Started in a row house in Dubai, HolidayMe aims to be the largest Middle Eastern travel portalSindhu Kashyaap
Travel buffs Digvijay Pratap and Geet Bhalla realised that booking a complete holiday experience online was cumbersome and took the fun out of travelling. While there are multiple websites and portals, they are not equipped with the right tools to book things at one go.
There are various websites that offer readymade holiday packages, but there’s nothing that one can customise to fulfill requirements with ease. Either it is a compromise by taking what is available, or in the offline world it is a long-drawn, back-and-forth process to finalise on the holiday experience.
Starting with five people working out of a small room in a row house, brainstorming and exchanging ideas led to birth of HolidayMe. Geet says, "We were convinced that the market needed a simplified platform to plan and book a holiday experience in a few simple clicks."
Spotting newer markets
HolidayMe allows users to book customised holidays, including hotels, activities and transfers, in a few simple clicks, and get confirmations in real time. The duo realised that being a startup, they needed to carve a niche around the product and also be selective of the market they decided to operate in.
India, whilst a large and interesting market, had a different set of challenges, with existing large players and high cost of customer acquisition. It was then that they saw a huge opportunity in Middle East.
Rajat Panwar, CTO, was instrumental in developing a prototype which was applauded by the stalwarts of the industry. This gave them the confidence to bring forth the product into the market.
"People in the Middle East were still dependent on the local travel agent for booking a holiday. There was no local online travel portal which gave them a platform to book a fully customisable holiday online in a simplified manner," says Geet.
HolidayMe fills the gap and lets users plan their itinerary and also book their holiday package online instantly. The idea is to give the users in the Middle East a platform to book their holiday as per their preferences. This includes selection of the duration and dates of holidays, choice of activities and hotels for a particular destination and the transfer option of their choice.
Voice of the customers
"Keeping customers’ needs and requirements in mind, we have the 'Speak to an Expert' feature on our website, so that help is available to the customers at any given point of time," says Digvijay.
Based on feedback from peers and experts from the industry, the prototype was improved further before it was presented to investors in Saudi Arabia. They hired talent at senior positions from the travel industry, whose inputs helped in getting the product to its present stage.
"We are using customer-based inputs in the form of communication with our agents, suppliers as well as customer reviews and identifying various aspects like sentiments, context and even how and where they plan to travel using 'Machine Learning'. This reduces human intervention to a greater extent," says Geet.
HolidayMe encourages its customers to talk about their experience on an open platform like TrustPilot. The team is also getting some useful feedback from a user experience perspective.
Breaking into a new market
The initial challenges were around getting customers to adopt the new concept of holidays in the Middle East, but over a period, the traction has seen a steady increase. "In the UAE, over the last one year, we have quickly become a leader in providing holidays online," says Geet.
The key challenge for the team is to continuously innovate and enhance the offerings and customer experience. "We are now selling hundreds of holiday packages every month," says Geet.
HolidayMe uses a blend of Open Source and Microsoft .NET. They created a proprietary technical foundation on simple concepts of SOA, High Availability (HA), Scalability and more interesting concepts of Big Data, Machine Learning and Predictive Analytics.
Overcoming language barriers
Geet says not only are they the first Arabic website to offer holiday packages, but also the first one to offer activities and transfers in Arabic for the local market. This has been built with the purpose of entering Saudi Arabia and other GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) markets.
Digvijay, who is the Managing Director, is also the key product strategist of the company. A travel technology savant, Digvijay realised quite early in his life that coding was his calling and took up a Master’s degree in Computer Applications, before building up a successful career as a software engineer.
He has served in senior management roles in Aviva, Hoteltravel.com (acquired by Makemytrip.com) and Pathfinders. He was also a technology consultant to Thomas Cook.
Geet who is the CEO, is an avid traveller, who has visited more than 50 countries. He has a background in finance and banking technology and also has over 15 years of experience in building enterprise sales and marketing structures across the Middle East.
He has worked with large multinationals throughout his career and has established excelled business connections in the Middle East business world.
Capturing the Middle Eastern market
HolidayMe aims to be the largest, one-stop online shop for customers planning to book their holidays in the Middle East. It aims to focus on getting users to use the product on mobile to book their holidays.
"Although we started with a focus on the UAE market targeting Emiratis and the expat population, we are currently focussing on the entering the Saudi market which is primarily Arabic-speaking. We also intend to enter other destinations in the Middle East such as Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain in the future," says Geet.