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Travel industry in India has been booming for the past few years and millennials are increasingly driving this trend. If there’s one tell-tale sign of a millennial, it’s their love for budget-friendly travel. With the rise of a population that wants to travel without burning a hole in their pockets, companies that cater to this market was also inevitable. One of the leaders in this segment is our client, Treebo – which is a budget hotel chain brand that needs no introduction to the typical Indian traveler.
We recently had a brief interview with Mayank Khandelwal, who heads Engineering at Treebo, to understand their offerings better and to introduce them to our readers here on the PromptCloud blog.
Please give us a quick brief on Treebo and its key services. How has your journey been so far?
Treebo derives its name from “Bo Tree”, the fig tree under which Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment. The fig tree family – banyan, peepal among others – has inspired not just our name but also what we do. In many ways these trees were the earliest form of budget hotels, offering shelter to travelers without discriminating between the rich and the poor. We too are obsessed about offering quality accommodation at affordable prices. The soothing shade of these trees allowed several interesting conversations among fellow travelers. While serving our guests dutifully, we too love to strike up a conversation or two with them. And finally, we also aspire to emulate the vast reach of the banyan tree. With presence in 100+ cities (and counting), we are making sure that we are available to serve wherever your travels take you.
Treebo partners with small, standalone hotels and helps them improve their service quality standards and also market themselves more effectively. The core pillars of the company are technology innovations (for superior customer experience and for reliable backend operations), on-the-ground process discipline, and new-age marketing (digital and offline).
What inspired you to come up with the idea of a budget hotel chain and what were the initial challenges?
If you are a traveler looking to spend under Rs 2,000 per day on your hotel room, you can’t escape the anxiety that every budget traveler experiences before and during her trip. That’s because you have no way of knowing whether or not you will get a dignified hotel experience. Chances are the bedsheets will have stains on them, the towels will be worn out, the staff will be rude, the bathroom will be smelly and unclean, and even worse, the place may not even be safe. These is exactly the anxiety that the founders of Treebo – Sidharth Gupta, Rahul Chaudhary, and Kadam Jeet Jain – had personally experienced on multiple occasions during their travels. And it didn’t make sense to them. They wondered – when in so many other consumer sectors – from food to fashion, from gadgets to cars, from foodgrains to jewellery – emergence of brands had offered the customer a sense of surety about the quality of product, why should the same not be true for budget hotels? With this thought in mind the trio started Treebo with the mission of providing a budget-traveler the best value for money by building India’s first budget hotel brand. Treebo offers guaranteed quality across all aspects of a hotel stay including spotless linen, free wifi, complimentary breakfast, friendly & prompt service, branded toiletries, and many more.
The initial challenges for us were around maintaining our quality as we started to scale. In order to stay ahead of these challenges we use technology and new age business model innovations. One such innovation – called ‘Friends of Treebo’ – uses crowd-sourcing to get independent, experience-based feedback from individuals who sign up for the program. A highly scalable way of diagnosing quality gaps at our hotels, this initiative has already seen more than 600 sign-ups from people who have now become our eyes and ears on the ground. The other such innovation is on the staff training and motivation front.
According to you, how are Big Data and AI technologies transforming the travel domain? What’s Treebo’s role in this transformation?
Big Data and AI is having a tremendous impact on the travel domain. Recommendations and personalization of what user is looking for is a major use case. Another big factor is being able to predict prices correctly or being able to figure out how the occupancy of the hotel will pan out as time comes near to the check in date. Hotels are a perishable product. Inventory unsold on even on the day of check in has no value. Data plays a key role here. If we price right, we can maximise RevPAR (Revenue per available room).
Dynamic pricing is an important consideration in the hospitality industry. Even back in 2004, Hilton and Marriott changed their room rates one to two times a day but nowadays with advent of machine learning applications for hotels, dynamic pricing can be based on predictive analytics to include more variables in forecasting the webprice. Treebo has also developed an in house pricing system which combines the market movement of prices on a particular stay date (competitor pricing), potential room night performance on that stay date and real time room night performance of that stay date together to be able to come up with the right price.
What challenges do you face when it comes to handling the data extracted from the web?
Some of the key challenges that we have faced in handling the market data are the right identification of the competition set and how effective is the data, how similar is the hotel whose data we are using with respect to a Treebo whose prices we are predicting, how far or near it is to the Treebo, how are the review scores of that hotel compared to the Treebo.
What are your plans and strategies for boosting the business growth in the upcoming year?
The focus for the upcoming year is on profitability, continue to grow at a rapid pace and keep beating our high quality standards. We will continue to strengthen our distribution strength by building strong B2B & Direct sales channels.
We have also come up with our SaaS offering called Hotel Superhero. Hotel Superhero also helps manage online listings and focuses on sales, managing reviews and providing insights to the hotel owner.
What prompted you to choose PromptCloud as your data partner and what challenges in web scraping did we help you overcome?
We were always looking for a reliable partner for our data needs to provide us, market insights from multiple portals into how our micro-markets are doing, which micro-markets to gun for while scouting for new hotels. The PromptCloud solution could help us get the data at a desired frequency from all the portals we needed and for all the markets we needed.
PromptCloud enabled us quickly to provide all the data and we could then build accurate projections on this data to price right and make intelligent inventory decisions. For example, if we could know that the hotels in a particular area are all sold out it could be a direct signal for us to increase prices as the expected occupancy would be higher. Also the trends of market prices helps make our pricing decisions. We have been able to build a pretty solid data science engine.
What new-age technologies do you anticipate disrupting the travel industry in the near future?
As Artificial Intelligence evolves the need of a customer to interact with businesses will start happening without the need of a human agent. AI can help big time here by bringing in Voice Assistants and ChatBots and answer customer queries 24×7. Another big area is Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality. Providing customers with options like Virtual Tour of the hotel on a VR device like an Occulus Rift etc. It can be a game changer in providing virtual simulations of travel destinations and accommodations facilities. Businesses can also offer interactive opportunities to service providers to market their services allowing AR-enabled shopping.
Internet of Things (IoT) can help customer experiences big time. From hotels allowing smart rooms with a fully automated experience. It could also help with hotel owners monitor track of electricity and internet services in their rooms with smart devices.