Finding a way to break into a crowded market can be tough – for Roomsurfer, the new kid on the block for booking accommodation on a short term basis, the solution is to tweak the concept. Founder Michael Walser is confident that their approach will enable the startup to earn some market share, despite its late arrival onto the scene.
The key, they believe, is introducing a social element – and positioning themselves between Couchsurfing and Airbnb and as an alternative to both.
Founded over summer last year, Roomsurfer has not exactly catapulted itself onto the market, but it is up and running as of last week, and currently has 100 hosts in Berlin. Users can find available rooms by connecting their Facebook account and inputting the dates and location of their stay, and the platform selects a suitable host.
Competition for the fledgling service is intense yet varied. On the one hand there is Couchsurfing and Triptrotting (which allows tips) catering for budget travel, and on the other, Airbnb, 9 flats, HomestayWeb, Roomorama – among many others – which focus on higher quality accomodation with a set amount of money changing hands to make the arrangement more secure.
The Glue of the Community
Roomsurfer wants to be somewhere in the middle. Community manager Monica Zaldivar said that there are problems with both existing models – and that they hope Roomsurfer will solve both: ”If you look at couch surfing, the community is huge, and people love the idea and the philosophy. But our big difference with it is we have a product you pay for, and the idea is you develop relationships with somebody you don’t know, so you’re not just a customer – that is the glue for our community.”
The service is integrated with the Facebook open graph, and you need a Facebook account to use it. This provides the information to find people with similar interests or networks – and means users have some idea of what their host will be like.
Users can still filter rooms on account of price and the quality of the room, but the team behind Roomsurfer are hoping hosts then can devote a little more time to guests – not to be a tour guide as such – but point them in the right direction to get to grips with a new city. Credibility then comes in the form of Facebook likes to a host’s profile.
Michael is aware of the challenge that Roomsurfer faces, but believes that the social layer will help it to stand out: “The market is packed, true, but we are focusing in the social component and in the interests shared by matched guest and host. We are lucky because as a bunch of young people from all over Europe already like what we are building: a platform that helps to meet like-minded people wherever you travel, so you get the most specific insights from people like you.”
The site recommends prices to hosts depending on what they are offering, with encouragement not to charge more than €40 per night.