Room for growth

When a nationwide lockdown in Malaysia left hotel rooms across the country sitting largely vacant, Hanley Chew saw a window of opportunity to help hoteliers put their distressed inventories to good use.

That led him to set up online hotel booking platform JustTonite in February, at a time when Malaysia was under its second movement control order and the hotel industry was suffering with occupancies less than 15 per cent, even in the nation’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.

JustTonite’s Chew plans to introduce the concept of selling distressed inventory to other travel-related sectors beyond hotels

“There were more than 50,000 unoccupied hotel rooms daily in the capital alone. Nationwide, the number was in excess of 100,000. I created JustTonite solely with the intention of assisting hotels to fill up their unoccupied inventories for the same night,” shared Chew, founder and CEO of JustTonite.

The platform offers same-day, room-only bookings with check-in from 18.00 onwards. “This unique model was very welcomed by the hotel industry as it focuses only on the segment of unoccupied rooms for the night that will (otherwise) not generate any revenue,” said Chew.

Chew, who has been in senior management in the hotel industry for the past 28 years, shared that it was initially a challenge to explain the concept of distressed inventories to hoteliers.

“Many thought JustTonite was another OTA coming into an already very crowded marketplace. Many a time, I got ‘lectured’ on rate parity and hotel positioning, a topic which I am way too familiar with,” he elaborated.

“The industry ethics on rate parity only applies when all parties are selling the same product. In the case of JustTonite, we are selling a different product which is of restricted use. We are only selling (hotels rooms based) on a time segment – (a concept) which no hotels nor OTAs are focusing on.”

The platform was launched with 30 hotels in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. That number has since increased to more than 100 hotels nationwide, and Chew is optimistic that the platform will grow to 300 hotels by year-end.

Hoteliers are allowed to list their inventory free-of-charge on the platform. A transaction fee is charged only when a booking materialises, with payment made to hotels immediately through the payment gateway.

Chew now plans to expand the platform to Singapore as he sees similarity in booking preferences between Singaporeans and Malaysians in that they desire a user-friendly booking platform with fixed, consistent rates.

To that aim, JustTonite has appointed Infinity Hospitality Asia as its partner in Singapore, effective July 1. Chew shared: “Its role will be to introduce this new concept of marketing distressed inventories to the hotel community in Singapore, and to reach out to staycationers through various marketing initiatives.”

The ambitious Chew is also in discussions with an organisation based in Dubai to promote this innovative model to all seven GCC countries. If all goes according to plan, the roll-out will start in the UAE this September.

JustTonite’s success in Malaysia has given Chew a long-term vision of adding value to the entire travel ecosystem, based on the similar concept of creating an effective distribution channel for distressed inventory.

Chew explained: “Airlines, car rental companies, bus operators and theme parks have similar distress inventories during low or no demand periods. All these industries have enough data to know which periods have low demand, and will need platforms like JustTonite to assist them. Each industry, however, defines distressed inventories quite differently.

“We are currently engaging with the captains of these industries to first understand their definition of distressed inventory. Through some proprietary tools we developed in-house, we determine a matrix to price these inventories effectively.”

Chew added that this pandemic season is the “perfect time” to introduce the concept of distressed inventory management via JustTonite as “hotels and many travel-related industries are currently undergoing some stages of ‘reset’ for their businesses”.

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