The truth of the matter is that everyone loves a seamless travel experience, from taxi & takeoff to landing. When people like me hear the word “travel”, we first think of “transportation”. However, ‘accommodation’ is a very big part of travel, and it is also a big business. Take Airbnb, an American startup in the online accommodation industry; founded in 2008, and as of June 2015 it was valued at $25.5billion.
There are a few startups in Nigeria that have also entered the online Accommodation space, and one of those players is Hotels.ng.
What is Hotels.ng?
Hotels.ng is an online travel agency specializing in hotel bookings within Nigeria. It is a multi-sided platform that connects travelers and accommodation providers (mainly hotels) through the web. The word ‘multi-sided platform’ means that it enables direct interaction between at least two sides of the platform. Since this is a post on Hotels.ng’s business model and not on multi-sided platforms, you will have to stay tuned for a future post mainly about ‘Multi-sided’ platforms.
Facts, Funds, Founders & Figures
- Founder: Mark Essien
- Founded: 2012
- Headquarters: Lagos
- Staff: 54
- Coverage: 7,164 hotels in 320 cities across Nigeria
- Bookings made so far: 1,000,000+
- Social media: Twitter (23.4k) Facebook (112,542 likes) Instagram (12.5k)
The Business Model Canvas
Hotels.ng’s business model shall be laid out using Alex Osterwalder’s 9 blocks Business Model Generation Canvas. See the diagram below.
Each block in the canvas will be expanded upon below:
1. Customer Segment
Hotels.ng has two main customers as the canvas above shows:
⇒ Accommodation providers: hotels, motels, inns, apartments, suites, etc.:
- who want more customers
- who do not have their own websites but still want online visibility
- who want a broader platform to advertise their premises
Right now, Hotels.ng’s primary focus is Hotels. But a brief look at their terms and conditions shows that their services can extend towards events hall bookings. It is doubtful however if Hotels.ng will deviate from this hotel’s path anytime soon, especially as they begin to focus on expansion out of Nigeria. Also, services like events hall bookings might be a little difficult to incorporate into their existing services because of the name Hotels.ng. Customers might be confused with the name.
- who travel a lot on business
- who travel for events and functions (event/party planners and attendees)
- who travel for the holiday
I am going to hazard a guess here by saying that Nigerians do not have a culture of holiday travels to other parts of Nigeria that are not their hometown, (until we go to London or America we haven’t traveled …). When we do go to our hometowns, we are going to our family homes, or likely staying with a relative *sorry no opinion poll was taken to arrive at that conclusion. What the above therefore means is that these types of travelers will not make up a significant percentage of Hotels.ng’s customer segment. Business travelers and people who travel for events/functions will make up the bulk of their traveler segment.
2. Value Proposition
Hotels.ng offers great value propositions to both sides of its customer segments. Below are a few of these values:
⇒ Accommodation providers enjoy:
- increased online visibility
- an extended customer base
- an easy sign-up process
⇒ Travelers enjoy:
- ease of booking their accommodation online
- payment flexibility
- the convenience of comparing various accommodation providers at once
- travelers receive hotel recommendations and reviews
- Discounts and deals
3. Customer Relationship
Hotels.ng establishes customer relationships in a few ways. One is through ‘personal assistance’ by their team of customer service personnel who handle customer inquiries and complaints, amongst other things; and the other is through their hotels.ng community forum.
4. Key Resources
Hotels.ng’s key resources are their Staff team totaling 54 Nigerians at the time of writing this post and their website. Their staff is responsible for everything including; sourcing accommodation providers, creating and updating online profiles of accommodation providers, payment verifications, payments to accommodation providers, customer service, and so on. They also engage freelancers to help signup/onboard new hotels. These people are freelancers and aren’t classified as full-time staff. Hotels.ng is big on Inbound marketing (Content creation) as an SEO strategy, so they also engage many freelance writers.
Hotels.ng’s main distribution channels include:
- Social media
6. Key Activities
I am sure there might be more activities Hotels.ng is involved in, but the ones I identified are the 4Ps:
I will take each ‘P’ in turn:
- Platform management: this is key, as the whole Hotels.ng operation lies on the platform. As more hotels join the platform, online profiles are created for them. Updates are also made on price changes on behalf of accommodation providers, amongst other things.
- Promotions: the most recent promo I saw Hotels.ng do was a ‘story writing challenge’ with a prize winner of
N20, 000.00. Other promos include the funny travel stories competitions
- PR: from Techpoint to BellaNaija, to Techcabal, to Nairaland, to name a few, it is clear that the Hotels.ng founder, Mark Essien believes visibility is important to his startup. While I will not go into this in any great detail in this post, I believe Hotels.ng enjoys ‘trust transference’ from customers through Mark’s PR duties.
