On Thursday 23 February Finnish-owned Huone Singapore was inaugurated, with H.E. Finland’s Ambassador to Singapore Paula Parviainen in attendance.
This international expansion is based on Huone Events Hotel from Helsinki – an events and meetings concept, basically resembling a hotel without bedrooms. The new Huone is branded as Singapore’s most creative meeting space, here with the bold aim to disrupt the local events industry.
Behind this exceptional concept there is also a remarkable story centring on the young Malaysian female dancer, Evon Söderlund, who, after a tough childhood, ended up empty-handed by coincidence in Finland in 2005 and found her husband and got educated there. Moreover, this couple dared to do what most people wouldn’t; namely risking everything, including even their own house, for a business idea they believed in so much.
And here they now are, opening in Singapore as the next step, having proved their concept in Finland after four years of operation, during which they had to undergo the ultimate challenge of double bankruptcies before getting back on their feet.
For the CEO Evon, once the idea has really matured, it was matter of throwing herself into the unknown, or risk having regrets.
“What if I, when I turn 70 on day, and think about what I have done in my life. What if I had not taken all the risk to set up Houne. That is why I decided that, since live only once it might as well be a rollercoaster ride.”
“Now our traction in Helsinki is four years and we were thinking that coming to Singapore would be a very good thing because a concept like ours, if you make it work already and the concept is proven, where would you take it in terms of the biggest market? It’s actually Singapore, because this is actually the biggest international meetings market in the world, for six years in a row. So MICE is a big thing here; the demand is here and the culture is here. Everyone throw events all the time,” Evon explains why Singapore became their next step.
It is also a place where the concept can better evolve further.
“Bringing it to another Finnish town, or say Stockholm we wouldn’t learn anything new, it would be just copy and paste. Now when we are still motivated and still want to learn so much without stopping then we might as well take on the challenging market; one that has the biggest demand. So we chose Singapore. It’s not because of my Asian roots at all, in fact I feel like this is a totally different country because I don’t know anyone here.”
In Singapore Evon expects that Huone can learn with and see with an East meets West combination how they will take this concept. I think there is so much there to even improve or develop so this is not just an expansion for us, it is also a development phase for us to find out: Can we be skilled? Can this grow to ten other cities?”
Huone’s vision is to establish Huone in all the top 10 Meeting Cities in the world by 2025, starting with Singapore, and followed by Seoul, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, Brussels, Amsterdam, London, Copenhagen and Tokyo.
What triggered the ideas was that Evon Söderlund and her husband Jussi had thought of bringing the concept of Karaoke to Finland.
The pondered the idea and brainstormed while having sauna sessions in Finland.
“I went to study hospitality management had this idea in the back of my mind all the time. I was thinking of the angle and I realised that the Finns love to sing karaoke but won’t do it unless they are drunk. So the whole idea transformed into the events hotel, focusing on creativity, meeting space and hosting companies and doing company meetings, where our aim is to help them achieve more in less time,” explains Evon.
With the arrival to Singapore the CEO states: ”We are innovating meeting design and it is our goal to disrupt and shake up events industry as a whole. We are focusing on cosier spaces, providing end-to-end event needs, from event planning, food, stationery to even technology. At Huone, events and meetings are hassle-free so that guests can concentrate on what is important.”
Huone’s Nordic roots is also present within Huone Singapore with three of the meeting rooms reflecting Finland. Also carries top brands from Lapland to give both hosts and attendees the best Finnish experience, with the likes of Fiskers (Iittala), Framery, Kyrö Distillery, and Genelec.
“Because we are from Finland we want a piece of the country and hold on to the Finnish identity when we go out. The Nordic style of servicing is not like the Asian; it is about being a host. They are very well trained. People who are serving in Finland are actually bachelor degree holders. They are knowledgeable. If they present you the wine they know exactly what it is. That knowledgeable serving style of the hosting part of I think is great!”
“In terms of the service style the team is really being pushed very much because they are not used to hosting. But here we want everyone to be knowledgeable. Personally I am not used to someone bowing, I feel: ‘Come on, chill!’”
Huone wants to hold on to the Finnish identity and feature Finland, where Evon thinks Finnish people are too humble to speak out about how great they are!
“I would be more than happy to be an ambassador to bring that forward because I would not be me today without Finland. So I can only say that I am in love with Finland and I am more than happy to be the ambassador to bring the greatness of Finland out there. That’s why we have the Finnish forest room, the cottage room and the igloo room.”
This opens up for a completely new Nordic experience for the MICE needs of companies here with such roots as well.
For Scandinavians living in Singapore, my personal opinion is that they are anti-hierarchy and very innovative-minded. So, for them, they have been dying for a solution like this for a long time, the fact that they can actually loosen their tie and just create something new and come up with new knowledge or have their meeting in a more relaxing environment.”
And the setting is one that could hardly be better: situated in a row of shop houses along Clark Quay, overlooking the CBD, and the very former centre for Singapore’s trade during its British colonial era.
“For Scandinavians to come here and experience Singapore in a different way would be something that inspires, related to the identity of this area and at the same time have the creativity unleashed.”