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The finer things in life: A conversation with DayAway founder Martha Waslen

Audrey Simon
Audrey Simon • 10 min read
The finer things in life: A conversation with DayAway founder Martha Waslen
DayAway is a platform that works closely with hotel partners to craft highly experiential daytime packages.
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DayAway is a platform that works closely with hotel partners to craft highly experiential daytime packages which are designed to inspire and recharge. Founder Martha Waslen says that her aim is to engage with the local community and fill up the pools, gyms, restaurants and bars through marketing channels

When last year’s “circuit breaker” was lifted, all Martha Waslen wanted to do was have some time alone with her family and a staycation was the only option available. They stayed at one of the leading hotels and she realised, while walking around the pool, she felt that it was such a shame that “all of this beautiful facility space was sitting empty. And at night, we could see the hotel and all the windows were dark,” she says.

Waslen started to seriously think about this and DayAway was born. It is the first online destination for users looking to discover and book curated daytime experiences at Singapore’s finest luxury hotels.

Soft-launched in April, Day- Away’s partners already include some of Singapore’s most esteemed establishments like the iconic Raffles Hotel Singapore, The Fullerton Hotel and The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore, Intercontinental Singapore and Fairmont Singapore. Another- er 30 more hotels will be announced shortly.

She says the idea came as a lot of families like herself have started working from home. With her husband — who has to hop on video calls — and two small children and a dog in tow, life can be challenging. As Waslen tells Options over morning coffee: “I started calling hotels, to ask if they had rooms that they can offer. And most of them said that their systems just weren’t built for that just yet.”

This was in September last year just as hotels started to offer this work from hotel packages. But Waslen wanted to disrupt the multi-billion-dollar hotel industry by optimising and monetising luxury hotels’ underutilised ancillary space — such as F&B, spa, gym, and MICE facilities — for daytime use by non-hotel guests.

Targeting sophisticated Singaporeans and expatriates who enjoy the finer things in life, DayAway is a business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C) platform based in Singapore which works closely with its hotel partners to curate delightful, highly experiential daytime packages which are designed to inspire, recharge and uplift.

Only a DayAway

As with any new business, the journey was not an easy one. Waslen started to make calls to people she knew in the industry. The idea of Day- Away spread and soon people were introducing Waslen to more and more people who contributed more ideas.

After dozens of calls and numerous coffee meetings later, she learned that this hybrid hospitality trend had already started to take off in the US and Europe, pre-Covid-19. Waslen saw a huge opportunity to convert hotel rooms and the facility space to be multifunctional. “This is a great solution for me and my husband, we’d love to just have access to hotel space to get out of the house,” she adds.

Confident with what she wanted, Waslen started meeting with developers and friends of friends who are working in the hospitality industry, either at hotels or online travel agents (OTA), and built an advisory board to get things off the ground.

She proudly says that her prototype was finished in December, merely three months after the idea was mooted. As we all know how things are so unpredictable these days, Waslen had to delay the launch to the start of this year. This is because the Singapore Rediscovery Vouchers was launched and this threw a spanner in the works for the launch of DayAway.

Waslen recalls: “I decided instead of launching with a prototype, and this isn’t the right time for hotels, let’s wait until maybe the end of the first quarter to let the hotels get their legs underneath them. Instead of going live with a prototype, we’re going to build a fully functional platform with business to business (B2B), back end and inventory management system reporting capabilities.”

It is now a fully designed user experience (UX) for business-to-consumer (B2C) customers. She says that she al- most feels silly taking credit for it, as a million people had the same idea. She adds: “I just got to the point that I want to do this. I want it to be a solution for myself. I want to help other people in the community. I really want to help the hotel industry, I love hotels. The thought of a hotel going out of business because of something like this breaks my heart.”

It was this culmination of things plus the pressure on her as a family being stuck at home and not being able to travel. But it pushed her to such a place that, perhaps without all that pressure, she wouldn’t have taken all of the steps to build DayAway.

Luxury awaits

One of the things Waslen is proud of is UX experience, which she promises to improve along the way. To begin, you log into the website and browse all the participating hotels listed and search the packages you want and add them to your cart right away, and checkout.

One experience Waslen cites is the Raffles Hotel Singapore — from the minute the Raffles team receives your booking confirmation, they will see it in their DayAway back end and they will also receive an email for a sunrise swim package, for example. The team will reach out to you and confirm your booking.

