As a Pakistani, booking your hotel room at that perfect vacation spot you’ve dreamed of for an eternity isn’t a simple task. For one, there’s the hassle of finding a website you trust. Then, there’s an issue of paying for your booking – in almost all cases, a credit card payment seems to be the only option (a luxury many Pakistanis don’t have). Yes, you could leave this errand to your company, but therein lies another problem. Corporations normally obtain hotel bookings from third party agencies that overcharge for bookings. To whom, then, do Pakistanis who want to book hotel rooms abroad turn?
Bookit247: A Portal for International Hotel Bookings
Shaharyar Ali and Mustafa Najoom hope it will be towards their hotel booking website, bookit247.com. Though this venture has been heavily publicized since early 2015, the duo realized that there were a few teething problems with their startup – as is the case with many ventures entering the nascent e-commerce space. That’s when they decided to launch a supplementary travel portal for corporate hotel bookings, Online Hotel Agents.
When you examine the respective backgrounds of the founders of Bookit247, it wasn’t any surprise that their experience would lead them to where they are now. Sheharyar belongs to the highly esteemed Treet Corporation – a place where he started his professional career. Mustafa belongs to a business-oriented family as well, in the form of the Madera Group.
Shaharyar feels that his association with the Treet Corporation has paved his way in becoming an entrepreneur, as he had “been immersed in an industrial family since a very young age”. He adds, “I have worked diligently to achieve directorship at some of the most notable associations in the country, including the All Pakistan Music Council, Punjab Netball Federation, and Global Arts Limited”.
However, to see a clear transition from innovative curiosity to what would become Bookit247, one needs to look no further than FRAG Games – Shaharyar’s first venture.
Introduction into the Pakistani Tech Sector
FRAG Games was a mobile game development company developed by Shaharyar in 2014, with an office located in Arfa Technology Park. Shaharyar feels he created the venture at an opportune time, “when high-speed mobile internet had just been introduced to the county, and Android smartphones were abound in the marketplace”. FRAG Games most popular game was SuperCricket, which ended up gaining a lot of traction. With an accomplishment of getting something out in the internet space in Pakistan, Shaharyar teamed up with Mustafa in bringing something ‘disruptive’ to the country in a hotel bookings website for Pakistanis
Solving the Pain Points faced by Pakistani travelers
It wasn’t that difficult to fathom a unique hotel booking website in Pakistan for both Mustafa and Shaharyar, as both are frequent travelers. However, Bookit247’s stance as a disruptive startup lies in two interesting observations made by both the founders.
We found that there were issues being faced by two specific types of customers when it came to booking hotels online
- Those who would pay for the bookings through their own credit cards through international sites
- Those who would pay agents through corporate billing but were still being charged an arm and a leg
Therefore, both teamed up to create a portal for international hotel bookings in Pakistan. One major player whom they credit heavily is NetSol, which provided them with a practical architectural system to provide optimum user experience.
After that, they partnered with the consortium ‘Leading Hotels of the World’ to provide the best rates not just for Pakistanis, but anyone on the web looking to book their hotel rooms online. Payments are powered by UBL’s credit card portal and processed by Etisalat.
Pakistan has ample credit card fraud so knowing who is processing your information is crucial information. Partnerships like these help in building consumer trust in the brand.
Secure Payment Channels and Competitive Rates
It is on this premise that the website has seen a huge influx of paying customers from the US and the UK,. In addition, they also accept payment through online bank transfers. Their helpline, 0800 HOTEL, has also been a driving factor in their success.
Their partnerships with leading hotels have lead Shaharyar to claim that their rates “can be cheaper than those found at hotels.com and bookings.com.” Recently, jovago.com – a Rocket Internet Venture – launched to cater to Pakistanis who wanted to book hotel rooms anywhere in the world.
Bookit247, however, claim to offer a more secure credit card payment portal and cheaper rates than the former. However, there was still something missing. Shaharyar quotes that three factors that needed improvement were “UI/UX, online payment methods, and corporate portal formulations. That’s when Online Hotel Agents was brought to life, to bring new meaning to corporate hotel bookings in Pakistan.
Online Hotel Agents: Catering to Corporate Bookings
Online Hotel Agents operates by having designated company officials use the portal to book hotel rooms for employees. Both the company founders felt that this was a suitable path to gain more traction for their model in the country.
The portal not only lets companies book rooms at hotels, but at apartments and hotel apartments around the world as well. Travel and personal insurance services can be provided upon request, as well as last-minute bookings (similar to famed hotel booking service, HotWire).
The White Label program allows for collaboration with travel agencies, tour operators, and hoteliers, as Online Hotel Agents can customize said enterprises’ websites and provide skilled customer service representatives and managers for their maintenance. The cherry on top is the opportunity for those websites to be powered by Online Hotel Agent’s powerful booking engine.
Food for Thought
All in all, e-commerce space in Pakistan hasn’t been kind to new entrants – regardless of the amount of funding allocated to them. Bookit247 has the means to promote themselves offline like many other Rocket Internet Ventures but there is still a long way to go before the market can officially be deemed as ‘saturated’.