Travel tech start-up Zeni raises £450k with big plans for 2022

Raj Patel and Elena Lopez

Zeni, the Manchester-based travel tech start-up, has raised £450,000 in its latest growth stage.

The business offers affordable, self-catered, city centre stays over the summer months by making use of vacant high-end student accommodation.

Funds will be used to expand Zeni’s geographical footprint, establish communities of travellers through curated activities and events and develop an online booking platform and marketplace of trusted local vendors.

Investors include travel sector titans Stuart Ellis, of Total Stay, Stuart Nassos (Total Stay, Web Beds) and real estate developer Wavensmere Homes.

Co-founders Raj Patel (CEO) and Elena Lopez (CCO) trialled the concept with 20 rooms in 2019.

Zeni grew during the pandemic to 400 rooms in 2020 and has close to 3,000 rooms in operation in 2021.

It has achieved more than 70% occupancy each year and although guests traditionally book this type of accommodation through Airbnb, and VRBO, the company has grown direct bookings from less than two per cent in 2019 to more than 15% in 2021.

Raj Patel said: “We’re expecting direct bookings to reach 30% by 2023.”

Stuart Nassos said: “Zeni fixes a problem I’ve encountered various times over my career – the lack of self-catered accommodation with consistently high standard in city centre locations. Zeni’s team has performed wonders during a very difficult pandemic-affected period, and we’re excited about what the future holds.”

Zeni said it fuses the self-catered accommodation experience offered at holiday parks such as Butlins and Centre Parcs with the urban locations offered by Premier Inn and Travelodge, while removing the uncertainty presented by unbranded short term rentals offered via Airbnb and

It adds that it is all about bringing people together – be that big families in Zeni’s eight-bed apartments, or solo travellers brought together through curated in-house events.

Elena Lopez said: “Having travelled alone for business a lot, I’m very aware of how lonely it can be. Our goal is simple – to provide guests their own private space, but also a welcoming environment where they can meet fellow travellers.”

Zeni is developing an end-to-end, multi-tiered booking platform offering not just its unique accommodation, but a marketplace for trusted local vendors to offer the most important services required for Zeni’s guests.

Patel said: “We’re keen not to dilute the experience by cramming in too much, but we know there are certain key services our guests want or need and we want to offer them a trusted marketplace of local vendors when they go on holiday.”

A four-star offering is also in the pipeline and due to launch early 2022. Patel said the new brand is already being trialled with more than 100 properties being operated across London, York, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds.

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