Indian hospitality chain OYO Prep for Changes in Post-Pandemic Recovery
COVID-19 has affected every sector across the globe, and the hotel industry is among the hardest hit. However, OYO Hotels & Homes have been focusing on innovating through technology during the lockdown, to deliver high-quality experience to its customers, while providing value to its asset partners with improved occupancy and revenue. The multi-lingual support of Krypton app has provided the opportunity for OYO to retain greater agility as well as maintain closer ties with its employees, customers and asset partners. Speaking to Express Computer, Anil Goel, Group Chief Technology and Product Officer, OYO shares how the app is helping their property managers who are working remotely on-ground, especially from tier-2 and tier-3 cities in India
How does adding languages to Krypton help OYO’s guests and asset partners? What is the tech behind it and its overall benefits?
Given the restrictions and social distancing norms brought about by the pandemic, a lot of processes required re-tooling, so that we could ensure the health and safety of our onground employees and partners. Activities such as auditing of a property for infrastructure, hygiene and cleanliness, training of property managers and interaction with customers for feedback which were earlier carried out through physical verification was no longer possible. In times like these, OYO’s in-house built app – Krypton has helped our asset owners and on-ground employees to capture customer feedback, identify any experience issues or auditing of the property. The core component of Krypton is the audit module, which is capable of providing information on the property through text input, live images and videos. The audits can be configured to geo-location and supports us to ensure that the property manager is available at the property/hotel and the data is accurate. This in turn has resulted in heightened customer delight and in return increased demand for our asset partners.
We recently announced the multi-lingual support for the Krypton app and it is now available in 12 Indian languages including English, Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Odia, Punjabi, Gujrati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. Since OYO is present across hundreds of cities in India, with most property managers being fluent and comfortable to speak in their local dialects, the availability of Krypton in vernacular languages will bolster higher adoption of learning videos and increase participation of property managers in maintaining regular communication with the central team. The Krypton app is available on Android phones. It has been launched in mweb version to increase its adoptions in case the property manager does not have a smartphone. As we move forward, we also have plans to launch the app in many more vernacular languages across the country. Lastly, we are also have an extensive digital learning platform where there are videos on handling guest check-in, check-out, tariff reconciliations and customer feedback collections. All of this is embedded in the Krypton app for property managers.
What is your assessment of the lockdown situation and the lessons learnt?
Covid-19 has impacted every industry across the world with travel and hospitality being among the worst hit due to the lockdown. The pandemic is set to change the way consumers travel, with safety becoming the topmost priority across the globe, further transforming the way people travel and the hospitality industry operates on a day-to-day basis. While every crisis leads to a new normal, this time technology-led businesses will come out stronger.
As an organisation that has technology deeply embedded in everything we do, we’ve leveraged our capabilities to sail through this crisis. Our biggest lesson during this time has been that when a crisis hits, it’s a time to reinvent ourselves. In the past couple of months since the country has been under lockdown, our tech and product teams have worked round the clock to build preparedness and enable seamless experiences for everyone, including remote working for our employees and asset partners or creating an enhanced consumer experience for our guests around the world. We have made significant investments in technology and intend to drive growth and support our core capabilities to enhance experiences.
Pandemic led lockdown has badly impacted the hospitality sector, how is technology helping OYO recover from this crisis? What sort of preparedness is exhibited to handle such unprecedented situations?
We are a technology backed, product-first company, which always pushes us to try new things. Given the current dynamic circumstances, we continue to make significant investments in technology and intend to drive growth and support our core capabilities to enhance experiences. For instance, we have enhanced our discovery and booking process by enabling instant booking for consumers worldwide. Overall, we’ve rolled out tech-enabled improvements across several areas – whether it is in a product, addressing partner and customer needs, OTA operations, refund systems, research on partner and customer decisions, dashboards, follow-ups, among others. Additionally, during these trying times, our pricing algorithms are working to ensure optimum revenue. More importantly, creating safe experiences through ‘tap’ and ‘go’ models will further digitally transform on-ground operations across our hotels worldwide so that consumers can continue to maintain social distancing and reduce health risks. At OYO, we’ve also introduced a minimal-touch policy for digital check-ins and check-outs to offer guests the best consumer experience while keeping their need to maintain physical distancing. We’ve also rolled out OYO’s real-time assistant Yo! Help, a MWeb ChatBot module in India, US, UK, Malaysia abd Indonesia in order to nudge the customer to adopt self-serve product features rather than call for queries. We are also improving our refund process to give real time visibility to our customers and reduce the time for refund globally. To keep our consumers engaged, we are also continuously leveraging the power of AI and Machine Learning to predict guest behaviour, how they interact with our search results and app, and the interactions they carry out while staying at our hotels. Currently, 100 percent of OYO’s workforce is working in a hybrid model and are using tools like Zoom, Google hangouts, Slack to stay connected and maintain productivity. Regular cadence, daily WFH agendas and virtual team meets have encouraged our employees to work systematically, even when working remotely. We are fully equipped to meet with the challenges of operating in a ‘new normal’.
