When you travel to destinations across the world, why pay for your hotel stay when you can stay for free?
These were questions Roomize, a social network for owners and general managers of hotels, posed itself.
Hoteliers can register their property for free on the Italy-based Roomize, while doing so comprehensive hotel profile information is requested.
Then, a hotelier can search for other hotels listed in the portal. If a hotel listed in the portal is of interest to a user (an another hotelier) to stay there, then the user can contact the hotelier, agree to swap rooms and confirm the deal, all for free.
In addition to swapping rooms, a hotelier can also book another hotel in Roomize for 10% discount on the best available rate (BAR).
For people who wonder what the word 'Roomize' means, the suffix '–ize' in English means 'to make into', 'to convert into', this gives a peculiar nuance to the name of this social network. The company made up a verb to indicate an action 'room-ize-yourself' (engage in a activity related with 'rooms', hotel rooms).
Giusi Palazzolo, co-founder of Roomize tells us why she started the company:
"The idea was born in 2012 when I (also owner of a hotel) was moved by the desire to 'barter' my hotel rooms and 'sharing' the know-how with other colleagues around the world. When analyzing the market and the competitors, we discovered that a hospitality industry network where the concept of swapping hotel rooms with a social angle doesn't exist. Thus, Roomize was officially launched in January 2013.
"This brand new platform has already achieved important goals: more than 1,000 owners and general managers of hotels are now in contact to share their know-how by offering their hotel rooms to colleagues. Exchanging rooms in a professional context, and optimizing the cost of stay or a vacation has aroused great interest among the experts, since the concept is innovative and easy to communicate. Actually, the viral spread of this 'swap & share' concept increased our brand awareness."
In addition to the founder, Roomize has a marketing manager, two graphic designers, a webmaster, an engineer, two marketing and communication attendants and a copywriter.
The company is self-funded and aims to reach 10,000 hotel subscribers in two years.
Currently, all services in Roomize are offered for free. The company says its business model is evolving and revenues could come from advertising, from a possible commission on the swaps or from premium upgrades.
Q&A with Palazzolo below:
Describe what your start-up does, what problem it solves and for whom?
Roomize is the first social network created to enable owners and general managers of hotels, bed & breakfasts and farmhouses to exchange their hotel rooms for free, for personal use.
Also, thanks to social tools such as chat, webmail and forums, thousands of hospitality professionals are connected in a unique and innovative platform to share their know-how.
In addition, once the conditions of the swap are accepted, users can leave a public or a private review to give an opinion on the experience or on the quality of the structure. Thus, the roomizers can feel part of a network, enjoy the innovative idea of the swap, stay for free, and offer a free stay to their colleagues.
Roomize is also a club price: whether or not a user sets up a free room swap with another Roomize member, it is possible to offer/be offered at least a 10% discount on the best available market rate.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
Roomize is the best way to stay connected with thousands of hospitality industry professionals all over the world. Roomizers can experience new cities and cultures and use the swap for business or leisure.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
Roomize is carrying on different marketing solutions in order to increase its customer base and enhance its brand awareness. Social media marketing actions on Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, display banner campaigns and direct email marketing are the main strategies to promote the brand.
A number of key hospitality and travel magazines and hospitality industry companies showed interest in partnering with Roomize. Actually, collaborations are in progress with many of these players.
Newsletters are sent weekly in order to provide the users with the latest tourism and hospitality industry news. In addition to this, new press releases are broadcast to the main international magazines of the sector.
The competitor analysis outlined six similar swap platforms and hospitality networks, but no one represented a threat to us. Anyway, we will always be ready to defend and attack with innovation and originality.
How did your initial idea evolve? Were there changes/any pivots along the way?
In the beginning, Roomize was a platform thought to enable hoteliers exchange theirs hotel rooms. Then the idea evolved and social tools have been integrated in order to create the first 'social swap' network in the hospitality industry.
Roomize is an innovative and very competitive free service. In just a few months (since launch), the idea became viral and immediately arose curiosity and attention among journalists and professionals in the hospitality industry.
In just six months, we already have hoteliers in the system from countries across the globe through social media marketing activities.
We will improve the social tools by maintaining the vision of swapping rooms among hoteliers, enabling a networking platform for them, search for talents or find a job through the new sections. A mobile app is certainly the next step for us.
Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time, what specific challenges do you hope to have overcome?
The main challenge in 3 years would be generating benefits and creating a large and international customer base there by positioning Roomize as a leader in the hospitality social network industry. We hope to collaborate with some of the most relevant pillars of this industry.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
New and fresh ideas can always help an industry to improve. Travel, tourism and hospitality industry needed a social network where all the professionals could meet each other, gather and share their know-how.
It may be already happening that some general managers and owners of hotel stay for free in their colleagues’ hotels but now, as a plus, they can do it easier through Roomize!
The concept of swapping hotel rooms for free in a professional way sounds unique when compared to the stream of companies that focus on enabling transactions.
Simply put, can the service be called a professional-barter-service for hoteliers? Technically no, because Roomize also allows users to interact with each other, allows users to write reviews about a hotel and enables a discussion community for hoteliers.
Will the Roomize model have an impact on the mainstream hotel booking portals like hotels.com? Definitely, no. Because, the end users of Roomize are only the owners of hotels, not the people who work at hotels. This limits the user base of Roomize to a large extent.
But if the service is marketed and positioned right, the limited user base can also turn into a revenue goldmine as we are talking about full service hotels, boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, resorts and holiday farms across the world. Now, take a few seconds to roughly calculate the total number of these operators in your city, and then take a guess about this number across the globe.
Two key attributes we think might be important for the success of Roomize would be - increased signups, active involvement of hoteliers in the portal.
Since we are dealing with a many to many combination (many hoteliers vs many destinations), the number of hotels in the system plays a key role. Example: When a bed & breakfast operator in Nepal goes on a 3-day holiday to Cologne, Germany, there has to be at least 3-5 hotels in Cologne in the system for the B&B operator to strike a successful deal.
In the FAQ section of Roomize, the company says its requires up to two parties (hoteliers) to arrive at a successful deal, and Roomize won't guarantee a successful stay. This is slightly alarming. Compare the service of Roomize to a portal like eBay where the latter is a platform for users to exchange stuffs. In the context of eBay, we are talking about cash and a product exchange. In case of Roomize, we are talking about hotel room to hotel room exchange. But, eBay guarantees the sale. So, why not Roomize?
Given the fact that the company is just six months young, it has achieved quite a lot and it might improve the efficiency of the system.
We will have to wait and see how the market responds when Roomize starts charging a fee for hotel room swaps.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.