[Startup Bharat] This Siliguri-based hotel management firm wants to become OYO of Northeast India

Started in 2018, SayRooms was hit by three waves of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the bootstrapped startup is banking on revenge travel to build its hospitality business.
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When OYO Rooms, run by Oravel Stays Pvt Ltd, wowed the startup ecosystem in 2014 by raising huge funding rounds, budget hotels were touted as the next big thing. While many players entered this space – including Zo Rooms, FabHotels, and Treebo – only a handful of them were able to survive.  

By 2018, Gurugram-based Oyo started expanding into China and Indonesia, as well as had plans to enter Japan. When many had started to recognise OYO’s signature red-and-white logo, Rahul Chaudhury and Jaydeep Bose in Kolkata were in the process of starting a hotel management service of their own. 

“Most budget hotels in 2018 were run by OYO; there were hundreds of them in West Bengal. But Northeastern states were not as penetrated by any of these firms. That’s where we saw an opportunity,” Jaydeep, Co-founder at SayRooms, tells YourStory

A former executive at Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Jaydeep joined hands with Rahul Chaudhury who earlier handled sales and operations at OYO for North Bengal and Sikkim regions. The two started SayRooms in March 2018 as a bootstrapped startup, using their expertise to manage hotels.

“Anyone can build a hotel but managing one is a big task,” says Rahul, Founder, SayRooms.  

So far, the founders have put in approximately Rs 70 lakh from their own pockets to bootstrap the startup and have a 10-member team running it out of Siliguri. 

Hotel operations

Run by Say Trip Hospitality Pvt Ltd, SayRooms provides front- and back-end support to hotel owners – from providing them with connections for sourcing good quality linen at affordable prices to handling online customer support.

“Many managers in small towns at times do not know how to answer online queries. One of the properties had gotten a bad review on Google and the manager responded by saying ‘Thank you’,” quips Jaydeep. 

While the fixed expenses are borne by the property owner, SayRooms takes care of day-to-day operations and management. The firm generates leads from property owners who reach out to them directly, and also through travel agents operating in Tier-II and III towns. 

Overcoming the pandemic disruption

Between 2018 and 2020, the firm was able to bring over 25 properties under its belt, including hotels and homestays. But the pandemic disrupted its plans and hit the business severely. While the startup didn’t disclose its revenue, it says that as it takes a commission on bookings — which disappeared during the pandemic — its revenues were also impacted. 

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“We had to close down most of our properties during the first wave. We reopened when things settled down a bit but the second wave was really bad and travel was closed down once again,” says Jaydeep. “We finally decided to reopen in August 2021 but then the Omicron wave happened. Thankfully, the third wave was not as bad for us,” says Jaydeep. 

Registered in Kolkata, SayRooms currently manages about 10 hotels and homestays and claims to have an occupancy rate of 45-48 percent. Prior to COVID-19, the occupancy was at 70-75 percent

Plans for the future

But the founders are extremely optimistic about how things are panning out in the travel industry. They are betting on the resurgence of the travel industry.

“There is so much revenge travel happening and people want to live in quaint homestays, and Northeastern states are very much on the map of travellers,” he adds. 

According to the Indian Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), India’s travel market is expected to reach $125 billion by FY2026-27 compared to $75 billion in FY2019-20. 

The startup aims to scale up to 30 properties, from the current 10, by the end of April 2022. SayRooms, which currently has a presence across Siliguri, Kolkata, and Gangtok, is also targeting other cities across Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, and Sikkim. “We want to create a presence across all seven sister states,” says Jaydeep.

The startup is also looking at raising a funding round. SayRooms currently competes with IPO-bound OYO Rooms – backed by Softbank, Fab Hotels, and a bunch of backpackers hostels, among other budget stay players.  

Edited by Kanishk Singh

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