Interview: Dustin Figge, Homelike

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Dustin Figge, co-founder and managing director of Cologne-based Homelike, talks to SAN about the long-stay business travel market and launching in the UK.

• Tell us about the Homelike concept and how the company started
"Homelike is a B2B online booking platform for temporary furnished and serviced apartment rentals starting from 30 nights. We typically work with B2B clients who book with us for an average rental period of 4.5 months. We currently offer serviced apartments and business apartments in 100+ cities in four countries, all of which are fully furnished and have a high-speed internet connection. Our end-to-end online booking process enables our customers to book premium-quality apartments as easily as hotel rooms. To the tenants, the apartments in our portfolio offer privacy, flexibility and a greater sense of personal freedom. After all, Homelike's aim is to help our customers to find a 'home away from home'."

"My partner Christoph Kasper and I founded Homelike in 2015. We knew the struggle of finding appropriate accommodation for a couple of months, as we had both spent time abroad. We realised that the furnished housing market in the US and China was more developed than in Europe. Here, on the other hand, the booking process was still very offline-driven. We wanted to reduce the number of on-site appointments for B2B clients, who could simply not afford to spend that much time and effort into finding and booking accommodation for long-term business trips. Today, we are working with more than 15,000 B2B clients and enable them to save around 40 per cent of the costs compared to hotel rates. At the same time, their employees enjoy the same comfort and privacy Christoph and I first experienced several years ago."

• What are the main advantages for companies who book accommodation through you compared with your competition?
"With 45,000 listed apartments, we are the largest provider of temporary housing in the long-term segment starting from 30 nights. We offer an online experience for B2B clients who have other requirements than individual leisure travellers. The Homelike back-end covers all relevant processes corporates need when it comes to long-term bookings. This includes invoicing with VAT, travel policies, central employee management, billing structure etc. With 360° tours of the apartments, apartment pricing, area information, as well as online signatures for rental agreements, we maintain transparency throughout the booking process. The Homelike insurance in partnership with AXA gives landlords as well as tenants a high level of security. All in all, the rental process becomes as quick and easy as booking a hotel. This is only one of many reasons why we were able to build a large network of B2B clients who book with us on a regular basis."

• What are your growth targets for the next few years?
"Our goal is to offer furnished apartments to our clients across the globe. In the short-term, we will be expanding our portfolio to more European countries. As of next year, we will also look into expanding outside of Europe.  Moreover, we are continuously working on reaching more customers in countries outside of Europe. The launch of our Spanish website in July paid into that, as we will now be able to reach customers from 20 Spanish-speaking countries worldwide. We will thus launch our booking platform in more languages soon."

• Do you think Airbnb and similar platforms will make a big gain in the business travel sector? If so how will this affect Homelike?
"First of all, I think there is a big difference between short and long-term bookings, not only in terms of user behaviour but also when it comes to the specific needs and requirements for apartments. Business travellers and leisure travellers are a completely different kind of customer base and we believe that business travel needs a different product as well as underlying processes. Long-term corporate housing is not a new market but still a growing one and has not been brought into the digital age, yet. There are a lot of small and local players in the market which provide an offline experience. We think that it's overdue to digitise long-term corporate housing by applying technology and making bookings more efficient - the same way the hotel industry has evolved over the last two decades."

"A large part of our customer base has very high standards in terms of security and apartment quality. When travelling privately for a couple of days and on a budget, shared economy players might be a great option. But when you stay in an apartment for several months, you want to make sure that you get an invoice with VAT, the apartment quality is high, professional cleaning is provided, and you don't need to share your bathroom with anyone else. Saying this, we only list suppliers that meet our 10 'Homelike Apartment Standards' and we are working closely with the operators to guarantee our clients a convenient, secure and comfortable stay for 30 nights and longer. At Homelike, we are proud to say that great customer service is a strong pillar of our success. We are building up trusting relationships with suppliers and corporate clients to align our interfaces and integrate each other's processes. The whole idea of the "sharing economy" is making efficient and profitable use of real estate assets. As a B2B marketplace, we generally agree with this concept. However, we work with professional landlords whose real estate corresponds to the needs of our demanding clients."

• What made the UK your choice for your next country launch?
"We always knew that the UK would be one of our next countries to launch in. After all, the business travel sector, as well as the market for temporary accommodation and especially serviced apartments, is large and very interesting in terms of supply and demand. London alone has almost four million international business travellers each year. As a European platform for temporary accommodation, we see the UK market as a promising driver for our further growth."

• How will you forge relationships with serviced apartment operators in the UK?
"London is very important when it comes to the European serviced apartment market and the UK operators are known to offer high-quality accommodation. This is why we are more than excited to get to work with them. We recently opened our London office close to Moorgate Station and we are currently establishing a great UK team. They have already managed to acquire a significant number of apartments in London which will be available on our platform from the 1st of August. I am confident that we will build strong business ties with the local suppliers in the following months."

"A strong argument for suppliers to work with Homelike is our average booking period of 4.5 months which underlines our focus on the long-term business. At Homelike, we are looking for long-term partnerships with trustworthy suppliers at eye level. I believe that serviced apartment operators can benefit from our large global customer base and the technology behind our product in order to scale their own operations and increase their occupancy rate. In addition, we are a very agile and dynamic organisation with a 'customer first' approach."

• Which countries do you aim to launch in next?
"All major business travel city hubs are interesting for us. For now, we are focussing on covering the European market. However, we know that business travel is a global topic and our B2B clients are also looking for long-term accommodation all over the world. Saying this, Asia and the US are also definitely interesting for us, too."

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