New Internet service lets homeowners rent spare rooms to travelers

MANILA, Philippines — Do you want to tour Southeast Asia but you find the price of accommodations too steep for your backpacker budget? A recently launched Internet service may just be what you need.

Called Travelmob, the online property marketplace lets home or property owners in Asia Pacific countries put their spare bedrooms or vacation houses up for rent to visiting vacationers, usually at a fraction of common hotel costs.

Through the service, which was launched in the Philippines recently, backpackers, tourists, and travelers can browse through an assortment of accommodation choices that can only be found in this part of the world, including lush, exquisite villas in Thailand for just $250 a night, or a 2-bedroom apartment in Hong Kong for just $150 per night.

The service takes cue from the popular similar services such as Airbnb and CouchSurfing except with an Asia Pacific focus, according to co-founders Turochas Fuad and Prashant Kirtane, who were former top executives of two of the world’s leading Internet companies, Skype and Yahoo!

Home owners willing to lend their place for a short period of time can list an unlimited amount of properties through the site for free, Turochas said. “We only collect a fee when an actual booking is made,” he emphasized.

Once a booking is made, the renters will be charged a 12 percent service fee on top of the booking amount, which is said to be the same amount charged by most motels and inns. Property owners, meanwhile, will be charged a 3 percent processing fee for the administration of the charges.

True to their regional focus, Travelmob will process payments from renters and to homeowners in 13 global currencies, 10 of which are key Asian denominations.

Right now, only payments by credit card or through PayPal are accepted, but officials said they are considering adding local payment options soon.

Turochas said they chose to keep the scope of the service in Asia Pacific considering the rich cultural diversity as well as the predicted increase in tourist arrivals to various countries in the region.

In March 2011, executives shared, tourist arrivals in the region grew by 10 percent annually led by a strong 15-percent hike in visitor numbers in Southeast Asia. founders Turochas Fuad (left) and Prashant Kirtane. File photo

Living with strangers

Considering the fact that the service practically lets strangers into private homes, Travelmob’s founders said establishing trust among renters and owners is one of the key facets of the service.

Much like e-Commerce portals, Travelmob has a built-in feedback system where guests and owners can leave messages about each other so that genuine and trusted renters and guests can be weeded out from the fake ones.

“We also offer a messaging platform for guests and hosts to contact each other,” Turochas added. “Hosts have the final say on which bookings to approve or decline once they are satisfied with all the answers they ask of each guest.”

Similar services, however, have been plagued in recent years with criminal incidents being committed by people who rented properties through such online services. Airbnb, for example, recently dealt with a vandalism case that left one host’s home in irreparable disarray.

Turochas said they understand that “letting a stranger stay in [their] home can be daunting for some,” adding that they are considering the option of including insurance with every booking.

“[But] we believe that the immediate need for APAC is education as the concept of social stay is relatively new in the region,” he explained. “We have tips on how to stay safe at our Safety Center and prevent mishaps from happening.”

Prashant, co-founder and chief technology officer of Travelmob said, “This is just the start. We intend to continuously gather feedback from our community and will introduce innovative, localized features in the near future.”

To celebrate its launch, Travelmob is giving $50 in credit to all of its users to be utilized for bookings made in the next 30 days, valid until August 9.