- Payment: this relates to the payments Hotels.ng makes to their accommodation providers after deducting their commission from the total amount paid by the traveler. As with every business, there might be a need for things like refunds due to book cancellations or trying to match a price a customer saw on another website, etc.
7. Key Partners
⇒ Hotel owners:
They are very important partners. While Hotel owners pay no listing fees on the platform (which is obviously a great incentive for them to sign up with the platform.) Their actions (price, quality of service, quality of rooms, etc) can, however, have a negative or a positive effect on Hotels.ng’s brand.
.⇒ 3rd party payment processors:
They process online payments made by travelers.
8. Cost Structure
Hotels.ng’s cost structure is not unlike most other startup companies. Their costs include legal fees (which include: a one-off company registration fee, rent, legal/contractual agreements), office fixtures, utilities, and staff salaries (which is the biggest cost driver for Hotels.ng), Marketing and Advertising etc. The startup saved some tech development costs at its inception because of Mark’s tech skills. This is one of the great advantage of having a technical founder.
9. Revenue Stream
So how do Hotels.ng make money? Hotels.ng’s main source of revenue is through a referral fee (commission), which they receive from hotels for referring travelers. The exact percentage of earnings that hotels give to Hotels.ng as a thank you for connecting them to travelers is not stated on the website. With my little knowledge of Multi-sided platform startups in other parts of the world, my guess was that their commission would not be above 25%. With some of my double07 moves, I later found out that their ‘percentage’ charge is a little complicated. The percentage is not a set figure applicable to all the hotels equally. The percentage figure that Hotels.ng charges an accommodation provider is subject to a major factor in the charge of the accommodation provider: ‘PPR-Price Per Room’
Simply put, the better the discount given on ‘PPR’ to Hotels.ng travelers, the lower the commission Hotels.ng might charge the hotel.
Hotels.ng does not charge hotels a fee to feature their rooms on the home page, however, the hotels that give the best discounts to customers get the privilege of being featured on the home page, specifically under the “today’s top deals”.
In spite of this, however, according to a Hotels.ng staff, Hotels.ng does not receive any commission less than 10% for each room booked through her.
- One of the biggest risks that multi-sided platforms like Hotels.ng faces is the risk of intermediation. To significantly reduce this risk, I recommend a few things:
⇒Have a point-based system for both hotels and travelers to encourage them to interact with the platform beyond their first transaction. This point system should have a financial implication for the hotels. The more repeat travelers they have, the less discount they pay. For travelers, their accumulated points can be used for future bookings.
- The ‘date of last update/amendment’ to the Hotels.ng’s ‘terms of service’ needs to be clearly stated on their platform for many reasons including legal.
- Show the number of people that have booked each hotel. Why? The strange ‘social proof’ phenomenon.
- Hotels.ng has to insist that every accommodation provider provides pictures of their facility before they become active on the platform. Those pictures should be used instead of the pictures of the folded white sheets. Accommodation providers are listing for free, so, this demand is the least they can do.
- Honestly, many more customers tend to rant than rave, so, for the select few who actually take the time to write a review, whether ranting or raving, there should be a system in place that rewards them. In the event of either a rant or a rave (especially a rant), the hotel in question should make a statement, apologize and promise a better experience.
- Hotels.ng should ensure that its workforce is not fragmented. At this young stage of the startup’s life, basic questions like how to get my hotel on the home page of the platform should be easily answered by every staff member, whether they are directly involved in the process or not. See lesson 13 in the Sam Walton autobiography review.
- Lastly, Hotels.ng should uncomplicate her commission charges.
Hotels.ng does not run a perfect system yet (I don’t think any company ever really does). There are many things that still can be improved upon, but with continued great leadership and team, She has just begun to scratch the surface of greatness
I speak on behalf of Nigeria when I say that we are proud to have had Hotels.ng begins in Nigeria, and I wish her the very best as she expands to other parts of Africa and attains world domination.
- I mentioned above that Hotel.ng’s fine print stated that they can also render services like event hall bookings. After the first publication of this Article, Spark and Hotels.ng invested in Oga Venue, an venue booking website.
- In January 2018, Hotels.ng launched Hotel.africa and Fly.africa as part of its expansion plans across Africa. According to research online, Hotel.africa has signed up over 25,000 hotels across Nigeria. For the Fly.Africa, the Startup intended to get into the travel space and attract customers looking to buy local and international flight tickets. As of the time of this update, both the Hotel.africa and Fly.africa expansion seems to have been halted. The URLs aren’t pointing to a live site. While some of the customers they would have served with these new ventures would have been existing customers I don’t know what happened. For the Hotels.africa part I would assume that if Hotels.ng used the same strategy mentioned above to sign up hotels across Africa, i.e people going hotel to hotel to sign them up, the cost might have been unsustainable.
- Osterwalder A., & Pigneur Y. (2010). Business Model Generation: A handbook for visionaries, game changers, and challengers. Wiley.
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