If I am going to another city for a short stay and looking for decent accommodation, the first thing I do is Google for the best options. I check on TripAdvisor or MakeMyTrip for reviews before zeroing in on one name, and will go ahead with the booking if the reviews satisfy me. I might even write a review for the hotel I picked after my stay.
For the hotel owner, how do these reviews help? Reviews give hoteliers an in-depth insight into what satisfies their customers and which areas need to be worked on immediately. With more customers depending on the online world to choose their stay, online reputation management (ORM) is no longer a luxury – it is a necessity for the very survival of the players in the hotel industry.
Pranjal Prashar saw an opportunity here. In 2014, he started Repup, a B2B ORM platform that provides customer experience management tools for hotels and hospitality businesses. The platform helps hotels to measure, benchmark and improve the user experience of their guests for a flat annual rental based upon number of keys.
Pranjal,30, comes from a middle-class family in Bihar. Growing up, he was fascinated with Microsoft’s DOS and was eager to study computers. He holds a dual degree in IT and Management from IIIT Gwalior. Pranjal first started up in college around speech recognition technology. He was mentored by Indian Angel Network (IAN), but the startup did not take off. “Before building another product, I decided to learn the nuances of running a business. So I worked at early-stage startup Aujas for three years before starting up,” he says.
Seeking to profitably leverage the power of social media, Pranjal wanted to find a solution for positive online reputation management in hospitality industry. He co-founded PIQUOR Technologies for Repup along with Vineet Chouhan in December 2014. Repup’s target audience is hotel owners, CXOs of hotel chains, revenue managers, and other software companies in the hospitality space.
Why the industry matters
The number of Indians who book hotels online has risen from 3.5 million in 2014 to 8.4 million by 2016. A Google India report from 2015 estimated the Indian online hotel booking industry to be worth $1.8 billion in 2016.
According to Pranjal, online reputation management has gained importance because of the sheer volume of business that the industry generates from online sources. Today, 25 percent of the hotel bookings in India is done online, he says, adding that about 90 percent of the users look at a minimum of three online reviews before making a booking.
“A ‘Book Now’ action button alongside a customer review increases the significance of the review. The connection between online reputation and sales becomes direct and immediate,” says Pranjal.
Leading Indian online travel agencies (OTA) like MakeMyTrip and Goibibo are also now investing heavily in review platforms. Review platforms add creditability to OTA offerings. The OTAs account for almost 72 percent of the total online bookings. The remaining 28 percent of online booking is through individual websites, mostly of brands that have a chain of properties.
A recent study by Repup has found that a mere one-percent increase in reputation score leads to a 6.9 percent increase in Average Daily Rate (ADR) and 1.4-percent increase in occupancy. A better ORM score directly translates into higher revenue for hotels.
Occupancy rate, ADR, and revenue per available room (RevPAR) have traditionally been the key performance areas (KPAs) in the hotel industry. Aggregators like OYO, Treebo, and Fab Hotels have added new KPAs, like number of reviews, ratings, rankings and guest satisfaction index.
Strategies, vision and mission
Repup applies semantic technology and uses intuitive decision-making tools. Their patent-pending algorithm presents guest experience in a measurable framework. The platform generates performance reports to enhance customer experience. Their patent-pending technology analyses original review data with almost 90-percent accuracy. Pranjal adds, “We work closely with our clients to try and understand the challenges they face in UI/UX. We have come up with the methodology from users’ perspective – we try and do everything in three or four clicks.”
Repup has Radisson Blu, ITC Welcom Heritage, Fortune, Lemontree Hotels, FabHotels, Pride Hotels and many more among its clients. It plans to add another 2,000 clients this year. Since most of the travel and hospitality industry are based out of Delhi/NCR region, Repup chose Gurgaon. Its competitors are Noida-based RateGain and global player Medallia.
IAN funded Repup with an undisclosed amount last year. “We have grown our customer base 600 percent in the last one year and our prime target is to hit 10X the number in coming 14-15 months,” says Pranjal. With a 24-member team, Repup is clocking a growth rate of 8-9 percent on a month-to-month basis, and it is expecting to generate more than Rs 3 crore in the current financial year. The growing Internet penetration, which enables more population to come online, is surely paving way for such growth.