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Prasun Choudhary of OYO Rooms On How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Consistency. Whether our guests are visiting a Texas or California property, consistency offers them peace of mind that they’ll receive a reliable experience at any OYO property. Through our innovations within our OYO OS platform, owners have insight into all aspects of the booking process, which allows customers to have a more reliable and consistent experience every time they stay with the property.

As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Prasun, President of OYO International.

Prasun Choudhary is President of OYO Hotels & Homes International, the leading technology and revenue growth brand for owners and operators of hotels and homes. As a founding member of the global travel technology company, Choudhary has held multiple titles throughout his tenure at OYO and has spearheaded the expansion of the brand into several international markets. In addition to his role at OYO, Prasun is a tireless advocate for expanding access to higher education, partnering with philanthropic organizations and local communities to improve opportunities for low-income children and families.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Early in my career, I knew that I wanted to be part of a business as it was built from the ground up. As Ritesh Agarwal, Founder and Group CEO of OYO Rooms, developed his initial concepts for the company, I was excited by the prospect of contributing to an innovative company making a tangible difference. From its conception, the company’s goal has been simple — provide small businesses, which are often glossed over, with the resources and financial backing to enable growth. My interests in strategic management and financial modeling, combined with my genuine belief in OYO’s core values, have led me to where I am today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The most exciting project I’ve worked on has been OYO’s launch into international markets. As an integral contributor to the company’s strategy in South India, Japan, East India, and Nepal, I had the opportunity to travel to assist with expansion into international locations. Stepping off the plane with just a suitcase, unfamiliar with the native language and culture, I was overwhelmed by a world I had never experienced before. OYO’s international expansion was a pivotal moment for my career, as it gave me a sense of pride to see just how far the company has come in a short period.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first began work in Japan for OYO, I met an octogenarian hotel owner who was operating a 25-room property. I was eager to connect with him and share insight on how he could maximize occupancy and grow his revenue. Surprisingly, however, the man said he had no interest in working to increase the occupancy. He said that he took pride in delivering a certain level of service to his guests and wanted to maintain that quality standard. Increasing the occupancy would only burden him with more work and the overall guest experience would suffer as a result. This conversation was an ‘aha moment’ for me. OYO’s property owners aren’t always looking for ways to increase their revenue. Each owner has a specific vision and unique goals that they want to achieve for their property. By connecting with individual OYO partners personally, I was able to see beyond revenues and profits and work toward creating a stronger brand overall — one that prioritizes quality of service, guest experience, and satisfaction, while empowering and enabling the owners to be successful in their proprietorship and achieve their individual aspirations.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I have been fortunate to work alongside OYO’s Founder and Group CEO, Ritesh Agarwal, and Global Chief Operating Officer, Abhinav Sinha, during my tenure. Not only did they give me the opportunity to switch from a career in finance to an operational role, but their support and enthusiasm gave me the confidence to go beyond my day-to-day responsibilities at OYO. This in turn has only fueled my passion for the company more and inspired me to continually push the boundaries of how we do things and work to better the OYO brand.

Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

As OYO is first and foremost a technology company, we’re in a unique position within the travel and hospitality industry. Our core mission has always been to create innovative, accessible products that allow for seamless communication between OYO, our partners, the hotel managers and owners, and our patrons, customers and individuals booking our rooms.

Our OYO app, specifically, has allowed us to streamline our operations during the pandemic, which has proved to be an increasingly challenging time for the industry as a whole. During this time, we completed a lot of research and development for the app and expanded upon provided features that will be crucial to our performance long after the pandemic ends.

Rather than introducing features and awaiting feedback from our audiences, we pivoted to start with the app users themselves. We did lots of listening and utilizing information gathered in partner townhalls, consumer surveys, and OYOpreneur sessions to optimize the OYO app and its offerings to adapt quickly to the demands of both our partners and patrons.

A significant update to our tech offerings was the self-serve modules for our hotel partners that use CO-OYO OS, our hotel management system, that automatically provides them with vital analytic reports and offers insights into property performance. This quick delivery of information will provide our partners with the information necessary to keep up with developing travel trends and optimize their management system accordingly.

The efficiency of the self-serve modules further inspired the OYO team to develop and advance our automated Yo! Chatbot for supporting customer queries in real time. The Yo! Chatbot will help us balance the demands of our 24-hour call center while providing patrons with solutions to common issues, such as booking cancellations and property information, wherever and whenever they need it.

The trend of automation continues with the OYO OS’ ability to build on and strengthen patron relationships by learning and leveraging the data gathered from individuals’ stays at OYO properties. For instance, if a customer is looking to book a room, the OS can decide which room should be suggested to the guest based on their past preferences.

As a tech-first company, we have utilized cutting-edge methods and advanced programming to launch innovative products that make our patrons’ booking experiences seamless. We’ve simultaneously aided the growth of our partners’ businesses as they face challenges posed by the pandemic. Over the next six months, we plan on launching more than 40 additional features across the OYO suite of products and we’re continually evolving with the needs of our clients.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

As an organization, OYO is a young company that has experienced a significant amount of growth and pressure-tested our operations at multiple levels. After the pandemic gave us a chance to introspect, we refocused our efforts on advancing our tech products to address the pain points that both our partners and patrons experienced regularly.

