With the long weekend approaching, Bangalore-based Kishore was planning a quick trip to Coorg. Instead of booking a resort, he decided to choose a homestay he had heard a friend rave about. However, he found that making a reservation wasn’t as easy as he had planned.
Like Kishore, avid travellers Nitin Agarwal, Parag Rane and Anurag Agarwal also faced issues when trying to make reservations at offbeat accommodations. This led them to come up with the idea of Funstay, a marketplace for alternate stay options like cottages, villas, and homestays across India.
The trio saw that there was a lack of awareness about such properties in India. “I witnessed this in my daily interactions with friends and colleagues. I found that when I told them about such places, people were excited, but didn’t know where to find or book them,” says 30-year-old Nitin.
Teaming up and ideation
The aim of Funstay, therefore, is to enable travellers to discover different stay options best suited for their needs. With this idea in place, the first order of business was to get the team in place. Nitin had completed his MBA from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, in Entrepreneurship, and had over seven years of experience in the IT industry.
Parag, an engineer and a business management graduate, also from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, had seven years’ experience in the Process Automation industry. Anurag on the other hand has a Masters in Law and is the legal counsellor. Parag and Nitin’s engineering and business backgrounds helped them connect with friends and recruit people.
Changing mindsets and growing numbers
“The biggest challenge with the alternate stay is that it is highly unorganised, and it was tough to find properties and onboard them as they were used to operating through local agents,” says Nitin. So, they decided to start by onboarding hosts from Shimla and all over Himachal Pradesh, and worked towards helping them understand the benefits of such a platform.
While the first few homestays and alternate stays took time, the team was soon able to scale to 25 locations and listed close to 1,000 properties. For the first two quarters of 2015, Funstay worked as a site that provided information; it was in the third quarter of last year that the team rolled out the booking module.
“Since then, we have booked over 300 room nights with 25 per cent repeat customers. We currently have over 1,600 properties from over 70 locations across India listed on our platform. This is expected to grow to 2,500 by the end of this month,” says Nitin.
While getting the homestays and alternate stay properties online was easy, a challenge arose as a large number of these options were remotely located with poor Internet connectivity. The team found that most of the times, booking an accommodation could be lengthy.
To shorten the process time and make the booking process easy and comfortable, they developed a real-time booking mechanism that works at the host’s end. This functionality has now been integrated onto the website for a few locations.
Bootstrapped and future
“At present, our major revenue stream is commissions from bookings. There a few other revenue streams planned for implementation, which we will roll out by next quarter of the next fiscal,” says Nitin.
Bootstrapped, Funstay allows travellers to browse through different options and even choose different activities at a particular homestay. A traveller can place a booking request directly through the portal. Once the host confirms availability, the user is asked to make a deposit and the booking is confirmed. The host, in turn, can manage all the listings by himself and decide on price and availability.
“We plan to expand our geographical presence both in width and depth to provide our users with more options for their dream vacation. We are also working to continuously improve both the traveller’s and the host’s experience through our product. We will add more services (paid/unpaid) that will make travellers’ stay more fun,” adds Nitin.
The space of online booking
Over the past few months, the online hotel booking and budget booking space has been abuzz. OYO Rooms, Zip Rooms and Treebo are a few of the players in the budget hotel segment. While these portals are focused on hotel bookings and not on homestays as such, they are worthy of mention as they are penetrating the market at breakneck speed.
However, even in the alternate stay category, there are hostel room players like Zostel, YHAI, and Vedanta Wake Up. Also, if one is looking to book homestays, portals like MakeMyTrip and Stayzilla provide these options as well. Sites like Homestay, CheersBye and Namastay are exclusively for booking homestays.