The pandemic is still ongoing, and its effects have been felt by everyone in the last few months. However, if there has been a significant “loser” during this time, it has to be the hospitality and travel industry.

With global travel losses estimated to US$880 billion (editor’s note: damn), we can only estimate the impact on the hospitality industry. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that there have been over 100 million jobs lost around the world in the tourism industry.

The situation in Southeast Asia is just as dire.

However, there are some that believe there is opportunity. Take Saikrishnan, also known as Sai, who is the CEO and Co-Founder of SensorFlow. This Singapore-based proptech startup offers hotels a smart solution to reduce their energy consumption, optimise their operational efficiency and achieve their sustainability goals.

He believes that his solutions are the way to help hotels transition into the ‘new normal’ and get the industry back on track faster. We had a chance to speak to him about this and how he expects to scale his startup during this period.

Find out what Sai had to share with us.

How was business during this pandemic? Did hospitality closures impact your revenue growth? 

I think most businesses have been affected financially and operationally. We had to delay some of our installations due to travel restrictions imposed across the region, and as SensorFlow manufactures our own hardware, we also needed to source for alternate vendors whilst those in China were under lockdown. 

However, we took this opportunity to onboard a second contract manufacturer to add contingency into our supply chain. We chose a vendor outside of China, which also had the secondary benefit of allowing us to avoid the trade tariffs currently in place between China and the United States. We currently still have stock being manufactured by our primary contractor and, fortunately, with China’s recent recovery and their border restrictions being lifted, we are expecting our supply chain process to get back to normal in the near future. Overall, we only took a small hit to our supply chain efficiencies as a result of the pandemic. 

Interested in the hospitality industry? Well, read some of the stories we have on the industry post-COVID-19.

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused major disruption to the hospitality industry, and hotels, who are our key clientele, have seen drastic drops in occupancy rates owing to travel restrictions. As a result, to ensure better support and business continuity, SensorFlow adjusted its pricing model by only taking a fixed percentage of each hotels’ live monthly energy savings, allowing hotels to leverage this period of low occupancy to implement our solution with the least possible operational disruption at zero net costs. 

With our modified payment model, our clients can now generate immediate and significant cost savings on energy bills without having to pay any upfront costs, keeping in line with the cost-reduction strategies now implemented by most businesses in the hospitality industry. As a result, we expect to see not just a higher level of retention among existing clients, but a higher demand for our solution as well. 

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed hotels to look more towards digitising their operations as they try to reduce contact points wherever possible. We believe this will accelerate the adoption of smart technologies like ours going forward, as our solution also enables hoteliers to monitor, control and automate room temperature remotely and quickly via our cloud-based dashboard.

Can you share how SensorFlow’s technology will be useful in the ‘New Normal’?

With new social distancing standards in place and expectations of reduced/minimal contact across all service industries, AI-driven and remote working technologies such as SensorFlow’s automated HVAC management solution will be essential to cope with the “New Normal” post-COVID-19. 

This is because such technologies can greatly reduce the need for manual interventions while optimising existing system efficiencies and staff productivities. SensorFlow helps to achieve this by:

  • Using AI-driven automation to automatically reduce room HVAC energy consumption when our in-room occupancy sensors detect that a room is empty, thereby optimising each hotel’s energy efficiency based on live occupancy status.
  • Using an IoT-based network of wireless sensors to detect live room environmental changes (e.g. occupancy, temperature, humidity, HVAC energy consumption, AC status etc) and reporting them live on a consolidated dashboard. We provide actionable insights to enhance data-driven decision making e.g:
    • Live occupancy data can help housekeeping plan their rounds more effectively as well as minimise any accidental contact with guests that are still in-room. 
    • Our online web-based dashboard also allows frontline service staff to remotely monitor and control their properties’ HVAC systems, enabling them to help identify and resolve in-room guest’s AC complaints from the reception desk without having to visit the guestrooms
    • Automatic alerts on HVAC faults can warn engineering teams in advance to pre-emptively resolve room faults. This can prevent affected rooms from being assigned to guests and help minimise guest complaints that may require engineers to physically enter the room during their stay 
    • Similarly, with big data collected by our sensors on the overall HVAC system performance, even at the granular, individual-room level – building engineers can move away from regular, scheduled property-wide maintenance and advance towards predictive maintenance strategies where they will only attend to rooms with unusual system performance data as and when needed. As a result, hotels can drastically improve operational productivity by empowering even a small labour force to effectively maintain a larger property while minimising physical maintenance visits to the room.

