On a day trip? This marketplace allows 2-hour hotel stay and anytime-check-in
With Flow, customers can cut 50% to 70% of the price they usually pay for an overnight stay.
Entrepreneur Eric Lai would often go on short business trips in his previous jobs, and what would always frustrate him is how he had to pay for a 12-hour stay, but only stay in the room for less than five hours. This frustration is what led him to create Flow, a booking platform which allows users to book with flexibility.
“I almost never check in at 2 pm, but instead late at night. I also had to check out early in the morning to catch a flight,” Lai told Hong Kong Business in an interview.
Apart from benefiting customers by paying less, Lai also thought that allowing flexible booking would allow hotels to “resell empty times during daytime after a guest checks out,” which, in turn, would help them increase revenue.
"You can think of us as the Booking.com for half-day hotels. You choose a hotel, choose a duration, and choose a check-in time," Lai said.
"This will be suitable for business travellers, short-haul travellers. For example, people coming from the Mainland or Macau. Most of them do not stay overnight and actually just come and go within the same day for client meetings," he added.
Data from the Hong Kong Tourism Board showed that in 2019, there were 32 million same-day travellers who visited Hong Kong from the Mainland.
As most of the bookings in Flow are "instant," users can also book even a day or two before their desired stay, added Lai.
A traditional overnight stay at a four-star hotel would cost around $700 to $800. Rooms available in Flow usually cost $400 for four-star hotels for a four to five-hour stay.
Localised payment methods
Flow offers local payment gateways like Octopus for Hong Kong, GrabPay for Singapore, and ShopeePay for Malaysia.
"We support all kinds of local payment gateways because we see this as an important move. Localisation is our direction," Lai said. adding that their payment methods are one of Flow's advantages against other booking platforms.
Other payment methods which Flow provides are VISA, Mastercard, AMEX, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and PayMe.
Flow also does not charge customers extra fees for booking at their site, and only earns through commission from their 300 partner hotels which include Travelodge Hotels, ibis Hotels, Holiday Inn Hotels, Novotel, Dorsett, Pullman, Intercontinental, etc.
"We charge commission out of every booking that we facilitate for the hotels and there's no extra fee to be charged from the guests," Lai explained.
“We provide a web-based portal for hoteliers to easily manage their timeslots and prices, which are then listed on our Flow Website and Flow App, in real-time. We usually advise hoteliers to offer four to eight hour sessions, for example 10 am to 5 pm or 3 pm to 10 pm session, but it can be fully adjustable catering to hotels’ operations,” he added.
Getting three to five-star hotels to partner with Flow was a challenge. For them, more booking during the day means more cleaning up.
"The way we dealt with it was we encouraged them to start with just a few rooms and test it out. After a while, they were okay with the setup. Eventually, the extra revenue that we generated for them was able to cover the extra cleaning costs they incurred," said Lai.
“Most of our hotels price a session at least 30% lower than an traditional overnight price. Thus, if the room is being sold by two sessions in a day, that already results in 40% more revenue than selling by just one full night, since 70% plus 70% is equals to 140%,” he added.
To date, Lai said Flow has facilitated over 200,000 flexible room bookings and brought US$10M additional booking revenue to their hotel partners.
Not just hotels
Hotels are not the only spaces which locals can book through Flow. The marketplace also allows flexible booking of co-working spaces.
Lai said he wanted to add flexible co-working spaces in Flow given the the rise of hybrid work setup. According to Lai, most of their users are freelanders, or employees who often have client meetings outside.
"You don't need to go to Starbucks to work. You can go to these co-working spaces with better facilities and better environments. You can have a call without being disturbed by passersby," Lai said.
The only difference between booking a hotel and a co-working space is that the latter's minimum stay is an hour, whilst the former is two hours.
"For hotels, we usually start from two hours the minimum, because an hour would be too short as a vacation or staycation experience. It also costs extra for hotels to clean up too frequently," he said.
Currently, Lai said his team is working with over 50 working space operators who lists their working desks and meeting rooms on an hourly basis on Flow.
Unlike in Flow, Lai said most other marketplaces only provide “monthly rental of working desks and need to wait for the operator to manually confirm a booking when it comes in.”
“On Flow, the desks are instantly confirmed with flexible check in time and duration of use,” he said.
Room for improvement
"People tend to tailor-make their travel plans. We wish to make other travel products to be more flexible," he said.
"The industry has been still quite traditional, meaning there's opportunity to digitise more products and more services across the industry," he added.
Flow is also eyeing to extend its presence to more first-tier Southeast Asian cities like Bangkok and Jakarta using the over $1m it raised in a Series Pre-A funding round.
The funding round was led by family office Millard Partners, with participation from HCL Capital, Gabriel Fong (former Chairman of GOGOX), and Tim Wong (former Chairman of Man Group Asia).
“We thought by combining flexible hotels and flexible workspace, Flow can better serve locals and business travellers for their various needs on-the-go. It is our vision to make Flow a space booking platform for urban travellers’ need to rest, work and meet people during the daytime,” Lai said.