Turochas “T” Fuad from Indonesia, the site’s CEO, and Prashant Kirtane from India, the Chief Technical Officer, explained that the site will not carry hotels or resorts, thereby conveniently avoiding head-on competition with giants such as Agoda or Expedia.
Instead, it already carries a portfolio of “thousands of hosts” ranging from a houseboat in Kerala to a ski lodge in Japan and a clifftop villa in Bali called Oh My God.
“Theoretically, if you have a spare couch and you want to list it, there will probably be someone who wants to sleep on it,” Mr Fuad explained.
Apart from avoiding hotels and resorts, the site has a number of innovative aspects. For a start, unlike many conventional villa rental sites, listings are free, with Travelmob making its money from charging guests a service fee of up to 12 per cent.
“So the hosts have nothing to lose by listing. If it doesn’t work for them, they can take the listing down,” Mr Fuad said.
Both hosts and guests have access to a dashboard, which allows them to set many more parameters than usual.
Guests can comment on a property they have stayed in – which is not so unusual – but it also works the other way round: hosts can comment on guests, so that guests who break the TV or spill red wine all over the white silk upholstery may find booking a gorgeous villa difficult.
Hosts have between 24 and 48 hours to respond to a booking enquiry, with the site set up to allow direct dialogue between the two parties (without phone numbers or email addresses so that hosts and guests don’t do a private deal outside the system).
Payments are not made to a host until 24 hours after the check-in time, with the aim of ensuring that guests are satisfied before their money leaves their pocket.
All of this adds a human element that most accommodation booking sites lack
Payments, using PayPal or credit cards, can be made or received in 13 currencies, 10 of them Asian currencies.
Good ratings by guests for a property automatically push it up the search ratings, and vice-versa.
The Singapore-based duo have plenty of infotech experience. Mr Fuad helped push Yahoo’s mobile business in southeast Asia before moving to Skype as managing director for Asia. Mr Kirtane was most recently senior director of engineering for Yahoo’s video division globally.
They say they are not worried about copycat competition. “We have experience,” said Mr Fuad, “and Travelmob is not so easy to replicate.”
The site is currently in English, Vietnamese, Thai, Bahasa Indonesia and traditional and simplified Chinese, but more will follow, especially Russian.
Is this a start-up aimed at making enough noise that it will be bought up by one of the giants? Mr Fuad says no. “We’re in it for the long term,” he said.