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One of the hardest things to get right when running an accommodation booking site is how to grow the number of listings of establishments, while maintaining quality-control and ensuring accurate real-time availability, to avoid double bookings, says Afristay CEO Rupert Bryant.
Yet under Bryant (pictured above) the company — formerly known as Accommodation Direct — looks to be getting it right — and now aims to take on better resourced booking platforms like AirBnB.
Last week the company unveiled its new name Afristay. It follows funding of R7-million Bryant and his two fellow directors — his brother Oliver and Ric Meulemans — raised in April (22% of which was from undisclosed foreign investors, with the remainder from the three directors themselves).
The site was started by Oliver and Meulemans in 2006. But when the two launched Guzzle.co.za a short time thereafter, Accommodation Direct kind of “fell by the wayside” for a few years, says Bryant. “I was then brought on as CEO in 2014 to re-vitalise and re-launch the business,” he says.
When he took over the website was just an online accommodation catalogue – the only capability the site had was to send enquiries via email to owners of various listed establishment owners, nothing more.
“So the first thing I did was to launch our online booking system – it allow guests to book their stays directly through the website. This dramatically increases the speed that bookings can get done, and thus improves the customer experience substantially,” he says.
When he took over the site was just an online accommodation catalogue – so the first thing I did was to launch our online booking system, says Afristay CEO
He’s since helped grow the firm from just three employee’s five years ago, to 50 full-time employees now, while quadrupling the firm’s turnover to R4-million in just a year.
Bryant claims the company is now doubling in size every six months. “Our goal is to process over R50-million worth of bookings in 2017,” he says.
He says the rebrand was necessary because the name Accommodation Direct was “very generic”. “We decided that we wanted a name that better represented who we are: Easy online bookings combined with friendly customer service,” he says.
Taking on AirBnB
So can the site compete with the likes of AirBnB?
Bryant reckons it can and says being a local company given them the edge when it comes to offering a better price on accommodation. Unlike AirBnB, which charges around seven percent booking fee, his site does not levy a guest booking fee.
“Also, our customer service is top notch. You can pick up the phone anytime, call us, and we answer. We make a big effort to take good care of our guests and property managers and ensure their experience is superb, from start to finish. We have over 35 consultants who are experts at travel for the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa.
“As a result of taking care of our guests, our repeat bookings and word of mouth referrals are quickly growing, and we don’t have to sink hoards of cash into online marketing,” adds.
In all 65% of the company’s customers are from South Africa, while 15% are from sub-Saharan Africa, and 20% are from the rest of the world.
Keeping on top of fraud is also key. “Online accommodation is the fastest growing sector for online fraud, so a large part of our focus is verifying accommodation to ensure zero fraud,” he says.
Stresses Bryant: “Repeat business, and word of mouth is what makes or breaks businesses in the long-run”.
Featured image: Afristay CEO Richard Bryant (Supplied)