“Whenever you're booking a holiday…there’s a lot of discussion happening for the family or solo traveler,” says Digivijay Pratap, cofounder and managing director of booking platform Holidayme.com.
“We jotted all the [pain] points of traveling and [looked at] how to automate each and every step of holiday booking. Technology has been the backbone in this entire process.”
Launched in late 2014, the online travel agency served more than 25,000 passengers with a monthly growth rate of 25 - 30 percent in 2016. They’re raising good money also. In 2016 they closed $7 million in Series A funding. Part of that investment came from Silicon Valley - a rare feat in this side of the world.
Picking the audience
The website targets two kinds of holiday seekers, those that are tech savvy and those that might need a bit of hand holding. To do this they seek to resolve three majors issues for any traveler, said CEO and co founder Geet Bhalla — the task of searching a holiday package, getting the right value for money, and designing the holiday itinerary.
Pratap and his cofounder Geet Bhalla both come from a substantive technology background. Bhalla worked in banking tech while Pratap has been in the travel tech industry since 2004. Bhalla was already eyeing the potential of ecommerce when he met Pratap through a common friend. Taking a cue from the region’s strong travel patterns, they started exploring the travel space. In December 2015 itself, Dubai International Airport had more than 7 million passengers pass through.
During his time in travel tech, Pratap had noticed the growth of web portals for ticket purchasing, hotel booking, buying travel vouchers and finalizing travel itineraries. There was, however, yet to be a a single portal for the whole thing.
“A combination of expertise, price and ease — these are the three elements that combine our value proposition,” Bhalla emphasizes. “We have done the groundwork, we are able to offer you good value because of our relationships [with our partners] and we provide an easier way to go book your package due to continuous enhancements of our technology.”
In a region where offline travel agencies still thrive, building an online one-stop shop for holiday planning required a compelling edge.
They want to create the personal touch, that face to face experience of the travel agency. “The offline travel businesses obviously have a certain mechanism for distributing holidays,” Bhalla said. “The first interaction is quite important in this entire [process]. The tech we built is to facilitate our agents to quickly respond to our customer.”
Holiday ME’s travel agents, both brick-and-mortar and online, use Discover, the company’s proprietary technology, to provide a package to customers on their preferred channel of email or phone. Customizations and amendments to the packages are also made through the technology which offers near real time customer interaction.
“The offline travel agency still takes four to five days to build a holiday package,” Bhalla said. “We are able to do the same in a matter of few minutes.”
Holiday ME also partners with destination management companies (DMCs) who work as ‘groundhandlers’ on site at every location in the company’s portfolio, said Pratap. These DMCs feed information about their respective destinations into a cloud service (built internally) that is accessible by Holidayme’s agents and specialized product managers. The managers are trained to design itineraries and “know exactly what [the traveler] should be doing” at every destination.
Holiday ME offer three kinds of packages - getaways nearby, short vacations and long seasonal ones. Socrates Dias, market head of Bin Majid Resorts in Abu Dhabi and Ras al Khaimah, said the Holiday ME team approached them to create a package.
“They came to us through the deals with Groupon and Cobone and they said they could do much more than what we had... so we supported them with giving them a special offer,” Dias said. The package has been live for 20 days and 15 bookings have already been confirmed through the website.
Talking about the funding from Silicon Valley’s Accel Partners, Bhalla said it was about “showcasing the opportunity [for holiday packaging] and how we can address the opportunity and become a dominant player in the space that we are trying to target.” The investment came through after repeated meetings, planned and unplanned ones, where Bhalla and his team headed to the Accel office to simply offer updates on Holiday ME's progress. Along with Accel, Saudi-based F&C Overseas Investment also participated in the round.
In a press release announcing the latest round of funding, Faisal Al Nassar from F&C Investment said Holiday ME fulfills the need of a new age platform in a region with one of the highest per capita spend in holidays. In fact, the UAE's tourism and leisure sector is projected to reach 237 billion Emirati dirhams (US$64 billion) by 2026.
Holiday ME has 150 employees with offices in Dubai, Riyadh and Pune, counting countries in Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand) and Europe as its most popular destinations. Bhalla said they plan to continue to enhance the technology and experience, and also build ways for the customer to be in touch with representatives while on tour.
“We want to replace the concierge and become this virtual travel agent who is sitting with you at all times,” Bhalla says.
Feature image via Pexels.com