Christopher Adams

Christopher Adams is the Markets and Banking reporter for the New Zealand Herald

Online diner guide gets taste for NZ

Zomato has data and reviews for 5,100 eateries in Auckland and Wellington and starts coverage of Hamilton next week

Zomato moderates reviews from users on cafes such as Foxtrot Parlour in Ponsonby. Photo / Richard Robinson
Zomato moderates reviews from users on cafes such as Foxtrot Parlour in Ponsonby. Photo / Richard Robinson

Online restaurant guide Zomato is ramping up its growth in New Zealand as it goes head-to-head with more established competitors such as MenuMania, Localist and Yelp.

The New Delhi-based company, which has expanded to 11 markets outside India, launched a website in this country in July, said country manager Sahil Ludhani. It now has information and reviews for 5,100 hospitality businesses in Auckland and Wellington.

Coverage of Hamilton restaurants will be launched next week.

Ludhani, who was posted from the company's Indian headquarters to scout opportunities and then establish the business here, said that while this country was not a completely untapped market for Zomato, there was an opportunity to take on the competition.

"We felt that we could offer a better product," he said.

Other websites doing restaurant guides and reviews in this country include Dineout.co.nz and Menus.co.nz.

San Francisco-based Yelp entered the market in May, while Localist launched in 2011 with the help of a $25.6 million loan it received from its state-owned parent company NZ Post.

Ludhani claimed Zomato's local website was already getting 160,000 site visits a month.

"There's still a lot of scope for growth," he said. "In the next six months, we're looking to double (monthly site visits) to 300,000."

Auckland restaurants and cafes listed on the website include the Foxtrot Parlour at Ponsonby Central, Euro on Princes Wharf and mobile Mexican food business The Lucky Taco.

Ludhani said Zomato's Auckland-based team had expanded from three to 15 staff since September.

"We're hiring more staff now," he said. "We're looking at expanding the team to 25 to 30 in the next four to six months, just in Auckland." Ludhani said Zomato's global workforce - the company's other markets include South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Britain - had grown from 30 to 650 over the past 2 years.

"We're expecting to double the number by next year."

Zomato earns its revenue from advertising, which Ludhani said came solely from hospitality businesses.

He said only 20 New Zealand businesses were currently advertising on the local website, which would break even by the time it had 150 paying advertisers.

Zomato allows users to write restaurant reviews and Ludhani said business owners could use a free service that enabled them to respond directly to reviews. Websites such as Zomato have come under fire from hospitality operators who have claimed the reviews can be unfair and detrimental to their businesses.

Ludhani said every review that went on the site was moderated and the company took care to make sure reviews were written by genuine consumers, rather than people associated with the business, or competitors.

And if a person writes more than 10 reviews they are then "authenticated" by Zomato staff, he said.

Ludhani is a member of Zomato's "international expansion team".

"Our job is to go to a country, set up operations, hire people and then move on to another country." Ludhani, who has been posted to Indonesia and the Philippines on previous assignments, is looking for a country manager for New Zealand.

When that role is filled he'll move on to a new market, although he's not sure where.

Last month Zomato raised US$37 million ($44.6 million) from US venture capital firm Sequoia Capital and Info Edge, an Indian recruitment and real estate website. It was the company's fifth funding round.

Ludhani said Zomato may undertake an initial public offering in the next two to three years, although it was not yet clear which stock exchange it may list on.

"There's a lot of work that needs to be done before we can reach that stage."

- NZ Herald

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