Jovago is an online hotel booking platform that has been operational in Pakistan for around 18 months. Part of Rocket Internet funded startups in Asia and Africa, it claims to be the largest platform in its niche in Pakistan. We recently got a chance to sit down with Paul Midy, who is the global CEO for Jovago.
Here’s what he had to say about Jovago’s experience here and the expanding state of Pakistan’s tourism and hospitality industry.
On Jovago’s current reach and growth in the last year:
Right now, we have over 2000 hotels on board with us, up from 600 the same time last year. Globally, we have partnered with more than 25,000 hotels. Our ultimate ambition is to inculcate a love for traveling in the Pakistani people.
To reach a more significant portion of the populace, we are working on local versions of our site. We already have a mobile app on Android that was launched in September to cater to the growing Smartphones segment in Pakistan. An iOS version will be released next year.
On Jovago’s positioning in the market:
Right now, we are happy with where we are in the market. More than 80% of our customers would strongly recommend us to peers. To cater to any and all issues and queries, we have a customer service staff that numbers 25 at the moment. We pride ourselves on our Best Price Guarantee and claim that on 98% of the listed hotels, we have the best prices. We work closely with stakeholders for promotions and offering lower prices for customers.
On Jovago’s growth in Pakistan:
Growth seen in the Pakistani market has been steady and encouraging. We’re witnessing a 40% growth per month and we’ve augmented this with an advertisement push via TVC’s, some of which ran during last year’s cricket matches.
In terms of our most active customer hotspots, 22% of our bookings are in Lahore, 14% in Murree, 13% in ISB and 13% in KHI and 9% in Kaghan Valley.
On payments in Pakistan:
Payments in Pakistan are overwhelmingly offline. 96% of our customers prefer to book their hotels and pay when they arrive at the venue. This is very different from our other markets like Kenya, where online payments are the norm. To encourage online payments, Jovago is trying to integrate Easy Paisa mobile payment solutions in partnership with Telenor.
On what makes Pakistan different from other markets:
Another difference from international markets is that Pakistanis prefer human interaction during their Jovago experience. Our travel advisors are always busy giving advice and answering questions about the safety of hotels and security situation of surrounding areas.
One of the challenges we faced during our initial setup was simply getting hotels and guest houses on board. It can be difficult to find lodgings in Pakistan and because of the security situation, most of these places don’t advertise or market. Our groundwork on this front gives us a lot of traction compared to the competition.
Some stats on the habits of Pakistani travelers:
Most travelers in Pakistan (75%) are leisure travelers and 25% business, internationally we see more business travelers Average stay in PK is 2 nights, which is shorter than other countries where we operate in. Pakistan is more similar to countries like Nigeria, where there are a lot of short trips, but compared to Kenya, Senegal, Myanmar you see an average stay of about 4 nights.
On challenges faced in Pakistan:
1. Purchasing Power: Pakistan’s a developing country with a growing economy, so SME’s want to expand from one city to another. Middle class is growing, we see this a lot in Pakistan with more and more Pakistanis traveling for leisure.
2. Awareness: The country is very beautiful and that means that the tourism potential of Pakistan is yet to be fully realized, since it’s undiscovered. Take the example of Myanmar. 3 years ago it was completely closed in terms of tourism, and today with the improving political situation, the hospitality and tourism industry there has grown a lot. Europeans tend to choose Myanmar for their honeymoon. I don’t see why Pakistan can’t face the same growth, but am very confident it can happen.
3. Infrastructure: Its not just about the roads, but also about having more support from the Govt. Its also about ensuring that people have good internet access (3G/4G). Although this has improved, there’s still room for more improvements.
4. Hotel infrastructure: We need to improve hotel service provided to customers, so Jovago organizes trainings with hotels for them to improve the quality of hotel b/c we want overall tourism and travel industry to grow in line with potential.
5. Operation: Its very expensive to operate hotels, and managers usually talk about taxes they need to pay (new sales tax), so it’s a burden for them to develop their business. With Jovago operating in more than 45 countries, we see that where tax is lower, hotels are more developed. This is where the government needs to give more incentives to hotels.
6. Safety and Security: A long-time challenge for Pakistan to address is in not only making sure that doing business is safe but also making sure that people know that their businesses are safe. Jovago advertises a lot about the hotels, and we are trying to communicate to our customer the safety levels in 150 cities where we offer our services worldwide.
On what we can expect from Jovago in 2016:
We have a fairly comprehensive plan for Jovago but it can be summed up in five points. First, we are going to focus on increasing the amount of hotels and lodgings we have on our platform. Second, more partnerships with companies to attract more travelers. Third, our iOS application I’ve already mentioned but you can expect another app tailored for hotel managers as well. Fourth, addition of alternate payment methods in the form of Easy Paisa. Lastly, we will also be looking to tap into the corporate tour industry.