It all started several years ago when Teh Kim Guan, 34, was in the real estate business.
With over five years’ experience in selling and renting properties, he discovered that although the number of homestays and vacation properties in Malaysia was growing, business was not thriving for the owners.
“Foreign guests love Malaysian culture and food, and the best way to experience this is through a homestay experience. Staying with Malaysian hosts would give these foreign guests a more authentic and complete experience of our country,” he said.
“But, not many Malaysian hosts have the opportunity to serve guests from overseas and many vacation homes remain vacant due to a lack of exposure,” Teh explained.
This was how iicity.com – an online marketplace that enables people to find, book and rent vacation homes – came into being in May last year.
According to the iicity.com founder and co-owner, the website’s focus is to promote the Malaysian homestay industry to the world, and to help increase the income of locals.
He added that listing on iicity.com is free for homestay operators, and included at no additional cost are social network marketing, search engine optimisation, online advertisements, and other promotions, so that vacation homes will get more visibility and exposure.
Tan said that besides hosts or vacation property owners, the target audience also includes families and group travellers, backpackers, and local commercial drivers.
An avid traveller himself, Teh said he always faced the issue of getting to a homestay in the most economical and fastest way possible whenever he travelled.
Being in a foreign country, most travellers would not be familiar with the area or know the best public transport to use.
Teh explained that guests can now book a homestay plus transport, and avoid the hassle of looking for public transport, transiting at different stations, or queueing up and haggling for a taxi.
He added that they currently have 25 drivers on board, and the number is growing steadily.
“The website is called iicity.com because we started out focusing on these two things: vacation homes and pick-up services for travellers in the city area.
Currently, most of the holiday homes listed are also in the city areas because that makes it convenient for travellers to get to nearby attractions,” Teh explained.
Travellers can use the website to survey the surroundings of the homestay before they place a booking as there is a streetview feature in the website, which gives them a peek in.
Teh said that interested Malaysians could apply to join their team of drivers.
When asked about the issue of safety or security, Teh replied that iicity.com users need to provide their government identification (such as IC or passport number) for verification to become a confirmed trusted user.
According to Teh, booking through iicity.com is a possible solution to prevent fraud, as all transactions are taken care of by the portal and guests don’t have to worry about losing their money to unscrupulous vendors.
Guests can pay via PayPal, credit card, or online banking via the portal when they book an accommodation. Hosts receive the payment three days after the guest checks out.
So, if there are any complaints raised within this time, the payment is held back pending further investigations. Hosts are only charged when they have a confirmed booking, which is 3 per cent of the total listing price.
“Let’s say you list your home for RM100 per night, iicity.com charges you RM3 for each confirmed booking. This goes to cover the online gateway fees. Twelve per cent is charged on the guest’s side, but 5 per cent-9 per cent is returned to the guest as rebate for their next booking,” he said.
“So, if the vacation property you book costs RM500, you will be given around RM50 rebate to be used for your next booking.”
Rebates can also be accumulated.
When users need help, iicity.com support is ready to assist through a phone call or mobile messaging app.
If a guest has any issues when checking into a property, or it is not what was agreed upon, they can share their complaints with the support team, and iicity.com will try to find a replacement vacation home for them before they seek a refund.
“It’s advantageous for local homestay hosts and vacation property owners to list on iicity.com because our operations are based in Malaysia. If they face any difficulties, they can contact us easily, we’re just a phone call away. They can also meet up with us for a personal support session without any extra charges or fees,” Teh said.
iicity.com has been growing since its launch, and as of early March, has over 1,575 members and 700 listings.
Its Chinese version, targeting the Taiwan and Singaporean markets, was launched in January.
Teh said that they plan to launch the Indonesian and Thai version in August, after revamping the user interface to make it even more user-friendly.
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