“You have a nice early lunch, you have some pool time, you have access to the gym, this is a beautiful, seamless experience. The Raffles, in partnership with DayAway, have done an amazing job curating the experiences. It’s not just a spa package, it’s taking you through a whole day on property at the Raffles. You can eat, enjoy the facilities, then you have this late lunch, some pool time, maybe have a little workout, shower, go home, and you will have a wonderful day,” she explains.

The experience

DayAway’s experiences are carefully curated and exclusive to the platform. Its Sling and Swim experience ($100) at Raffles Hotel Singapore includes a complimentary Singapore Sling, three hours of pool time, $20 credit at the hotel’s exclusive Pool Bar and gym access.

DayAway’s Suite Day for Mom experience ($648) at The Fullerton Hotel Singapore is available this month only and includes six-hour access to a loft suite with a view of Marina Bay, a three-tier afternoon tea service for four and preferential spa and dining rates (do note that these experiences may change as the Covid-19 situation changes and you are encouraged to check the web page for the latest updates).

There is no one who is better qualified when it comes to living the luxury lifestyle than Waslen. The marketing and branding expert, who moved to Singapore in 2011, was instrumental in the success of beauty platform Lux- ola (which was acquired by Sephora). Waslen, who started her career at Ralph Lauren’s headquarters in New York, has since been instrumental to the success of several start-ups, honing her natural affinity for monetising gaps in the market.

She has learned some lessons in luxury that she now takes with her to this new venture. “If there is one thing I’ve learned in my experience from Ralph Lauren and Luxola is that we can always deliver a high level of customer service. To engage the online community through our Instagram and Facebook, and really take care of them.”

The spin-offs

Why is there a need to book an experience with DayAway when we can easily book directly with the hotel? Waslen says that a lot of hotels offer a few experiences that may not include the use of the spa or the pool.

DayAway operates on a non-commission model, so you are at liberty to make your own arrangements with the hotel. But the best thing about this platform is that you do not have to call anyone and DayAway will automatically generate a confirmation email to you.

The company has an inventory management system that helps the hotels to manage everything in one place. But DayAway does not only function as a portal. “Instead of just putting together the inventory management, we have also built communication tools and decks for how to communicate this to your employees on the property.”

When travel restrictions are lifted, Waslen’s first priority is to visit family in New York. Even while that is foremost on her mind, she has already started planning to increase DayAway’s footprints in the region. This is her plan: Should your company book you at the Hilton Bangkok, you can do a few things between meetings or that time when you check out at noon but your flight is at midnight — what are you to do?

You can, perhaps, book an experience at the Shangri-La to use the pool with a free cocktail or enjoy a meal. All you need to do is book and you will have a lovely afternoon before flying home. While Day- Away is targeted towards local communities, there are opportunities to use it while away.

Exploring partnerships

Meanwhile, Waslen is also exploring partnerships such as Airbnb who does not really have a way to work with hotels. “[DayAway] is a great third-party intermediary, let’s say, and this isn’t set in stone yet. For example, if they have a VIP customer booking a villa in Bali or a luxurious apartment in Paris, their booking might come with a complimentary DayAway membership, to go use hotel amenities in the neighbourhood.

Closer to home, Waslen hopes to sign on more hotels and work with them on other experiences. She wants to offer engaging experiential packages. When the Phase Two heightened alert restrictions are lifted, Waslen hopes to introduce experiences such as cooking classes, mixology masterclasses, and even a local culinary cooking class.

“Fullerton Hotel is another example of how we’re trying to localise the experiences there. Fullerton is such a beautiful heritage property. We can offer an amazing opportunity to do architectural tours of the property, maybe a tour of the National Gallery, where you end up with dinner and drinks on one of those terraces. I get buzzy just thinking about it. Because this brings us to another opportunity that we can bring off property [experiences] into the hotel ecosystem,” she adds.

Her “buzzy” feeling continues as she hopes to ink a deal with a boutique hotel in Little India and has plans to organise “vice and nice” tours that will take visitors into quaint little tea shops that have been there for decades. As the property has artworks on display, Waslen proposes an art tour to end with dinner and drinks.

Listening to this effervescent entrepreneur leaves us wanting to hear more of her ideas, but she has to leave for yet another meeting which we are sure will include more ideas that she will need to execute. With the new restrictions in place, DayAway will scale up to welcome around 20 further hotels to the portfolio to offer further experiences to people living in Singapore.

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