Launched by Al Tayyar Travel Group, tajawal is a fast-growing full-scale electronic platform and application with a strategic vision to redefine the online airline tickets and hotel booking experience in the Middle East. The company exceeded its projected sales targets by 30 per cent in the first four months of operation. To learn more about this immediate success, InBusinessa.ae got talking to Muhammad Chbib, Founder and CEO, tajawal.
Although you haven’t been in the market for so long, yet you have generated high revenues. Can you tell us about this success in a short period?
It all boils down to hard work apparently. We started developing the platform in August 2015 with only five people and launched the platform at the beginning of January 2016. Our company grew from 5 people since then to 80 people today.
January was our first month in the market; we exceeded our targets that we believe were already very ambitious. In our first month, we almost exceeded our target by 30%, and by mid-February, we crossed 1 million dollars in sales. We have been almost doubling our revenues month on month since then.
We took the deliberate decision to focus our efforts, in the beginning, to create a good product with a very focused approach. Thus, we focused our launch on Saudi Arabia airlines tickets only.
In February, we started in the UAE by localizing the content. We got special deals for the local market and enabled customer’s process deals that are tailored to the country.
So now we are active in the UAE and KSA and are planning to expand into other GCC countries by the end of this quarter.
Are you planning to go beyond the GCC?
We have plans to expand into North Africa and the Levant areas. We are looking at other underserved countries like Pakistan, which has a large population and a huge need for travel but a lack of online travel platforms.
How do you collaborate on airlines tickets?
The airline industry works with an aggregated model. What you do have is you have something called GDS, which is nothing than a distributor that primarily all airlines load their fares on and then distribute them to the different online travel agencies.
There are three major GDS’s worldwide and obviously we work with all of them. We also are in talks with several airlines for direct integration and direct contribution, but this comes as a second order priority only because, first we want to get structural in an efficient way, and it’s obviously more efficient to aggregate to one person or one player than to aggregate to more.
We heard that you’re planning to expand also to the Hotel offerings? Can you tell us more about that?
Hotel bookings are now in the final testing stages of our products. We will start with KSA and the UAE. Obviously, we have hotel contacts all across the globe, but we will market it in this region first.
Our overall plan is to become a fully-fledged travel platform, which means that we will have flights, hotels, insurance products as well as holiday products, click and mix products where you can combine yourself whenever you want. Also, we will have ground transportation services including cars and limousine services in addition to tourism activities. Plus, if it makes sense, we will add cruises and railway services.
In terms of prioritization, we prioritize air, because air is the easiest product for people to gain trust in a travel website. So when you book a flight you know what you’re getting.
How did you find this market so far?
First of all, this market is a highly competitive one. At the same time, it’s a market with extreme growth opportunities.
The offline market or the overall market grows by about 15% annually, whereas the online market is estimated to double in size from now until the end of 2017.
Thus, we are going up from 18 billion dollars’ market size online, to 36 to 40 billion market size by end of 2017. So this outperforms the growth of the overall travel industry, which means that there is a lot of space to capture and space for growth.
We are still a very young company with a very low baseline, so our growth rate doesn’t feel competition yet. In terms of pricing, we are on par with anything that is on the market, on par or better. Airline tickets have a standardized price worldwide, so there is no difference in pricing. I think the big advantage for customers is the visibility and the customer friendliness and customer service. I believe we are doing a pretty good job.
What is the strategy that you follow to standout in this market?
We differentiate ourselves a lot from almost all players in the local market. We are actually a local company incepted by Al Tayyar Travel Group, which has offices in Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
We have a local team; we have an international team actually but we’re all rooted here somehow. I have been in Dubai for example since 2004. My partner in the business, my COO has been in Dubai now since 2010. Most of the people that work with us have been here for a long time. With the group backing us, we have a local industrial player that is enormously big, and has been extremely successful in the past years, at least in the offline sector. That’s obviously a huge advantage that we have.
Now, how do we use this position to benefit our customers? That’s the challenges that we ask ourselves every day. So we firmly believe that two things will make the difference. The first one is that we need to be deeply rooted in this region and localize our concept. Therefore, we think in Arabic first and then go to English. The second thing is that we look at local deals. So we can deal with players here in the local market that the big players like Expedia, for example, don’t focus on. There’s a mid-level hotel somewhere in Jeddah, why would they talk to them? We will speak to them, we will bring them online if they’re not already there, and we will push them because they are local. This is what will benefit the consumers because they will have a wider choice at better prices.
Moreover, we also focus on a “hardcore personalization” where we are trying to personalize our application based on the customer’s requirements and travels. Thus, our app will save the regular routes that a person usually takes and makes their travel journey easier than they can imagine.
Automation is the key, as all business or leisure bookings and transactions can be made by a simple click.
This simplifies the process of canceling or making new reservations, reserving your preferred seat, getting the meal that you want, getting your pick up in your destination, etc.
Therefore, this depends on a lot on technology and data. This is why we are developing a data team that will be based in Berlin to bring back the state of the art data knowledge and how to use data to benefit consumers