Please highlight some of the challenges being faced in providing service or support in the pandemic. With remote working and working from anywhere becoming the new normal, how do you perceive this as a new opportunity?
Given the challenging situation, we have faced numerous challenges across business; however, we’re fully equipped to offer seamless experience to our guests with the support of our partners. One such challenge has been the restriction of movement of our onground team. With technology at the heart of everything we do, we used this difficulty to launch vernacular support for our in-house built Krypton app, ensuring smooth hotel operations with the help of our property managers. The core component of Krypton is the audit module, which is capable of providing information on the property through text input, live images and videos. The audits can be configured to geo-location and supports us to ensure that the property manager is available at the property/hotel and the data is accurate. Since OYO is present across hundreds of cities in India, with most property managers being fluent and comfortable to speak in their local dialects, the availability of Krypton in vernacular languages will bolster higher adoption of learning videos and increase participation of property managers in maintaining regular communication with the central team. With remote working and working from anywhere becoming the new norm, we’re also offering upgraded services at our hotels and OYO LIFE, our co-living business arm which includes upgraded wi-fi plans, kitchen facilities among others. We’re also continuously innovating and looking for alternative use cases of hotels to build mechanisms that efficiently meet customer’s requirements and ultimately offer seamless experience. In times like this, offering the best consumer experiences, empowering our partners and gaining their trust and loyalty goes a long way.
What is the recovery plan, post Covid? What will be the business priority for the next few months?
The pandemic is the single biggest challenge that any business or a company has faced. We at OYO, have used this period to strengthen our focus areas of the business which includes: stronger partner relationships, enhanced customer experience, increased operating efficiency through tech and being mindful of the people who make a difference everyday i.e our employees. We have launched the ‘Sanitised Stays’ initiative for zero touch check-in and check-out experience and also have introduced Yo!Help, our self-help tool for a quick turnaround on customer queries. We have simplified deal structures, introduced transparent reconciliation and provided support on multiple fronts during Covid to our asset owners across the world. With impetus on wellbeing and work-life balance, we recently announced that all our employees across teams will have a 5-day work week starting August 2020. A ‘weekend curfew’ has been implemented where everyone is encouraged to avoid calls, meetings and messages on weekends and holidays. Delivering on their people priorities, we have increased our focus on the wellbeing of employees and is encouraging a balanced approach to work as it adapts the hybrid workplace model.
In terms of revival and business recovery, we are cautiously optimistic about the market at the moment. We are currently monitoring the situation with phased-wise unlocking in the country. Our business priorities continue to focus on strengthening our relationship with asset owners, enhancing customer experience with people and technology at the core of our offerings. As we continue to deliver on our priorities, we believe we are positioned well to come out stronger post Covid.
What has been the sentiment of your customers in terms of getting back to services?
We’ve seen a positive response from customers to our hotels reopening post the lockdown in India. Travellers continue to book OYO for their current and future accommodation needs. We have an occupancy increase across consumer segments, fastest in young millennials and SMEs. We at OYO also offer the ‘easiest’ and ‘quickest’ booking, gratification, re-booking, check-in, payment experience for every property with an OYO tag. We have seen 1.5X increase in the daily active users on OYO as compared to lockdown levels, as users have started to search for options that they want to book. Conversion of these users into bookings has also seen a 2X increase, primarily in Top 20 cities that have been opened up by the state governments.