Holiday planning will no longer be a nightmare

Spending dream holidays once in a life time is everyone’s wish. It might be a nightmare to do travel planning in past as flight bookings, hotel reservations and other travel arrangements require integrated efforts to connect airline offices, tour operators and travel agents. But, today technology has made this job easy for everyone.

The Dubai-based travel startup, HolidayMe, is one of the many channels which enables users to design and book holiday packages, hotels, flights and sightseeing activities for destinations all over the world. After strengthening base in its home market – UAE – during first two years of operation, the fastest growing online travel agency sets its sight on GCC market.

“In 2017, we have a much stronger marketing plan that has a higher outreach across the UAE and Saudi Arabia,” Geet Bhalla, co-founder and chief executive of HolidayMe, told Khaleej Times.

Bhalla, who co-founded the startup two years back, said plans are on cards to launch operations in Saudi Arabia during first quarter of 2017. “At the moment, our business is mainly from the UAE. We have customers from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but the UAE is a primary market. We will expand across the Gulf Cooperation Council market by the end of next year,” he said.

Bhalla said UAE, especially Dubai, has positioned itself with various entities and multiple incubators that have opened up which speak volumes about how the startup eco system is growing in this country in a very fast manner.

“Yes, there are so many avenues that have opened up, so many incubators that have started which are ready to promote an idea, promote a startup and even provide funding. Today’s environment is far more conducive than what it used to be 10 or 15 years back,” he said.

One stop shop

Bhalla said his strartup helps the potential travellers to search and view multiple holiday packages to more than 200 destinations across the globe. The users can book the packages completely online on a real time basis to save time and money.

“Our aim was to become a one stop shop where there is a plethora of packages available and the customer can choose a package according to their own preference.”

To a question, he conceive the idea to launch the startup, he said it was purely derived from the potential problem areas identified within the region. One of the problems was that the process of holiday booking was troublesome. People did not know what to do in a particular destination, where to go etc.

Elaborating, he said people were paying very high price for holiday packages and they were going on multiple websites to book flights, hotels and other services. If not multiple websites, they were going to an agency, which as a model is getting outdated now because it was offering very limited options.

“We’ve added tremendous functionality, product coverage, and a huge amount of content that is relevant to the users when they are looking for a holiday. A year back, we were less than a 100,000 visitors and today we have about half a million visitors per month (from the UAE).

“We’ve had a five-fold increase in the number of visitors that are coming to our website every month which is a significant number. There has been a significant growth in all aspects – be it the content we provide to the customers, the packages we provide, the multiple options available and also in terms of the number of customers that are interacting with us,” he said.

In right direction

Bhalla said his startup is heading in right direction and will add more value to its business by offering more products and services in days to come.

“The business structure has grown over the last one year and we are more confident that our position will be further consolidated this year. By the end of 2017, we definitely see ourselves as the leader in holiday segment in the region by providing the right kind of technology and customer experience,” he said.

To a question, he said startup prime focus will remain on holiday package environment and building technology tools to enhance the customer experience.

“As a part of that, we will also be launching a mobile app which will be focused on areas that would cover local staycations that can be bought from the app directly. We will also be looking at enhancing the app to be your virtual travel agent,” he added.

About the strategy to stay ahead of competitors, he said three areas [to focus on] are identified to sustain the growth momentum in years to come.

“We see ourselves as a technology company focused on travel and identify three areas i-e. technology, supplier relations and hiring the best talent. We really want to focus on these three key areas to ultimately deliver the best customer experience across the spectrum.”

Valuation, fund raising

This year, the startup raised $7 million in series A funding from a consortium of investors that includes Accel Partners and Saudi Arabia-based F&C Overseas Investment. Existing investor Al Sanie Group also recommitted by participating in the round. The funds will be utlised for upscaling IT infrastructure, regional expansion, talent recruitment and increasing customer base of the stratup.

Bhalla said HolidayMe has so far raised $11 million in two rounds including seed money and series A funding to build up the product and get a base level of customers.

“We also see a significant upside potential to be able to market HolidayMe across the region. We will continue to look at the right potential investors who can add value to HolidayMe and its growth,” he said.

To a question about the total valuation of the startup, he said this is a moving number, but have seen a “significant uptake in our valuation” over the last one year.

“We want to be the first point of call for a customer looking for a holiday in the region. The holiday market size in the region is approximately $35 billion and we want to be an undisputed leader in this segment across the region and beyond,” Bhalla concluded.


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