Report says that online hotel booking industry will scale from $0.8 million upto $1.8 million by the end of 2016. Over the last 5 years, the industry has seen an exponential transformation with consumer confidence in online hotel bookings being on the rise. The sector has seen several startups incepting to tap the enormous opportunity but a very few of them managed to sail through.
Amongst the few is QiK Stay, a hotel branding chain that serves as a convenient and cost-effective method for hotel booking across the nation. The company is currently operational in top metro cities like Delhi, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Ludhiana, Chandigarh, Kanpur, Lucknow and many others where it has partnered with over 400 hotels.
Sahil from Retailer Media caught up with Jasveer Singh, CEO & Co-founder, QiK Stay to know more about this evolving hotel booking industry, its future runaway and how he plans cement a pole position in the market.
Please share your background. Your education and whether entrepreneurship was something you always wanted to do?
I come from a very small town of Uttar Pradesh, called Etah, where I studied till class 12th and completed my B. Sc in Agra.
After completing my graduation, I moved to Ghaziabad to pursue my MBA in Marketing and International Business. After MBA, I joined a firm called changemytyre.com, just to gain firsthand experience in starting up businesses from scratch. Then, I joined yet another tech startup called abhilaya.com. This was a grocery delivery startup. After this, I never worked in any company as an employee. I used all these experiences to start something of my own, which I did in the form of sparehousing.com.
How was the idea of your startup conceptualized? What is the need you are addressing in the market?
When I left abhilaya.com, I was looking for a paying guest (PG) accommodation for myself to stay in in Gurgaon, but faced numerous difficulties in finding a suitable PG. This motivated me to enter this space and I conceived a business idea to solve this problem faced by many like me. This emerged in the form of sparehousing.com, a tech-enabled platform that helped people look for a suitable PG accommodation for themselves.
I then pivoted the idea to start up a chain of budget hotels in the form of ZoZo Rooms, a chain of budget hotels that let people to book rooms on an hourly basis. Later, I realized that the market wasn’t really ready for such a business model, so I finally pivoted the idea even further to create QiK Stay.
Through QiK Stay, we aim to eradicate the problem of trust deficit that is there in the minds of customers in the budget hotel space.
Share with us the till date journey of QiK Stay.
We started up QiK Stay in July last year, with a seed funding of US$250,000. We have gradually built a team of over 30 talented people now. Of late, we have received quite a lot of media coverage as well. Our digital fan following is also increasing by the day, making us a more lovable brand gradually.
Building things from the ground up is never easy and that’s what excites the entrepreneurs too. QiK Stay’s journey so far has been equally exciting and challenging at the same time. We look forward to accepting bigger challenges, delivering better results and bringing about paradigm shifts as we progress from here on.
Share your reach and future expansion plans in terms of Indian demographics.
I believe our team has done a great job in the last 6 months, as far as the physical expansion and brand presence are concerned. With presence in 70 cities in India, our focus now would be to increase and diversify the customer base in these cities, before moving on to other places or other verticals of this market.
Shed some light on the current scenario of budget hotel aggregators in the country.
Firstly, I don’t quite like the word hotel ‘aggregators’ while defining our sector, but unfortunately that’s exactly what most of our competitors are doing right now – just ‘aggregating’ hotels, providing them a marketplace, thereby. Nonetheless, a couple of startups in this space do have a first-mover advantage, and I’d like to thank them for educating the customer in the first place, but I strongly believe that in the long run, the leader in this space would be defined by the quality they deliver even as they pause the price war.
Who is your target consumer? Could you please share how you have detailed your consumer?
Our target customer is the regular business traveller, the general budget traveller and the leisure traveller who wants a near-perfect convenient and hassle-free hotel experience at a reasonable price.
What makes QiK Stay different from other players such as Oyo or Zo Rooms?
Like I said, most of our biggest competitors are playing a price war and not looking at are, to a large extent, neglecting the side-effects of such a market-capturing technique. This is where our proposition is different and adds value for the customer. We don’t just tie up with our hotels and list them on our website, we co-brand with them. We make sure the customers’ experience is as smooth as possible. For this, the first thing that we do is hand-pick some of the best budget hotels in the city, only if they fulfill our quality checklist. Secondly, we perform regular checks in our partner hotels to see if they’re delivering the kind of service we want to give to our customers.
Additionally, we are doing something which none of our competitors are doing – we provide names of our partnered hotels on our website and app, which is where the element of co-branding comes into play, thereby providing complete transparency to our customers. We aim to achieve profits by reducing costs, which can be done by collaborative participation with our hotel partners, by formalizing, optimizing and automating processes within their hotel systems.
Do you feel competition from offline hotel booking agents?
Rather than a competition, I believe that offline travel agents are value partners to us. In fact, we already have quite a few offline agents as business partners to drive more sales.
How fast do you see this trend picking up in tier II and III cities of the country?
It won’t take long for the budget hotel chains like ours to fully expand in tier II and III cities. I believe, like us, the major focus of most of our competitor firms right now is to build a strong hold in the metro cities and tier I cities.
What has been your ‘a-ha’ moment in the business? (The high point)
Every day is a-ha moment in a startup, as you see your company grow every day! The high point for us is to see how our target customers have realized their preference for quality in the recent months, and it only helps all of us to deliver that in the long run.
What has been your biggest challenge so far in scaling -up? How are you addressing it?
It is always a difficult task to find the right talent, especially for a startup. For me, it was all the more challenging given the fact that I come from a non-tech background. Nonetheless, our strategy of hiring experienced IT professionals and giving them autonomy has been doing just about perfect.
Where do you see the future of this industry 3-5 years down the line?
Online hotel industry as a whole, in my opinion is going to be the fastest growing and most profitable industry in the entire e-commerce space in the coming 5-10 years. Talking specifically about the budget hotels space, one can surely bet on the demand to grow exponentially and thus our penetration in the remotest of towns in our country over the next 3-5 years, by which some startups would have already merged like OYO-ZO merger for better economies of scale, and we would start seeing a couple of market leaders as the industry would start to mature.