Khmer Times’ Sum Manet sits down with Siem Reap-based tech entrepreneur Sinal Meas, who in 2015 started Bayonia.com, a platform for families looking to book hotel rooms in the Kingdom.
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KT: Please tell us about Bayonia.com. Why did you decide to launch this project?
Sinal Meas: Bayonia is now the leading family-friendly hotel booking platform in Cambodia, used mostly by local tourists travelling with family or friends. Whether we are talking about a weekend gateway to the beach, a festival in Angkor Wat or a trip to nature during a public holiday, Bayonia provides exclusive access to boutique and luxury hotels and resorts that meet our customers’ needs and requirements.
Our goal is to provide a personalized travel experience tailor-made for Cambodians.
It all started when in 2015 I tried to book a hotel room for some friends that were travelling to Siem Reap during Khmer New Year. It was very frustrating because I called a lot of hotels but they were all booked or didn’t have rooms for more than two people. I was finally able to find a very pricey room in a small hotel.
After going through this experience, I realised that a lot of families who want to travel to Siem Reap and other places around Cambodia for Khmer New Year face the same issue. Families with kids want good and comfortable family rooms. When friends travel in group they need spacious rooms. However, these accommodation options were very hard to find. It was then that I came up with the idea of creating a platform that would make things easier for these travellers.
KT: When was the platform launched, and how many people have used it since then?
Mr Meas: I started working on the project in mid-2016 and we finally launched in late 2017. Being pretty different from what you find in the local market, it took people some time to understand how to use the platform. We have steadily built our user base within our niche. We recently had hundreds of bookings and we are aiming to hit a thousand by the end of this year. Our goal is to reach 10,000 subscribers in 2019.
KT: How would you describe the company’s mission and vision?
Mr Meas: Our mission is to provide the ultimate online family travel experience in Cambodia and encourage parents to take their children to explore the country. We also aim to improve the lives of Cambodian children by contributing $0.5 per room per night from customers’ bookings to children’s hospitals in Siem Reap.
Our vision is to become the number one family-friendly hotel booking platform in Cambodia and Southeast Asia.
KT: Tell us more about your products.
Mr Meas: Bayonia is a specific, curated collection of family-friendly accommodation approved by our team, and specifically selected to appeal to the Cambodian market.
We provide hotel rooms for local travelers, who have different requirements: at Bayonia, they can easily find rooms for more than 3 people, as well as hotels with parking space because people here mostly travel by car. They can also look for hotels that offer activities for children. In the future we will also include tours and activities near the hotels. The price range we have has been chosen with locals in mind, and we have negotiated special deals with hotels.
KT: How are payments conducted at Bayonia?
Mr Meas: We don’t have a credit card option. Users pay directly at the hotel. However, we plan to add online payments soon.
KT: Tell us about your marketing strategy to keep your user base growing.
Mr Meas: Content marketing is a must for us as we need to educate the market. We blog and make videos that help our customers understand and engage with the brand better. We mostly use social media platforms like Facebook but we also do email-based marketing campaigns to engage and retain users.
Our offline marketing includes sponsorships, partnerships, and distribution of marketing materials to our target customers.
KT: What is competition like in your niche market?
Mr Meas: We chose to focus on families because there is little competition in this segment. Our main competitors are big platforms like booking.com and Agoda as well as the hotels themselves.
KT: What’s your opinion of the local tech startup scene?
Mr Meas: In the past few years, I have seen a number of tech startups coming into the market, particularly in fintech, gaming, creative content creators, transportation, financial software for SMEs, food delivery, on-demand delivery services, tourism, and agriculture, among others. It’s growing now. I believe in the next five years more and more companies will join the market.
KT: How does the government support tech startups like yours?
Mr Meas: The government welcomes and encourage private sector investment in the tech sector. The National Institute of Posts, Telecommunications and ICT and the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications have participated in some tech events in recent years. They also organise ‘Digital Cambodia 2019: Towards Industry 4.0’, an event that’s taking place this month at Diamond Island. We hope this event will help Cambodians know more about the local tech sector.
speaks at Saturday’s ceremony. Ministry of Commerce