By the end of 2019, Jordan and Henry were already managing more than 50 cage spaces as a side rush before deciding to leave their jobs full-time at RHB Bank and PwC respectively.
“What happened was that a neighborhood hotel approached us to help them fill their vacant rooms a few months after the pandemic,” the duo told Vulcan Post.
Leveraging their experience in property management, they helped the hotel secure 30 guests who wanted to stay in one place for less than 3 months.
They reflected on the many beautiful hotels in Malaysia and how amazing it would be to turn a part of their rooms into medium or long term accommodation.
“Given this new opportunity, we decided to create a rental platform for hotels to list their accommodations so that users can book them monthly at affordable prices. Like this, Roomah was born, ”they shared.
Bring empty hotel rooms to life
Since the MCO, the daily short-term rental market dried up due to travel restrictions and hotels were exploring alternative sources of revenue, the founders noted. Boutique hotel Langkawi Chantique pivoted for sale nasi lemak, Marriott Bonvoy began offering deals to the WFH crowd and delivered food to Grab, while Hotel KLoé had a two-day bazaar.
Despite the pandemic, Jordan and Henry observed that the occupancy rate of their existing accommodations remained at a healthy level. “Since we have been making a flexible monthly rental for a long time, we decided that there was no harm in giving [renting out hotel rooms] an attempt, ”they recalled.
It was certainly a new challenge for the two who had no previous experience working with hotels. But, as they say, “in every crisis there is opportunity,” they were able to explore the new business model.
Thus, Roomah began collaborating with 3-5-star hotels to provide short- and medium-term accommodation in empty hotel rooms. By collaborating with hotels, partners allow hotels to continue their operations and minimize job cuts due to the pandemic. They even helped a neighborhood hotel generate additional 6-figure revenue during the pandemic.
While hotels can set their own rental rates for each room, the Roomah team will advise on a reasonable range taking into account their surrounding properties, demographics and location. Roomah then sets the cost of the room between 10% and 15% before including it on the platform, in the same way it monetizes the startup.
Filling in the gaps
The Roomah model is aimed at working professionals and students looking for medium-term stays. So far, its 70-person user base has seen interns, project-based employees, students and expatriates renting for an average of 2.5 months.
Guests are offered 7 hotels listed in Roomah, including Eastin Hotel KL, Days Hotel and Suites and Pacific Express Hotel Chinatown.
Its founders claim that most rental accommodation in Malaysia is short-term (daily) or long-term (annual). Jordan himself could relate to this need when traveling for work projects and understands how difficult it is to find a suitable place to rent for a month or two.
“Pandemic or not, accommodation is essential. Even with remote work practices, working adult adults who are already hiring will continue to hire as they take a “wait-and-see approach” to current work agreements, ”shared Jordan and Henry.
The team also noted that millennials and Gen Zs also want more flexibility in the place and way of life. “They prefer not to commit to traditional one-year leases so they can move around with a hat. Roomah can fit in perfectly, as our hotel rooms are ready for relocation and have flexible monthly contracts,” they noted.
You could draw superficial similarities between how Roomah and Airbnb work, but it’s clear that the types of hosting they offer differ. In addition, one of the advantages of Roomah accommodation is that hotels are usually located in more central locations, providing better comfort to the guests.
Adding value to your offerings
In addition to tackling the old problem of having to convince a skeptical marketer about their startup model, the Roomah team had another problem, laundry. Laundry and kitchen services are usually equipped for long stays in specific hotel rooms, but may not be available for medium-term stays.
Therefore, the team partnered with a subcontracted laundry service to pick up and drop off their guests ’clothes. As for the kitchen facilities, they are still in discussions with several hotels to build a communal kitchen, so that residents have the option to cook whenever they want.
A quick fix I can see is to equip each room with a small portable induction stove, basic kitchen utensils and a set of proper instructions for cooking in the living room. That way, guests can cook at least lightly.
Being equipped with this service has helped Roomah to join more hotels, as the responsibility of the latter no longer lies in spending money on the provision of these services.
Roomah’s long-term goal is to expand beyond the Klang Valley to other places that have similar problems, such as Penang and even Bangkok.
If your plan works as planned, Roomah will also work with boutique hotel owners to turn their hotels into cohabitation buildings. This will create more affordable and flexible options for tenants to live in cities.
However, in the short term, Roomah wants to embark on 20 hotels and rent a total of 500 rooms in the Klang Valley by the end of this year.
- You can learn more about Roomah here.
- You can read more Malaysian startups we’ve written about here.
Featured Image Credit: Henry Liu and Jordan Liew, co-founders of Roomah