Raj Patel talks to Business Leader about Zeni and the staycation market

Business Leader recently spoke to Raj Patel, CEO and Co-founder of UK travel firm Zeni.

What is your background and what were the reasons behind forming Zeni?

I was a Partner at a prominent UK law firm before co-founding Zeni. Zeni was created to essentially solve my own problems! (i) I have a large and close knit family and we like to go on holiday together every couple of years. Location doesn’t really matter so much to us but we do need good quality self catered accommodation big enough for us all – we usually end up at Centre Parcs as it’s always a good standard. Having 75+ year olds in our party, means we can’t take any risks on quality. Zeni is a game changer for our holidays!

(ii) On the other hand, both Elena (my co-founder) and I have travelled extensively for business and found it an eerily lonely experience – no matter how busy the city you’re visiting! I recall once meeting Elena in Mumbai when we were on separate business trips – I’d confined myself to my hotel and cars between meetings but as soon as Elena arrived I found myself on trains, in markets and exploring one of the most wonderful cities in the world! The key was her company – or finding my community. That’s something we’re passionate about and will be launching curated events in due course to bring our guests together through activities they’re passionate about – exploration, food, wellbeing, fitness and good old fashioned fun!

Have you faced any barriers trying to get the business off the ground?

Yes, numerous! Fundraising, recruiting, the pandemic to name a few but we overcome them all with perseverance, hard work and great teamwork.

How has the pandemic affected Zeni?

Rates dropped 50% during the pandemic and our revenue was hugely impacted. Our pipeline of new properties has also been affected due to delays with construction materials. There’s also been a labour shortage in the hospitality industry and a severe linen shortage – not something we saw coming! It’s been a bumpy 18 months but it’s helped us come together as a team and tested our resilience and problem-solving skills!

What trends are you currently seeing in the staycation market and what trends do you expect to see in 2022?

As you’d expect, anywhere on the coast has done really well but urban locations remain quiet. Over the next year, I’d expect to see a greater recovery in urban areas as the public start using trains again and become more comfortable visiting theatres, museums, cafes, restaurants etc.

What are your future plans for Zeni?

We’re focusing on expanding our geographical footprint across the UK and Europe and launching a market place for trusted local suppliers for key services we know are guests need and desire. We’re also launching a perennial 4-star range which we’ve been trialling with 100 properties in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and York – we will be expanding this across the UK while maintaining the high standard of service that our guests have come to expect.

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