Tzafrir Blonder of Upstay is helping hoteliers enhance their guests’ experiences and upgrade their bottom line
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Tzafrir Blonder: Thank you for asking. We are all great and safe. Although it was a challenging year, we took advantage of the circumstances and spent a lot of time together as a family, which was fun and brought us closer together. As you may know, here in Israel, almost everyone is vaccinated, and many people have even returned to travelling abroad. Hence, we also started planning the next family trip we had to postpone because of COVID-19.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded UpStay.
Tzafrir Blonder: Before founding UpStay, I had a very diversified career. I was a commercial lawyer; I had a real estate company in Germany; I then led technological projects for the government and eventually became a VC investor.
As an early-stage startup investor in one of Israel’s leading VCs, seeing all these great innovative companies that pitched their visions to me, I quickly understood that it was about time to found my next company. Then by chance, I met with two of my co-founders who identified a big problem in the hospitality industry and offered a very innovative approach to try and solve it. I liked everything about it – the industry, the challenge, the vision, and most important – my co-founders. It felt like a family from day one, and it became only better as we moved on together.
The rest is history.
How does UpStay innovate?
Tzafrir Blonder: Hotels are missing a huge opportunity. They are sitting on vast amounts of data that can boost their profitability significantly, but they struggle to make it actionable. Revenue management software is almost entirely focused on getting those bookings, meaning the distribution, but completely misses guest expansion.
Guest expansion is everything that can happen from the time the guest booked a room at your hotel until the time he checks out after her stay. It focuses on creating extra value by making existing guests buy more or increase their usage of the hotel’s products and services.
We believe that the hospitality industry can generate a 15% growth in the upcoming years only if it looks at this as a data-driven challenge. We are here to help them seize this huge opportunity.
Our system unleashed the power of data and automation for hotels to empower them to deliver more value to their guests and increase their margins. We do it step by step, as we want to gain traction and design our product wisely for hotels. We started with room upgrades and bundling products and services with room upgrades. Today, I believe that we have the most advanced solution for any hotelier who wants to increase her margins from the room inventory.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Tzafrir Blonder: The coronavirus outbreak slowed down the economic growth of our company as we originally planned it but accelerated other processes, mainly those related to the product and the technology. It also helped us expediting cooperation agreements with our technology partners around the world.
Moreover, since most hospitality businesses will be looking for the best and most valuable tools for recovery, we believe that the awareness of the challenge we are here to solve has increased. Now it’s our responsibility to deliver the best, innovative technology that will help hoteliers get ahead of the competition curve.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Tzafrir Blonder: Sure. As an early-stage startup, we had to apply risk mitigation measures in light of the big uncertainty. That included making several difficult HR choices, but we can proudly say that our team stayed as motivated as before the pandemic and also that it has grown in the last several months. Hence, the vibes are really good right now. Moreover, over the last several months, we have been expanding our team overseas to meet the increasing demand in different parts of the world, which we identified as a unique opportunity for us. We now have team members in Brazil, Mexico, Italy, and Greece, and we are looking forward to expanding our operations in other countries soon.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Tzafrir Blonder: When it comes to our relationships with customers, the most important thing is maintaining constant communication. It allows us to dig deeper into our customers’ real needs and better understand their hardships.
That’s why we use an array of real-time communication tools to keep all our clients up to date with the latest events, address any specific request and make it easy for them to communicate feedback to us. Other than that – our Partners Platform (which is how we call our system’s dashboard) is becoming deeper and deeper. We want to communicate how our solution automatically addresses the challenges they have, how it enhances their performance and gives a sense of control concerning edge cases.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Tzafrir Blonder: No, government grants didn’t benefit us in any way. It was hard work that allowed us to create better strategic partnerships with some of the top-rated hospitality and travel tech organizations to develop a better user experience for our clients. Eventually, it paid off.
Your final thoughts?
Tzafrir Blonder: We are positive about how our sector will face the post-pandemic time and the role UpStay will play in this recovery. Here in Israel, where our HQs are located, we already see how vaccination activates the economy and the hospitality industry. Hopefully, we will start seeing these positive insights in other countries around the world, and this could mean hotels are getting back to business and taking advantage of the innovation developed during COVID times. Experts also said the post-pandemic era would bring what is known as ‘revenge travel’, referring to the idea that there will be a huge increase in travel as it becomes safer and things open back up. Time will tell.
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