Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you end up at Jovago and what drew you to the project?
I graduated from Bryn Mawr College, USA and started my career as a banker with Citibank Pakistan. After 4 years at Citi, I decided to pursue my MBA at INSEAD, France and then worked for 2 years as a Management Consultant for Bain and Company in Singapore and Dubai.
When I moved back to Pakistan, I was really interested in working in the e commerce space as it is a relatively new industry here and there is lots of room for innovation. And I love to travel, so when the Rocket approached me to establish operations for Jovago.com, it felt like the perfect move.
The opportunity also spoke to my more patriotic tendencies! I felt that through Jovago, we could really make an impact on domestic tourism, not only by offering people more accommodation choice and convenience, but also by providing a platform for small hotels and guest houses to showcase their businesses – improving the overall economy.
Pakistan’s tourism industry has a less than stellar reputation. What makes this a good time to enter it? How do you see it developing in the coming years?
Going abroad has become more of a hassle, and is very expensive. Due to these reasons, people are traveling within Pakistan. We are constantly seeing articles and blogs about new places in Pakistan, which shows the extent to which people are actually traveling, and therefore it is a good time to enter the Pakistani market.
I do see it developing in the coming years. At Jovago, we are in touch with many international travelers, and they have in fact been approaching us about travel in Pakistan. One of the main reasons we launched ourselves was to encourage more and more people to come to Pakistan, and through our social media marketing strategies i.e. blog, facebook page, instagram and twitter account, I think we are reaching a large audience.
Jovago is part of a consortium who are aggressively expanding into Pakistan with multiple startups. What makes the market so attractive?
Pakistan is an entrepreneurial and startup market. There are so many things one can do here, which they haven’t, and there is so much room to grow which is why the market is so attractive. Pakistani’s are also very hard workers, who work and work until they get results and therefore people like to invest in good and hard workers. Additionally, foreigners are learning more about Pakistan through media and word of mouth, which is why they are now interested in investing – there is a lot of scope here!
How did you manage to consolidate hotels all over Pakistan? What were the biggest obstacles in starting Jovago operations in Pakistan?
The biggest challenge was to educate the small hotels to come onboard with us, and to explain that an online business is credible! They were very used to the concept of a physical travel agency. Also, changing consumers mindsets from booking through the traditional way via a travel agent, to online booking was initially a bit of a challenge. However, so many online businesses are entering Pakistan now which has made the education and communication to consumers a little easier!
How does a hotel start offering bookings through Jovago? What’s your operating procedure for populating the list of hotels?
Our team personally visits hotels and guest houses all over Pakistan – they go to different cities, so far we have 1600 hotels spread across 150 cities.
When they visit, they inform the hotels and guest houses about what Jovago does, and how it will improve their business. For example, small guest houses are unable to market themselves due to financial constraints, and therefore we are providing them recognition by putting them on our website, and investing in both online and offline marketing for them. These smaller guest houses actually are really excited about Jovago, and have in fact seen a rise in their bookings.
We’ve seen companies with deep pockets coming in and spending a lot to gain market share, often acquiring or driving small startups out of business. How do you think this will effect the ecosystem in the country?
If anything, it will encourage startups to emerge in anticipation of earning more money by being bought. It will also increase competition, which will drive better results in the country – every one aspires to be the best so will work to be the best if there is competition.
What’s your advice to budding entrepreneurs and business owners in Pakistan?
There is so much potential in Pakistan for entrepreneurship – I always encourage people to follow their passion, but at the same time to ensure that they have a solid execution plan and a strong team in place (and funds of course!)- a good idea is not enough to make the business successful.