While Japan was the first to experiment and adopt newer technologies in various sectors, India is not far behind. The capsule stay concept that’s in-vogue in Japan has now percolated into India. Today’s millennial doesn’t settle for anything unless the design is inclusive. And Urbanpod has taken everything into consideration before designing their pods – they are diverse in space and comfort, sensitive towards people of different genders, ages and numbers. There are Suite pods for couples, Private pods for solo travellers, Ladies Only pods for women, and Classic pods for the average guest. Designed by Formwerkz, a Singapore-based architecture firm, the pods are self-contained units with technologically-superior interiors. We talk to Hiren Gandhi, Co-Founder & Director, Urbanpod Pvt. Ltd., about the concept, acceptability, competition in the sector as well as the brand’s expansion plans.
Tell us about Urbanpod and its inception.
Hiren Gandhi (HG):Urbanpod is a venture born out of passion to bring a new, innovative and value-for-money concept to India and serve the society at large. Shalabh Mittal and I got the first-hand experience of pod hotel in Singapore. We were absolutely convinced about the product and roped-in the third-partner, Singapore-based veteran in the architectural design & interiors business, Berlin Lee. We conceived the concept of Urbanpod and decided to bring this innovative concept to India as it offers good value to the customers and gives them a smart stay-option.The Indian hospitality industry has a huge potential. Tourism sector is on an upswing. Booming domestic economy, globalization and better infrastructure is spurring a growth in the number of business and leisure travellers. Even the sub-segments in the leisure category viz. single-travellers, backpackers, group travellers (study-tour groups, explorers, researchers and spiritual-travellers) are expanding more than ever before. Urbanpod offers a balance of quality and affordability, hence, is a complete package for the new-age travellers.
What is the concept behind this project?
HG: Urbanpod in Mumbai is the first-of-its-kind pod hotel in India and indulges the discerning travelers with a smart stay-option. It is a GenNext, futuristic, smart-accommodation and shared-living space with a modest pricing while not compromising on the quality and offers basic luxury, comfort and safety.
The pod theme and setting at the Hotel, also makes it a great arena to network and make new friends from across the globe! With a value-for-money proposition, Urbanpod offers a unique experience. Perfect for anyone seeking accommodation on a budget, Urbanpod is strategically-located in the heart of Mumbai’s business-hub and closer to the domestic and international airport.
Who are your target customers? Also, tell us about the fare structure at Urbanpod.
HG: The new-age travellers (both business and leisure), single travellers (both men and women), backpackers, group travellers of all kinds (spiritual-seekers, study-related group, researchers, explorers, cultural-exchange groups), young job-seekers who come into the city, frequent business travellers and traders who are looking at optimising travel-spends and keeping travel-budget in check, are our ideal target segments. The typical age-group of our guests would be from 21 years to 50 years.
Currently, the classic pod would cost Rs.1,000 (which includes taxes and breakfast). We are following dynamic tariff structure, as followed by the industry and the pricing is subjective to season or demand.
What are the various facilities being offered at Urbanpod for its guests? What actually constitutes Urbanpod?
HG: We have 140 pods with various upgrades - suite pods, private pods, classic pods and an exclusive ladies only pod. Suite pod category is suitable for couples, the private pods have more room and the exclusive ladies only pod give the single lady travelers’ added safety and privacy. The sleek individual pods are self-contained with modern, technologically-superior interiors. Each Pod comes with a cosy bed, bed cover, personal locker with secure key-card access, Plasma TV (with headphone facility), personal reading light, power socket, hangers, a dresser, wall mirror, free wi-fi, adjustable air-conditioning facility, air-purifier and a sliding door (shutter) with locking-facility for added privacy. Each Pod also has a smoke detector and a fire-extinguisher as a safety measure.
How will Urbanpod give competition to others in the sector? Elucidate on the market potential for a concept like yours?
HG: Urbanpod as a product/service is completely a new concept for India. With the launch of the Urbanpod, India witnessed the launch of a new category in the Indian hospitality sector. Within just one year of its launch, Urbanpod have experienced the change in the mind set of Indian travellers and their openness to experiment with newer concepts and ideas as they have started travelling globally and are accepting and adapting the global trends and newer formats of living. Though Urbanpod witnessed a lot of youngster check-ins, it is surprising to witness an equal number of 30- 45 year olds warming up to this innovative concept.
As the concept is new in India, our challenge in the initial days was of addressing the mind set of the end-user and we thought it may be a bit challenging to get the acceptance. However, we feel the property speaks for itself! The superior design and quality infrastructure addresses most of the concerns of the modern day traveller. Especially, the new-age travellers love the concept. Urbanpod have created value for the customers by offering luxury at pocket-friendly prices and services like any top-notch hotels.
Tell us about your marketing and promotion strategies.
HG: Word-of-mouth from our customers has gone a long way to attract potential customers. We are using the power of social media to talk about this innovative concept, educate and engage the audience in a meaningful way. We are also looking at advertising and we truly believe that a good brand speaks for itself. As we cater to the bottom of the pyramid, cost and value creation will be the key factor to spread the word across. Our focus is to keep the cost low, so that we can pass on the benefits to our guests. As we are taking the franchise-route, our core objective will be to create awareness among people from surrounding cities through various modes of communications and associations with media.
Tell us about your retail presence across the country and also about your expansion plans.
HG: Currently, we are present only in Mumbai. We are aiming to expand our presence in other metros, tier-I and tier-II cities across India through franchisees. In fact, we are exploring one more property in Mumbai (through franchise route). We are exploring strategic tie-ups with property owners, large IT-parks and business-hubs, Indian Railways, airports as well as key pilgrim centres, going forward.We plan to increase our capacity from 140 pods at present to 800 pods in the next 2 years or so. We have received more than 20 enquires from across India and we are evaluating the prospect of the available opportunities. For taking up Urbanpod franchise, the area requirement is around 5,000- 12,000 sq.ft. The potential franchise owner needs to have own or leased property and ability to invest in setting up of the pod hotel. Urbanpod would evaluate and study the feasibility and viability of the location and other vital-aspects and once finalised, the planning and design team from Urbanpod would take charge of setting up the whole unit. Besides having a profit from operations, the most attractive part in getting associated with Urbanpod is that the franchise would also get a fixed-guaranteed minimum returns on investment every year. Urbanpod would also fund the negative cash-flow during the initial days of operations. Urbanpod will also be taking charge of the marketing functions to create more brand-awareness through various modes of communication, associations and tie-ups, making it a complete package of value proposition.
What do you think about the current status of India’s hospitality sector?
HG: The sector has achieved a significant level of growth and most of the major hotel chains have effectively established specific brands to target different segments of the market. However, the Indian hospitality sector still has good potential to accept newer formats and concepts, thereby creating more innovative stay options for the ever increasing number of travellers. The sector has shown tremendous improvement on the occupancy front and this has positive impact on Average Room Rates (ARR). Such improvement reflects steady demand for rooms which, in turn, leads to higher room tariffs, the key to better profits. The tourism and hospitality sector in India accounts for 9.6 percent of GDP. The sector covers a wide variety of activities within the services sector and has generated tremendous employment opportunities, besides being third largest foreign exchange earner for the country. The central government has contributed significantly to the development and growth of the sector by providing various tax incentives, policy measures and various other initiatives.