. To drive the new-age students to a new upscale student accommodation product, Yogesh Mehra, founder, Myturf Hospitality founded ‘Tribe Student Accommodation’ – an aspirational long-stay accommodation facility exclusively for the students. Mehra and his sons Shantam & Aman met with Akshay Nayak to give details about the first-of-its-kind product and how they create a win-win situation for all their stakeholders at Tribe

The quality of education has evolved by leaps and bounds in India over the past years, especially in the metro and tier-II cities which is evident by the increasing number of migrant students from smaller towns making a beeline to these developed cities for seeking quality education in renowned institutes there. JLL’s ‘Future of India Real Estate’ report in September 2019 says, “The 2011 census data reveals that approximately 8 mn students in India are migrants who require student accommodation in close proximity to their university campuses.”

A real challenge is getting quality accommodation in the new city. According to the JLL report, “A large part of this (student) population currently lives in sub-optimal housing and this underlines the huge unmet demand in this sector.” Furthermore, the lack of services in meeting the quality of accommodation has, in turn, dampened the number of international student travellers coming to the country.

Some brands did see this gap and introduced their aspirational co-living spaces product in the strategic locations near work hubs and institutes. But, this type of accommodation has working personnel as well as the students living in one building, which at times results in social disconnect and also is not encouraged by all tenants.

Looking at the demand of upscale student accommodation spaces in India, Tribe Student Accommodation was founded by Yogesh Mehra, founder, My Turf Hospitality, with his sons Shantam Mehra and Aman Mehra as cofounders. The brand, as its title reads, is meant for the niche market – i.e. student accommodation only. Speaking about the product, Shantam says, “During my higher education years in the UK, I saw that the quality of accommodation for the students was starkly different from that in India. Although India is a price-sensitive market, anybody from a middle-class background and above, do not mind spending on quality services. Across the world, India sees one of the highest numbers of student migrants who travel cities within the country for quality education, but however, do not get quality accommodation. We introduced ourselves in the upscale student accommodation space because we believed in giving comfort to the students instead of further burdening their induction in the city.”

Yogesh adds, “We did not want to name it a ‘hostel’ because students have a perception that it will be a dormitory-based accommodation product with dirty common bathrooms, untidy mattresses, and dusty rooms. Also, we wanted to make it very clear that Tribe is not another co-living space, but is dedicated to student accommodation only.”

L-R: Shantam Mehra, Yogesh Mehra and Aman Mehra

An uber student accommodation brand

Bed and breakfast are provided by any hostel, but Tribe believes in giving experiences to its customers. Making it a one-of-its-kind product, the first property in Viman Nagar, Pune is a 104-key keyless and cashless property that is home to a gym with modern equipment, networking spaces within and around the building, wifi, air-conditioners, rooms with ensuite bathrooms and a 24×7 restaurant. Explaining the reasons behind introducing these amenities in a student accommodation product, Yogesh informs, “The world is moving ahead in all other aspects but when it comes to student accommodation, Indians paint it as an endurance test which one must get adapted to. Even the students have their own needs. They need better internet connectivity to search and browse new information hassle-free; a student pursuing medicine might study the whole night and may need a coffee at 5 am after studying for a long stretch; or an IIT pursuing student will have to stick to his/her chair for long hours, for which, to ensure comfort, ergonomically designed chairs are required in their rooms. So, before introducing the product we conducted an intensive research for more than two years, during which we were looking to including the many solutions for the various pain points that a student faces like back pain due to prolonged seating on plastic chairs, poor quality of food at the mess, loss of key, high in-room temperature, etc.”

Throwing light on the keyless and cashless services and other means of using technology at Tribe, Shantam informs that Tribe as a brand has a copyrighted in-house built enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. All the room doors are equipped with a Radio-frequency identification (RFID) system, which can be accessed through an RFID wrist band, hence taking away the hassle of carrying keys or keycards. Furthermore, the ensuite restrooms are equipped with motion-sensor lighting and exhaust systems to save energy.

