In terms of the market, as per industry estimates out of the 40 million students in higher education, around 11.5 million are mobile students.
As the travel and hospitality industry took the full brunt of Covid-19 pandemic, the ripples were felt in allied segments like hostels and student housing as well. Students migrated enmasse to their hometowns leaving many rented accommodation businesses in the lurch. Ankit Gupta, CEO OYO India & South Asia, Frontier Business, talked to Financial Express Online about the scope in the student housing segment, innovations introduced in the business, trends, and resilience of the segment during Covid crisis. When asked about the scope, he said, “In terms of the market, as per industry estimates, out of the 40 million students in higher education, around 11.5 million are mobile students. While 60% of it is catered by the available on-campus hostel infrastructure, there is a spillover of around 5 million students. So there is a huge on-campus as well as off-campus market in this segment.” Excerpts:
What do you assess will be the impact of this pandemic on the student-housing segment including on-campus and off-campus?
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Covid-19 has deeply affected all four stakeholders in the student housing segment — the colleges/educational institutions, students, asset owners and the student housing providers/managers. Student housing operators, be it operators working on institutional model or consumer model, have both seen significant impacts on their revenue during this period with operators working on latter model have seen a larger impact. However, as the number of cases is decreasing, and most colleges have started working on their on-campus reopening plans, we at OYO Campus are cautiously optimistic about the industry slowly bouncing back. In the short term, we expect some of the educational institutes in the major Covid-19 hit areas to continue working on the hybrid model which is a combination of classroom and online classes and therefore it might take at least one academic session for institutes to operate back at the pre-covid levels.
How is the OYO Campus business model and proposition different from other players?
Our brand OYO Campus is an integrated hostel management company which provides one-stop solution for all student housing requirements (food, housekeeping, security, VAS like laundry, salon, printing, canteen, vending machine, etc.,) be it for On-Campus facility management or Off-campus accommodation. We have pivoted to an industry-first partner-operated model, innovative product design, customer experience score methodology to measure student delight and are continuously developing capabilities for remote tech-led operations. We have tied up with multiple prestigious institutions including 3 IITs to provide and manage student accommodation and associated services. Some other major wins include Master Union, Plaksha, etc. Our student app adoption in major IITs is almost close to 70% now. Our focus continues to be on the stress-free comfortable living experience through use of technology. While most of the players in this industry are facility management companies and till now, no other player has made a focused approach towards solving this challenge in an organized manner.
What measures have been taken by OYO Campus to gain student’s confidence pertaining to hygiene specific to COVID-19 preventive measures at its housing projects?
We are working with all our partner institutions in managing their currently active hostels and quarantine facilities as well as safely reopening the remaining hostel facilities to provide a safe environment for all the incoming students. We have implemented COVID-19 specific SOPs at all our properties and ensuring all the preventive measures such as-
Organised vaccination drive for last mile workers. More than 70% have been vaccinated till date
Conducting regular RT-PCR tests for the students and institute’s staff
Continuously working on enhancing hostel and mess hygiene and sanitation practices in order to minimize the risk of Covi-19 spread through multiple temperature checks of the staff as well as of all the students entering and leaving common areas like hostel mess, installation of hand sanitizer stations, etc
Arranged Quarantine facilities for our on ground staff (Housekeeping and Security Guards)
Special healthy packaged food delivery for all quarantine students
24×7 online canteen food ordering and delivery service for all the staff and students in some of our accounts to avoid large gatherings in common areas and maintain social distancing
Slot based meal timings for mess
What are the innovations introduced in the business – to address the gaps in the student housing segment?
Role of technology
Technology is playing a very vital role in the student housing segment. Having a dedicated app for students enables them to do things that used to be all manual and time-taking. With the use of technology, students can order food sitting anywhere on the campus with the use of our on-campus app. Complaints are managed within a defined TAT to ensure students don’t have to follow up on their requests. Not only this, SOS features enable the institute to help students immediately in case of an emergency. Entry and exit management feature helps in automating mess staff attendance and tracking. There is also a mess management feature which gives students visibility of daily mess menu and also to track consumption on a daily basis
Providing trained professional staff
For an institute to manage the hostel operations with multiple vendors has been a problem for ages now. Unorganised facility management to an unskilled workforce leads to an overall bad experience for the students. Having a trained professional staff ensures that students live a hygienic hostel life. They are equipped with the use of technology to ensure students’ requests are closed on priority and in a professional way
Optimised hostel operations
Balanced use of workforce and technology ensure high impacting hostel operations with reduced costs. With the help of technology, trained staff, dedicated SOPs for the facility management has shown a better student experience than the traditional hostel operations, which used to be manpower heavy operations
Could you highlight the trends that the business and the industry is witnessing ?
The educational institutes are now shifting towards an integrated model for hostel management as it allows them to focus more on the academic side and less on the hostel administration
Increased shift towards tech-enabled processes and automation
Focus on professionally managed and trained workforce to ensure superior and consistent quality of service. The factor has become more relevant post Covid-19
Greater emphasis on sanitization, and cleanliness is going to be the new normal
The most important lesson from Covid-19 is the need to be resilient and adapt to the changing external environment. The industry which was dominated largely by the unorganized sector, may consolidate in the future, resulting in stronger operators with sustainable financial and operational model controlling the larger share
How F&B and Value-added services (VAS) are improving student experience?
As most of the universities and institutes are located in the outskirts of the city, there is a need for various additional facilities on-campus like salon, canteen, QSRs, laundry etc. The institutes, which are run and managed by their own staff, already face a lot of challenges in managing their existing vendors covering basic essential services that it becomes absolutely impossible for them to focus on getting these additional services for the students. Therefore, having a professional organised integrated player gives you an advantage of getting these services as a package and that too at market competitive prices. Having a strong pool of mess and VAS vendors gives us a unique advantage to provide best services to our end consumers.
Here are the few things we have adopted differently that works for us-
Offering regional cuisine – As every institute has students coming from different states, therefore having regular regional food helps in keeping a connection with their culture and adds variety to the regular menu
Provide nutritional value information of the food to students
Highly qualified and trained chefs – In addition to providing tasty food regularly, we also rotate our highly qualified and professional chefs from campus to campus. This rotation helps in bringing change in food preparations resulting in a versatile menu & taste
How do you see the growth of the student housing segment going forward?
The student-housing segment, unlike other industries, has shown great resilience during this crisis. With a large section of students continuing to stay within campus where colleges are conducting classes, we estimate the effect of the pandemic to be temporary. In terms of the market, as per industry estimates out of the 40 million students in higher education, around 11.5 million are mobile students. While 60% of it is catered by the available on-campus hostel infrastructure, there is a spillover of around 5 million students. So there is a huge on-campus as well as off-campus market in this segment. The number of students in higher educational institutes in the country is only expected to go further north from these levels in the times to come. Therefore, we expect to see an increase in both the number of institutes as well as intake in each institute. Major educational hubs will continue fuelling the demand for the student housing segment such as Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. India is also attracting international students in abundance through various Government initiatives like ‘Study in India’, which has also increased the importance of improving the student housing standards of the country. We continue to receive positive feedback from many students who have moved into OYO Campus buildings from unorganised players such as PGs and other rental accommodations. Seeing the potential of the sector, we expect consolidation of the industry with more organized players entering the segment to provide best on-campus living facilities