Young startup aims 40 per cent monthly growth

Writer: 
Khine Kyaw Myanmar Eleven Asia News Network Yangon
Cofounder and CEO of ezStay Aung Phyo Lwin (left) and cofounder and CTO Lwin Htoo Ko at their office.

AS THE HIGH season for Myanmar tourism draws near, ezStay, an online booking platform for budget hotels and guesthouses, has set a target to grow 40 per cent on a monthly basis in its first year of business.

Aung Phyo Lwin, cofounder and CEO of ezStay, said they aimed to complete 2,300 bookings by the end of March 2018 and he expected the number to grow tenfold to 23,000 bookings over the next three years.

“Within six months of business operations, we have partnered with 140 hotels and secured over 700 bookings so far,” he said. 

He hoped to partner with 500 hotels, motels and guesthouses over the next six months. In three years’ time, the firm planned to expand its coverage across the nation. 

The firm started preparing for launch in December last year and began trading in March when it completed an intensive coaching programme at Phandeeyar Myanmar Innovation Lab.

Aung Phyo Lwin admitted the firm was still not fully satisfied with its business performance during the low season due to budgetary constraints. The firm now operates with pre-seed funding of US$25,000 (Bt133,000) from Phandeeyar.

“At this point, we aim to seek seed funding for one year. If we are profitable after one year, we hope to run ourselves in the future. If not, we will try hard to secure Series A funding for sustainable growth,” he said. 

He said the firm targeted middle-class travellers aged 18 to 35 who wanted to visit Myanmar’s tourism destinations at an affordable price. 

Saving time and money

The room rates range from 20,000 Burmese Kyat (Bt818,000) to nearly 100,000 Kyat, depending on the location, travel period, services and facilities. When booking with ezStay, the average room rate costs less than US$30, he said. 

For customers’ convenience, payment can be made through bank transfer and credit and debit cards such as Visa, MasterCard, and Myanmar Payment Union, in addition to payment at the hotel. 

He said 90 per cent of their customers were young people who preferred to save time and money by booking flights and accommodation themselves, rather than tour packages, often through the ezStay website, which is also available in English. 

Most customers opted to visit the Mandalay region, which is home to tourist attractions in Upper Myanmar such as Bagan, Mandalay, Pyin Oo Lwin, Monywa, and Meikhtila. Beaches such as Ngwe Saung, Chaung Tha, and Ngapali also attract local and foreign travellers. 

He reminisced about the firm’s early days as RarHub, an apartment rental service that came up with the idea of introducing a Burmese-style Airbnb. They later transformed the firm into ezStay due to Myanmar laws that did not allow foreigners to stay at locals’ home.

Yet, he has not given up hope of partnering travellers with accommodation owners, as he thinks the government may one day allow homestay for foreigners. 

He aims to make good use of social media to improve the firm’s sales of hotel rooms and tickets. To him, around 50,000 to 100,000 people usually visit their Facebook page while only 10,000 people visit the website on a monthly basis. 

“The influence of social media really plays a vital role in the promotion of a tourism product. For example, when a girl sees some of her friends’ photos taken in Bagan, she becomes eager to visit there,” he said. 

He foresees a bright outlook for online tourism in the near future, thanks to gradual improvements in users’ behaviour. He hopes to launch a mobile application within one year. 

Myanmar is experiencing a digital leapfrog. Now, almost everybody uses Facebook. It is a very positive sign to go digital. People may exploit technology to find information they want to know. As the users’ experience grows, we expect a healthy digital environment,” he said.