ECONOMYNEXT - Yoho Bed, a Sri Lanka based start-up has built a network of small hotels, boosting the quality of service and revenues of hundreds of small properties with hi-tech support and transfer of know-how.
The online hotel network features 'alternative accommodation' from budget to boutique that belong to small entrepreneurs.
Though the front end of yohobed.com looks and feels like any other booking engine, behind the façade is an entirely different operating model.
"We are a franchise like for example, Marriot," says head of operations Fathhi Mohamed.
"We do not own the properties but we provide them with operational know-how, technology to provide a high quality of service."
Thousands of small properties mushroomed all over Sri Lanka after a 30-year war ended in 2009 and they were listed on booking engines or online travel agencies (OTAs) like Agoda.com, Airbnb.com and booking.com.
But many of new owners had no prior hotel experience.
Unlike a plain vanilla international booking engine, which use reviews to regulate standards. Yoho Bed trains staff of partner properties and makes sure that toilets and other facilities are up to a minimum standard.
All properties have Yoho Bed branded toiletries and they have to meet minimum standards.
“We understand the new trend where people today want to visit neighborhoods, discover new cultures, meet new people and experience places like a local," says Yoho Bed Chairman Ajith Fernando.
"We built Yoho Bed based on that understanding."
Guests do not have to wade through reviews to find out whether the property is up to par, though they are available. Yoho Bed's training and standards is aimed at solving the problem.
If there are recurring customer complaints about bad service, the firm eject a property from the system.
"Actually hotel owners know that a bad review can hit their revenues," says Fathhi. "They are very careful. So it does not happen often."
Analysts say the hotel network which is using branding as a free market regulatory tool, is coming as big chains in Sri Lanka are shedding crocodile tears on behalf of travelers.
The big dinosaurs are calling on the Sri Lanka's tourism authorities to tighten regulations in a bid to kill the competition from a start-up ecosystem.
Yoho Bed will also happily list any partner properties on multiple plain vanilla booking engines and market the properties.
"Because of our size, we can get access to and use online travel agencies to market properties in ways that a small hotel owner cannot do," says Nazreen Ramzi, head of Yoho Bed's Communications and marketing.
Through the Yoho Bed software a property owner can manage its presence on a multiple booking engines and automatically avoid conflicts.
"The problem with listing on multiple booking engines is that you can end up with double bookings," says Kalana Jayasuriya, owner of Yoho Lavinia Villa in Mt. Lavinia, a beach resort on the southern edge of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo.
"If you have only one room left and it was sold on Agoda, you can end up with another guest from another site, if you do not manually remove it quickly from all other booking engines quickly."
With the firm's software a small hotel can be listed on any number of booking engines. The software will remove each room from all the booking engines as soon as it is booked.
The Yohobed system also takes care of revenue management, suggesting price changes dynamically.
"Many small hotelier have listed their rooms on OTAs but they have no idea how to do revenue management," says Fathhi.
The most basic revenue management is to give a discount on any unsold rooms in the afternoon. But there are other factor to consider, such as pricing of competitors nearby, how many empty rooms are left in the area, the time of the year.
The market can change from hour to hour.
The Yohobed software can monitor competition and make suggestions. In addition it can also takes into account future events that can boost visitors, and price rooms many months into the future, accordingly.
Jayasuriya says getting into the yohobed.com system probably boosted his revenues 30 percent.
"I know about revenue management," he says. "Even when it rains you will lose revenue unless you react.
"But I simply do not have the time to do it. I am a lawyer not a fulltime hotelier. In fact at one time I subscribed to a revenue management system but it was expensive.
"At Yoho Bed it is all part of the deal."
The partner hotel will get a higher share of revenues from a booking on the yohobed.com platform than most other engines.
Yoho Bed also provides customer support with a 24 hour call centre.
The call centre will help with anything from finding the way to the hotel to helping guests communicate with staff who may not be fluent in English.
It also has Russian language support. Fathhi says more languages would be added in the future, but in practice English can sort out most problems.
Yoho Bed now has more than 500 properties listed in 25 cities in Sri Lanka, up from about 70 in 2017. The company says Ella and Nuwara Eliya accounts for 25 percent of the bookings, followed by Colombo, Anuradhapura and Kandy.
About 1,500 Yoho Bed guest nights are sold each week now Fathhi says. And it is growing. (Colombo/June04/2018)