For our property partners, the advancements of the self-serve modules, such as crucial management insights to the integration of guests’ stay data to provide suggestions for their next stay, has allowed each property to operate and function as a larger hotelier chain, even though they may not have the staff to support those efforts.

For our patrons, these technological advancements have allowed for a smoother, pain-free customer experience when it comes to booking and managing their reservations, especially with assistance via the on-demand, automated Yo! Chatbot.

During the pandemic, to address the anxiety and hesitancy around travel, OYO also introduced OYO VaccinAid, an in-app vetting system that showed patrons the vaccination status of hotel and property staff, and Sanitized Stays minimal-touch standard operating procedures for check-in and checkout, as well as housekeeping. Not only did these efforts strengthen guest relationships, but they ensured that OYO was focused on the safety of both its partners and patrons and reduced the stress associated with travel during the pandemic.

As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?

The pandemic has thrown the hospitality industry a major curveball, showing how difficult it is to predict future travel trends. The industry has had to make drastic shifts in protocols and introduce efforts to rebuild trust between patrons and properties to ensure peace of mind when traveling. Although we have an uncertain path ahead of us, what we have learned over the past few years can help guide the hospitality industry as we continue to adapt to the new normal.

Since 2019, we have seen an increased prioritization of booking flexibility and transparency for both partners and guests, standardized cleaning protocols and procedures like OYO’s Sanitized Stays, and the implementation of verified vaccination statuses, such as OYO’s Vaccinaid, and guest policies that align with CDC guidelines. We expect those trends to continue, but in order to rebound and reach pre-pandemic levels, it will take larger efforts across the hospitality industry, changes to consumers’ travel habits and expectations, and the continuance of mandated regulations from the government to ensure both travelers and hotel staff are safe until the end of the pandemic.

The next wave of growth, and the next chapter of the hospitality and travel industry, will be driven by technological advancements. The emphasis needs to be on efficiency, reducing our dependence on the dwindling hospitality labor force, and instead supplementing automated procedures and high-tech initiatives to provide the support of an extensive staff to the smallest of properties. By providing hotels with technology like OYO OS or CO-OYO, we can empower these partners to streamline their operations, saving costs and maximizing revenue while going above and beyond in providing safe, affordable, and enjoyable accommodations to guests.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

For me, the perfect vacation is one that allows me to fully unplug and relax. Ideally, somewhere secluded and serene, like a weekend retreat in Sri Lanka, where I would be able to run, meditate and enjoy the calm quiet. Although I do enjoy the fast-paced nature of the hospitality business, I find it crucial to allow for restful reprieves every now and then.

Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.

Wellness and mental health are taken seriously at OYO — not only for customers but for our patrons alike. One way our company supported wellness amidst the COVID-19 pandemic was through our “Samarthan by OYO’’ welfare program. Samarthan provides support to business owners that have lost family members to COVID-19 and provides resources and opportunities for those that have been impacted.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Consistency. Whether our guests are visiting a Texas or California property, consistency offers them peace of mind that they’ll receive a reliable experience at any OYO property. Through our innovations within our OYO OS platform, owners have insight into all aspects of the booking process, which allows customers to have a more reliable and consistent experience every time they stay with the property.
  2. Service. Traveling can be a stressful experience, and at OYO, we aim to make the process as seamless as possible. Through innovations such as Yo! Chatbot, customers have 24/7, real-time assistance, custom-tailored to a guest’s booking status. Providing high-quality and consistent service allows customers to feel that their chosen accommodation has their busy schedules in mind.
  3. Ease of booking. COVID-19 has completely altered how we travel. Now more than ever, customers are looking for flexible accommodation options that meet their ever-changing needs. The OYO downloadable travel app allows customers to book holidays with only a few taps while on the go. Efficient systems and easy-to-use programs provide customers with positive experiences that will keep them coming back.
  4. Safety and hygiene. These days, health has become a top priority for customers. As customers wanted to experience better properties and a stay that fits their purpose, and to provide safe and affordable accommodation, we introduced OYO Sanitized Stays and OYO VaccinAid as a solution. We are also supporting our partners through a combination of establishing sanitization protocols and training their staff.
  5. Rewards. Customers come back to a brand when they feel valued. Brand loyalty programs, such as OYO Wizard, can give members a sense of belonging and appreciation, making them more likely to choose a company for their next vacation

Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?

An organization that I hold close to my heart is the Sustainable Youth Development Partnership, a Tanzanian non-profit which works to spread youth-led service initiatives on an international scale. In 2007, I had the opportunity to work with Sustainable Youth Development Partnership and design a microfinance framework in order to provide loans to impoverished individuals who may be turned away from traditional banking institutions. Providing resources to low-income families, as well as access to higher education, are just a few of the philanthropic areas that are important to me.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

If I could start a movement, it might be a campaign spreading awareness around the importance of healthy habits, both mentally and physically. I’ve personally grown and experienced the value of meditation, in particular, having completed a 10-day Vipassana meditation course. I would love to share the wealth of my learnings with a broader campaign.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow my Twitter @prasunC06 and my LinkedIn account is https://www.linkedin.com/in/prasunchoudhary. Thank you so much for having me.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente

224 Followers

Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), #1 Best-selling Author, Syndicated Columnist, Podcaster, and Stage 3 Cancer Survivor