[Startup Bharat] This Bhubaneswar-based SaaS firm is building the ‘Shopify for hotels’
BookingJini, founded by a former banker, offers a Shopify-like platform that lets hotels build custom websites, manage bookings, maximise revenues and market their properties. The Mumbai Angels Network-backed startup has processed bookings worth Rs 261 crore since 2017.
In the last decade, the hospitality industry may have advanced technologically with the emergence of online travel agencies (OTAs) and tech-led hotel aggregators, but most of the innovation and disruption has happened on the front end.
The backend, meanwhile, continues to be dependent on legacy processes and/or decadent software, especially if it’s a small and medium-sized hotel.
While large hotel chains have their in-house tech teams to build customised products, the less affluent properties get left out of the digital landscape. It is this underserved segment in the hospitality business that Bhubaneswar-based startup BookingJini caters to.
Founded in late 2016 by ex-banker and serial entrepreneur Sibasish Mishra, the hospitality SaaS startup began with the aim of helping hotels convert “lookers to bookers” by making passive visitors on their website transact instead of letting them drop to completing the booking on aggregator platforms.
Founder-CEO Sibasish tells YourStory, “Even though hotels give better rates on their own website, they get very few bookings. But there are a large number of visitors to the website because people do a Google search to see if the hotel listed on an OTA is real or not. Then, they go back and book on the OTA. So, we asked ourselves if we could build a sales channel for hotels to convert passive visitors to customers and help them earn more? Because, you know, everyone talks about how travellers can get better rates, but no one knows how hoteliers can earn extra money.”
piloted its platform in January 2017 with the Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) at their Bhubaneswar and Puri properties.
“At the time, OTDC was doing Rs 40 lakh in direct online bookings a year. We promised them Rs 1 crore. We created a booking engine and told them to pay us only if they get bookings. Today, they are at Rs 2.5 crore of direct bookings.”
The same year, BookingJini also received a grant of Rs 20 lakh from Startup Odisha.
Product roadmap and measurable impact
Today, BookingJini’s offering has expanded from booking engine to hotel distribution, customer outreach, revenue generation, marketing, and more.
It helps hotels with custom-designed mobile-friendly websites to drive sales, and also offers them a secure and single-dashboard view of the day-to-day operations.
“We are building a ‘Shopify for hotels’. We give them a white-label solution to help them manage properties, sell rooms, and drive sales,” Sibasish shares.
Besides the booking engine, the startup’s SaaS-based offering includes — a distribution engine that helps hotels integrate with all OTAs and have a one-click access to room inventory; a marketing engine to increase a hotel’s digital presence and improve customer flow without having to rely on OTAs and other agencies; a guest experience engine that helps them create customised experiences like contactless check-ins, walkthroughs, room service, etc., on an app; and an analytics engine that allows them to make predictive data-driven decisions.
“The entire infra is built on the cloud and it solves the problem of hoteliers having to deal with multiple vendors who operate in silos,” says the founder.
Besides improving operational efficiencies, it also helps hotels bypass OTA commissions that can be as high as 35 percent, often eating into their revenues.
BookingJini claims that it has generated a 30 percent increase in bottom-line and 15 percent growth in top-line for hotels. “Even their online visibility has improved and reviews are well-managed. That’s the important thing in hospitality,” Sibasish says.
Growth and business model
BookingJini claims to have onboarded 2,200 B2B customers and handled over 1.27 lakh direct bookings worth Rs 261 crore till date. It has processed 1.3 million transactions and impacted 2.3 million travellers through its platform.
Over 1.24 lakh room keys have been listed and 1.31 lakh check-ins done on BookingJini, as per the company website.
Some of its customers include the tourism boards of states like Odisha, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Nagaland, Tripura, chains like Lemon Tree, Postcard, Mayfair, ITC WelcomHeritage, HHI, WW Hotels, The Landmark, and more.
Sibasish reveals, “We had 1,250 paying clients pre-pandemic, which has doubled in the last 15-18 months. Now, we are managing properties in over 120 cities.”
It also has 40-50 clients in Australia and New Zealand, and is readying for its US launch in December. “We’ve set up an office there. The US market is much bigger than India, and is a good opportunity for us to scale,” the founder states.
BookingJini operates on a conventional SaaS model, where hotels pay Rs 4,800 for a monthly subscription. It claims to be growing at 15 percent quarter-on-quarter, and is looking to close FY22 with an ARR of Rs 10 crore.
“Our burn rate is low. We would be burning 3X if we were in Bengaluru, Pune, or Mumbai. In Odisha, cheaper infra and talent are major advantages. Since we’re a SaaS company, scaling up hasn’t been much of a challenge.”
Riding on its US expansion, BookingJini plans to reach 15,000 customers by 2023, and is closing a Pre-Series A round shortly. Without disclosing the specifics, the startup shares that it will deploy the capital towards marketing and expansion.
Funding and competitive landscape
In November 2019, BookingJini raised Rs 3 crore ($400,000) in a seed round led by Mumbai Angels Network.
Nandini Mansinghka, Co-founder and CEO, Mumbai Angels Network, said in an earlier statement,
“We can see a growing trend of investments in startups that are powering the India growth story, and seeing a Tier-II city startup performing competitively against a Mumbai or Delhi startup shows its capability.”
Prior to that, it had raised a Pre-Seed round of $100,000 from Neotec Hub and angels like Kapil Chopra, former President of Oberoi Hotels and current CEO of Postcard Hotels and Resorts.
One of its other investors, real estate firm Salarpuria Group’s Director Apurva Salarpuria, said, “Bookingjini has the potential to change how small and medium-sized hotels do business in the future.”
Despite the immense potential of hospitality SaaS, the market is cluttered.
In India, BookingJini competes with the likes of AxisRooms, Hotelogix, RoomCentral, DJUBO, etc. Internationally, US-based Cloudbeds, SiteMinder (Airbnb’s hotel distribution partner), and Agilysys are some major players. All these constitute a global smart hospitality market valued at $18.1 billion, according to MarketsandMarkets.
The founder, however, asserts that most “competitors are in silos”. “Some focus on the check-ins and check-outs, some are building booking engines, some have legacy, on-premises products. No one is fully on the cloud,” he says.
And that is BookingJini’s sweet spot, which it will aggressively leverage.
Sibasish signs off by saying, “India has 70,000-odd hotels and we’ve captured six percent of that market. Our first goal is to grow that to 15 percent.”
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Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta