The internet has made our lives so much easier. You can order a taxi at your home within minutes, get grocery delivered to your doorstep and even book reservations at a hotel. And thanks to a new stream of booking startups that have propped up over the past few years, booking hotels, flights, cars, is now a piece of cake too.
What’s more, it does away with the middleman — the travel agents — saving you hordes of money and allowing you to make your own plans on your own terms.
What is SastaTicket?
SastaTicket is a Pakistani startup that provides flight and hotel booking options for the people of Pakistan to cater to their traveling needs. It is also one of the first Pakistani startups to venture into travel services, specifically for Pakistanis, giving it a unique edge in this field.
“Our aim behind launching Sastaticket.pk was to provide Pakistani travelers with an easy and transparent way to book their travel,” shared Shazil. “As Pakistanis rapidly shift from traditional commerce to online commerce, it is necessary for local online travel companies to fill this void.”
Shazil, an economics graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, is a veteran in the field of travel management. Before co-founding his own startup, he was the Co-CEO and Executive Director of Quality Aviation, a partner of Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a global leader in business travel.
Quality Aviation is one of the larger travel management companies in Pakistan with a strength of over 300 travel professionals and a network of 6 branches across the country.
SastaTicket went live in September of 2016, offering booking services for both domestic as well as international flights and hotels.
Shazil’s old employer, Quality Aviation, acts as the parent company and main investor in the startup and, having significant domestic and international hotel volumes, helps them negotiate deals and discounted rates.
How has SastaTicket Fared Up Till Now?
Talking about the growth of the company, Shazil said that they have delivered 19% compounded monthly growth in gross bookings over the first 12 months. Their team has also grown — they now employ over 40 individuals working towards making travel easier for Pakistanis around the country.
We closed our first year averaging 300,000 searches per month.
The startup is funded by the co-founders themselves and is yet to turn a profit — Shazil says that their focus over the first year has been on growth alone.
When asked about the biggest challenges they have faced up till now, he highlighted the lack of trust the general Pakistani customer places in companies and how hard they have had to work to change this mindset.
“Customer trust was an initial challenge that we faced over the first couple of months where customers would require a lot of assurance that our business was legitimate and that their transactions were secure.”
To tackle this problem, they provide dedicated customer support services daily from 8:00 AM to 12:00 AM, which has done an excellent job giving exceptional service and getting good reviews to further build customer trust.
Moreover, they also have a physical presence in 3 cities across Pakistan and have set up physical cash payment points in the major cities of Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Faisalabad, and Multan.
Being a licensed company in partnership with Quality Aviation has also helped them in establishing them as a trusted company and reassuring their customers.
The biggest challenge has been the high-tech requirement of our market and the technology required to scale our business.
Another issue they have faced is how the government and the industry hold travel companies responsible for screening travelers and verifying their documents prior to issuing tickets or processing visa applications.
Localization and Future Plans
Internationally, they face tough competition from the likes of Expedia, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, SkyScanner and more — global giants who have way more resources and reach than SastaTicket. As a result, the people at SastaTicket have focused on making their service better specifically for the Pakistani public.
“We believe that we are in a unique position where we have been able to combine travel technology expertise with a deep understanding of the Pakistani travel industry,” shared Shazil.
Pakistani travelers are able to book domestic airlines such as Serene Air, Shaheen Airways, Air Blue, and PIA at the lowest rates on their platform. I compared the ticket prices charged by SastaTicket with some other services, including PIA’s.
I found no change in their prices, so it is clear that they do not charge any extra fees for their services. They also send you an invoice for any bookings you make with the complete tax breakdown.
Furthermore, they have over 525 domestic hotels on their platform and have also started offering train bookings (available as a Beta feature currently), becoming the first online travel agency in Pakistan to offer train bookings. For the next year or so, they will be working to upgrade and deploy new technologies that will help improve the customer experience and allow them to scale.
We are very excited to play a leading role in the development of the online travel segment in Pakistan.
The low internet penetration, the low literacy rate and a general lack of startup culture mean that entrepreneurs in Pakistan have a harder time than they do in most other countries.
Very few startups have managed to face and beat the adversity that came their way and reach sustainability. While SastaTicket may be off to a promising startup, it remains to be seen if it can weather the storm and make a place in the heart of Pakistani consumers.