Where do you foresee growth in the coming months after the pandemic?

Singapore is gradually easing restrictions in Phase 2 of the post-circuit breaker reopening, and similar recovery patterns are seen across multiple Asia territories. As a result, we expect increasingly rapid recovery and growth in the travel and hospitality industry across key SEA territories such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. Further abroad, Europe in particular also appears to be opening back up their borders far more quickly than expected. Thus, we have taken advantage of this lull period in the hospitality industry to begin our expansion into the European market.

Currently, we expect to see the emergence of travel bubbles between countries, which will especially benefit business travelers. Many of our hotel clientele are also starting to reopen after a lengthy period of closure. However, hotels will face key challenges resulting from relatively low occupancy rates coupled with higher maintenance and cleanliness standards, resulting in higher day-to-day costs. As a result, we expect to see higher adoption of technological innovations by hotels to minimise their daily operational costs and accelerate their recovery from losses during the crisis.

SensorFlow is then very well-poised to help hotels by optimising manpower and resource consumption with A.I. automation and remote control of their HVAC systems – all at no upfront cost. At the same time, we are developing enhanced productivity and software features that leverage large-scale property data and key trends (e.g. room occupancy trends, air-cleanliness monitoring, predictive maintenance etc) to enable them to maximise operational efficiency and team productivity as they reopen to new norms in the post-COVID world.

Read how the traveltech market is looking to survive in the ‘new normal’.

What are some of the challenges you foresee for the business?

As a key part of our solution involves automation to reduce occupant-based energy wastage, the drastic reductions in occupancy rates across the entire hospitality industry will affect our resultant revenues. 

However, in recognition of the negative impacts that the hospitality sector is facing, we are now focused on how we can help both our existing and new customers to reap the benefits of implementing new technology in these difficult times. Our goal is to support our clients and build better, stronger relationships with them as we help them weather this crisis. 

This does mean that our burn rate will be higher than we had initially expected. Therefore, we will focus on developing new products faster to increase near-future revenue and improve our internal operations to ensure we are running at an extremely high level of operational efficiency. The COVID-19 crisis has made us review our business operations and accelerate changes that are aimed at striking the right balance between advancing operational optimisation and sales growth. 

Has there been any shift in product development to use your sensor-based technology for touchless home or hotel systems?

In light of the limited hotel staff availability due to COVID-19, SensorFlow has been developing new features under the ‘Productivity Suite’, which helps hotel properties improve operational productivity and inter-team communication besides sustainability management. One of its key features, ‘housekeeping view’, uses live occupancy data to help hotel staff optimise cleaning routes while engineering teams can better leverage system performance data to generate performance benchmarks, develop predictive maintenance strategies and resolve HVAC issues on the spot. 

Also refer to our response to Q2 in terms of how our IoT-based, AI-automated, remote-working solution is also developed to help hotels with the shift towards contactless systems. 

In order for us to offer our solution at no upfront cost, it is currently not practical for us to implement our solution on a smaller scale by offering it to individual homes. Hence, we are currently focused on serving our clientele in the hotel vertical.

What are the future plans for Sensorflow?

Following our Series A+ funding round, SensorFlow will develop its solution to automate HVAC systems with heating features to address the needs of markets with colder climates. Hence, we aim to expand into key markets across wider Asia (i.e. Australia, China, India) as well as major cities in the European and US markets. 

In spite of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, by the end of 2020, SensorFlow aims to work with major hotel brands in key Asian, EU and US cities on installations as these will serve as an impactful showcase for 2021 to springboard our expansion into those new markets.

In the future, we also expect rapid growth with our existing client partners, which currently include hospitality clients carrying global brand names managed by Dorsett Hospitality International, Accor, The Ascott Limited and Hyatt, providing SensorFlow with a key opportunity to expand SensorFlow’s portfolio and potentially place our smart technology in around one million rooms worldwide by 2023.