ChinaTravelNews, Ritesh Gupta - Apartment specialist with a personalized service, Sweet Inn, is keen on sustaining its growth of traffic from China and is even planning to introduce properties in the Asia Pacific region, including in China, next year.
The company, which has apartments in 10 cities in Europe, currently garners 20% bookers for renting of its properties from China. It started focusing on China as a source market three years ago. "Our target is to garner 50% bookings from China by 2019," shared Sweetinn.com’s Chief Revenue Officer, Eitan Reisel, who was in Hangzhou recently for TravelDaily's China Hotel Marketing Conference.
"We are also planning to launch operations in China with our own Sweet Inn apartments here, with Shanghai most likely to be among the frontrunners for the inaugural property. We are also looking at Hong Kong, Singapore and New Delhi for introducing our apartments." said Reisel.
Eitan Reisel, Chief Revenue Officer, Sweet Inn
A business model that even Airbnb is taking note of
Sweet Inn is not a marketplace where buyers and sellers end up transacting. It's core proposition: stay in an apartment and be treated like a hotel guest.
"We lease apartments for 5-10 years and then get them ready for travellers to rent out for short-term. We offer the best of both worlds, on the hotel front - hotel services, amenities etc. and on the apartment front - prime location, localised experience, "homey" feeling. The business model in a way of leasing and distributing is similar to WeWork's model," explained Reisel.
"In terms of our model holding promise, Airbnb, Uber etc. are marketplaces or could be termed as innovators as they defined new categories of "sharing" economy. But at the same time even companies like Airbnb now acknowledge the need for a personalized service and that's where we come in. Sweet Inn has the end-to-end responsibility of the guest experience (it could be that the Wi-Fi of the property rented out on Airbnb.com could stop working and the listed owner doesn't respond but Sweet Inn ensures taking care of such a halt in services). Apartment does offer freedom, but we back it service that a top-notch hotel would deliver. In fact, we are going ahead and offering a true local flavour via a well-informed staff who would facilitate exactly what you want, not settle for what there is."
From the first look Sweet Inn’s website looks a replica of Airbnb. Acknowledging the same, Reisel said, "Wise people say that when things work good don't reinvent them! The listing of the apartments is indeed akin (to Airbnb) but in terms of general experience as we are the owners and we provide the services that angle is very different," clarified Reisel.
Being ready for China
There are a couple of aspects that Sweet Inn is preparing for a promising start in this market.
"We are partnering and strengthening our brand awareness with the key players, such as Ctrip, of the industry to grow the 20% booking figure significantly. To date, the word-of-mouth and great experiences are what supported the fastest growth," said Reisel, who mentioned that France and the U. S. are also among the top source markets for Sweet Inn as of now. "As we look to start building our team at a local level, we are also counting on ecosystems like Alibaba and a specialist like Tujia for distribution. Also, the plan is to open a flagship store on Fliggy and take bookings with payment via Alipay. And similarly, activating an official account on WeChat, again streamlining the entire process till a transaction is done is also planned."
"Be it for introducing our assets here or running an account on WeChat for audience in China, we need to act, and interact in a way that resonates with the Chinese people. We understand as a brand we can’t define what the culture, the flavor and the taste (likes, preferences etc.) of that city is,” says Reisel. The Sweet Inn team has guidelines for designing an apartment, but all of the company’s apartments are first renovated and designed from the scratch by local interior designers. So an apartment in China would be first about “culturalising” and incorporating the local feel, said Reisel.
"Our business model stands out for trust and confidence, which stand out in the delivery of Sweet Inn overall offering. Not only our product is suitable for Chinese audience, since it caters to the families or features a kitchen, we also enhance the stay through Chinese speaking people (could be of the Chinese origin or European staff speaking Chinese language) in 10 cities wherever we have our apartments. We also have local WeChat accounts in cities where we have apartments to support the concierge service. The communication flow is done in a native way for travellers. It is hassle-free and gives confidence to the traveller, we have our own app and we have WeChat account available round the clock for concierge service," said Reisel.
"Our staff is trained and present to streamline the stay, right from the moment they greet travellers during the check-in process. In case of Chinese travellers, our staff is familiar with the culture, they speak their language...so if in Paris we have a private driver for a pick-up service from the airport," said Reisel.
Sweet Inn attributes its growth to its agile scalability mode of operation. The company has 25 engineers, and around 20 data analysts and data scientists.
"On one hand we are building a brand and on the other scaling on a daily basis. Our technology, product and data science teams provide tools for growth such as dynamic yield management, loyalty, retention, operation excellence, artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate all processes." he said.
"Agility is provided by smart tools that make every on ground task more efficient. So say if we need to optimize our resources, we do so by counting on technology to support our operations. For example, if we have to send cleaners for three apartments, we need to find an efficient way. Which apartment first? If a vehicle has to collect the requisite stuff from a location and then proceed for delivery and cleaning at apartments, then what's the best route?" Also, keyless entry system, which works on passport verification, and payments are being automated as well.