To further make the product experiential, Shantam says that Tribe has partnered with many hobby classes as means of providing recreational activities during the student’s free time. “They can break a sweat at the gym as per their customised exercise regime planned with the gym trainer and a special diet curated with the on-site nutritionist. And, after a long day, they can order whatever they need at the multi-cuisine 24×7 restaurant Mamaliga,” he adds.

Human resource is an equally important asset for Tribe in order to provide a wholesome hospitality experience to the customers at the many touchpoints within the property, Yogesh feels. “We are hiring personnel who have worked in the hospitality industry for over several years since they understand and maintain operations in harmony and are also equipped to handle any situation,” Yogesh says. Tribe is also providing paid internship programmes for aspiring hotel management students in order to provide them with hands-on experience of various operations that go into the back-end of managing a big facility like the property in Viman Nagar.

Mamaliga – 24×7 multi-cuisine restaurant

Current inventory and occupancy

Similar to other student accommodation products, Tribe also operates on the distribution of beds but has specific norms set, i.e. not including more than two beds in a room. “We saw, many co-living spaces stacking 4-5 people in one room, which often disturbs the student’s individual routine,” pointed out Shantam. “We have rooms in three formats – Twin Sharing, Luxury Twin, and Single Room, so giving each student an option to choose from as per their requirements,” he adds.

“We have rate cards for only rooms as well as for rooms with food inclusive which includes breakfast and dinner for an annual fee,” he informs.

Giving details of the performance of Tribe in terms of occupancy, Yogesh says, “The average student occupancy in India sits at 95 per cent, and since the time we have launched, we are seeing an occupancy of 90 per cent in a very brief period of time which is really good. We are further looking at new locations to thrust our average occupancy for Tribe as a brand.”

Operational model and marketing & distribution initiatives

Tribe as a product follows the asset-light business model and is seeking investments from various high networth individuals (HNIs) to larger groups of investors for a pre-decided ROI, informs Shantam. “In order to create a win-win situation for everyone that we work with, we take a property for a long-term fixed lease or revenue-share basis, we renovate it as per the set standards, and then tie up with the institutes in the vicinity, which in turn increases the quality of their institution, hence resulting in increased revenue for them,” he says.

They are majorly looking at marketing through B2B routes by being listed on the university websites that they are tied up with and also planning some marketing tools with the real estate brands whose facility Tribe is managing. “We are also participating in a lot of college fests, and otherwise active on social media channels to reach out to the end-consumers i.e. The students directly to better explain about Tribe,” Shantam adds.

Government’s role

When asked about the support that Tribe sought from the government for this new dedicated upscale student accommodation product, Shantam opines that the company is in talks with the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs, Government of India and also with the GST council in order to subsidise a product like this to promote this segment in India. “From the GST perspective, the 18 per cent slab has its own repercussion as it is burdened onto the end consumer, hence the government should consider implementing a slightly lower taxation slab for this kind of product,” he adds.

Looking at the amount of money that these kinds of products demand, there is no alternative but, the parents of the students have to take a personal loan which during returns demands high-interest rates, added Yogesh in this regard. “The government should look at the finance aspect wherein the accommodation loan can be merged with the educational loan or any other alternative to ease the burden of high capital investments in the student accommodation itself,” Yogesh adds.

Existing inventory & future roadmap

With the Viman Nagar Co-ed property sitting at 192 beds, they will soon be unveiling an all-girls facility with 75 beds in Mumbai, and another all-girls 185-bed property in Bengaluru. “We are tied up with a couple of institutes in Pune. We are looking at tapping students from NMIMS in Mumbai, and Presidency College in Bengaluru,” says Shantam. Yogesh adds, “Tribe has also tied up with Bhartiya Vidhyapeeth and will be receiving about 50 Thailand-origin students in some time.”

These projects are in multiple stages of development and will be opened this year. “Apart from these we are looking at Delhi and Indore, and a lot of other Tier-II cities are on our radar for expansion too,” concludes Yogesh.

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