HalalBooking sees growth opportunities in Muslim-friendly tourism despite uneven travel recovery in 2022
Online travel platform expects organic growth of up to 70% this year, but has delayed its IPO plans.
London: HalalBooking is anticipating a recovery in the international travel industry this year, which it hopes will reignite its growth plans.
“We expect that the travel industry will continue its recovery further in 2022 as many economies continue to open up for international travel and reduce travel restrictions significantly with the continuous and wide global vaccine roll out,” said Ufuk Secgin, chief marketing officer at HalalBooking.
London-based HalalBooking said it has over 300,000 customers from more than 110 countries and more than 3,000 affiliate agency partners providing a service to halal-conscious travellers throughout the world.
“We are expecting an acceleration with an estimated 50-70% organic growth rate to an estimated $50-$60 million, said Elnur Seyidli, CEO of HalalBooking. “In this regard, sales in the first two weeks of January are very promising.”
Weathering the pandemic
In 2019, HalalBooking recorded sales of $31 million. However, in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, the travel sector suffered severe strain and the company’s sales dropped to just $8 million.
In addition to issuing refunds to customers, the company had to come up with new ways to maintain and attract customers.
At the same time, HalalBooking developed new innovative features such as “Book now, pay later” instalment payment options, and new flexible cancellation policies to deal with COVID-19 related travel restrictions, said Secgin. “This gave peace of mind to existing and new customers to book with confidence,” he said.
These efforts seem to have paid off. In the past year, the company said that it recorded sales of $37 million.
Seyidli said that they experienced 50% growth (compared to 2019) in most of their major markets including Germany, France and Turkey. He added that these sales were achieved despite sales from the UK market, which is traditionally HalalBooking’s second most important source market, tumbling from 23% in 2019 to only 3% in 2021, because of the UK’s strict travel restrictions.
“Customers rewarded the company’s efforts in 2021 with a record number of bookings and its sales reached a record $37 million, a result higher than the previous pre-pandemic record from 2019,” said Seyidli. “This was despite a very slow first quarter and the impact of lockdowns and travel restrictions, as well as the news of the Omicron variant scare in the fourth quarter.”
He added that despite the pandemic and the challenges stemming from Brexit – the UK’s exit from the European Union - the company did not lay off any of its staff.
Series B funding, and delay to IPO
Seyidli said that during the first quarter of 2022, HalalBooking is hoping to complete its Series B $20 million round, of which $5 million is already secured - and use the money for significant marketing spending and global expansion to boost its 2022-24 organic growth.
“The Series B round aims to accelerate the company’s already exponential growth rate and achieve $1 billion unicorn status by 2025,” said Seyidli.
In March 2021, the UK-based platform raised $5 million in Series B funding. In a statement at the time, the company said that it had raised $5 million through a group of private angel investors, including the state-owned British Business Bank, in the form of a pre-Series B convertible loan agreement.
Despite the optimism of a rebound in travel and organic growth, the company has decided to delay its IPO listing. The company had previously targeted their IPO for 2024.
“[As a result of] COVID-19 and the subsequent economic downturn, the company’s original IPO plans for 2023/2024 have been delayed by around three years,” said Secgin.
International travel is expected to fare better in 2022, according to a recent UNWTO report. It points to a faster and more widespread vaccination roll-out, followed by a major lifting of travel restrictions, and more coordination and clearer information on travel protocols as key drivers.
Although it forecasts that international tourist arrivals could grow by 30% to 78% compared to 2021, this is still 50% to 63% below pre-pandemic levels. The report further highlights that a majority of industry experts expect international arrivals to return to 2019 levels only in 2024 or later.
Despite this uneven recovery in global travel, HalalBooking will focus on developing their offering.
“The business continues to improve its product offering and user-friendliness of its website by implementing hundreds of projects each year. We will continue to do so throughout 2022,” said Secgin.
He said that these activities will include: working on new strategic marketing partnerships; increasing their product portfolio further; launching more granular halal features as well as information about privacy levels available in rooms; improving the booking experience for villa bookings, and preparing the groundwork for launching tours and attractions in 2023.
“With so much going on, we’re very excited about the future for the company in particular and for halal-friendly travel in general,” Secgin said.
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