Asia's established budget hotel aggregators continue to expand at the same time as new investors pump cash into the sector.
India's Vista Rooms is less than a year-old, which might be stretching the definition of an established player. Nonetheless, it has already built up a portfolio of 800 or so properties in more than 80 cities, finding niches in tier 2 and tier 3 locations where it claims to be the market leader.
It has now taken the brand into Sri Lanka, partnering with 200 properties there. And it is planning a presence in at least four other countries by the end of the year.
The brand works with boutique hotels, guesthouses, serviced apartments, private villas and home stays. It also has a B2B model where it offers hotel partners access to its technology, which can be used to handle distribution and manage properties.
As well as its brand dotcom vistarooms.com (or www.vistarooms.lk for Sri Lanka) Vista also helps its partners access third-party channels such as Cleartrip.
While the focus is clearly on Indian travellers visiting the neighbouring island, one of Vista's three co-founders Ankita Sheth has her eye on helping Sri Lanka's overall tourism industry.
"We are working with our hand-picked hotels to change the perception of budget hotels. We want travelers, coming to Sri Lanka, from all across the world to no longer worry whether their bathroom will be hygienic or whether the AC will be working when they stay at a budget hotel."
Elsewhere, Malaysia and Indonesia specialist Nida Rooms is opening an office in Bangkok and wants to have 3,000 Thai properties on its books by year-end, a significant hike on its portfolio of 1,400 Thai properties.
That's impressive because Nida is even younger than Vista Rooms and claims to be "Asia's fastest growing virtual hotel operator." on its FAQ page The tagline on its homepage claims that it is "the largest hotel chain in Asia".
Nida's Crunchbase entry says its parent company Global Rooms Limited secured an undisclosed seed round in September 2015, followed up by a further $1.3m in November, backed by East Pacific Capital and True Capital Partners.
Elsewhere, Room on Call has raised $2 million and is looking to expand its footprint in India beyond its current 400 or so properties in 42 locations. It was founded in May 2015 and picked up $300,000 from US-based investor and Yahoo! exec Payal Syal in September.
The latest round comes from India's Cash Ur Drive, whose core business is putting adverts on cars and buses.
A blog post from Room on Call says it is booking 20,000 room nights each month.
It is trying to find a niche by focusing on people who would prefer to phone a call centre to make a booking, arguing that there are 975 million mobile phone users in India -- only 3% of whom use apps.
Having said that, the company has now also launched an app to target that segment.
The online branded budget accommodation aggregator model isn't a million miles away from the franchise model used by hotel chains in the US and elsewhere. But the growth potential of these business in India and Asia is massive because the region is home to so many budget accommodation options. When Tnooz talked to Vista Rooms last August, its chief technology officer, Pranav Maheshwari, told us:
"The market is huge...We think there are around 150,000 properties in India which could move over to this branded sector. The major players have got, say, 2,500 between them. So we’ve just scratched the surface."
The surface might be a bit more than scratched seven months on, but his point remains valid. Throw in the rest of Asia and you have a big fragmented market in need of some digital love. Surely it's only a matter of time before some of the major global players start taking a look at this (especially if you can get to 20,000 room nights a month in less than a year for an investment of $300K).
Related reading from Tnooz:Thomas Cook India links up with Airbnb for international packages (Feb 2016)
Budget consolidation – Oyo Rooms buys rival ZO Rooms (Feb 2016)
Former Cleartrip exec sees entry-level opening, launches Comfy Stays (Feb 2016)