This story has been updated to include the name of the merged HolidayMe-Tripfez platform.
DUBAI - The new single travel platform resulting from the merger of Dubai-based HolidayMe and Malaysia’s Tripfez will be launched in April 2019, helping push the UAE company beyond its core local customer market, according to CEO Geet Bhalla.
HolidayMe and Tripfez announced last week their merger, along with a $16 million Series C round the UAE company raised led by venture capital firm Gobi Partners. Tripfez is also part of Gobi Partners’ portfolio after it raised $750,000 in May 2016 in a seed round led by the Shanghai-based VC.
Tripfez co-founder and CEO Faeez Fadhlillah told Salaam Gateway the two companies will do a shares swap to form a merged entity that will stay in Gobi’s portfolio.
UAE is currently HolidayMe’s biggest market, said Bhalla. “We do a little bit of business in Saudi and with this fundraise we’ll be entering into Malaysia as well,” he told Salaam Gateway.
“Saudi and Malaysia will be the two biggest markets that we will be going after,” he added.
The name of the merged company and platform will be HolidayMe, Bhalla told Salaam Gateway.
HolidayMe started out of Dubai in 2014 and has since grown to include offices in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and Pune in India. Its main business is selling holiday packages and it also offers flights and hotels. According to Bhalla, the company now employs 280 people.
Malaysia-based Tripfez launched in 2015 and focuses on hotel bookings in the halal and Muslim-friendly travel market. It incorporates Salam Standard, the halal hospitality rating system that has reviewed and rated over 55,000 hotels, according to its website. It is much smaller than HolidayMe, employing around 25 people.
Fadhlillah told Salaam Gateway the merger is “a testament to the growing market of Muslim travel.”
HolidayMe has not positioned itself specifically as a halal or Muslim-friendly online travel agency but being based in the Middle East has made it attuned to the needs of Muslim travellers.
“We realised that there are certain unique requirements that customers in the Middle East needed,” said Bhalla.
“People were happy to know hotels that serve halal food, they were happy to know where the mosque is, which is some information that we already catered to on our website,” he said.
With this customer knowledge, the majority-Muslim Malaysian market was “the next logical step” to build HolidayMe, said Bhalla.
“We basically get a new market to look into which we think is very much aligned to what we’re building and we have a team [in Tripfez] which understands the market very clearly so that saves a lot of money because understanding the market can be an expensive exercise,” Bhalla said.
“It’s more like connecting the dots. Tripfez has some solutions which they were catering to from a Muslim market standpoint,” added Bhalla.
HolidayMe will integrate Tripfez’s Salam Standard into the new merged online travel agency.
However, Bhalla added the platform will not be exclusive only to Muslims.
“Very clearly we will be positioning ourselves as someone that is catering to the requirements of Muslims better than others but then, the core component of a business are still around the great user experience, great technology, better service, better prices and so on,” he said.
HolidayMe currently offers around 600 packages to about 300 destinations in 60 countries, according to Bhalla.
He is optimistic on the growth of the new business and said the number of packages will double and the number of countries will go up by around 20 to 30 percent, considering the “slightly different variation” of destinations people from Malaysia and the Middle East travel to.
“We managed to grow [in revenue] within UAE predominantly, about 130 percent compared to last year. With Malaysia coming in and the thrust in Saudi, my feeling is that we should be able to definitely maintain or even improve on the growth rate that we’ve done over 2017,” said Bhalla.
Malaysia and Saudi will be the first focus for growth but plans to penetrate the Muslim travel segment in Indonesia and China have already started, said Bhalla.
Official figures put the number of Muslims in China at around 22 million but others estimate the population to be up to 100 million.
“There is really no one catering to their [Chinese Muslims] needs,” said Bhalla.
He said the company will be looking into catering to the Indonesian and Chinese markets in their local languages.
In the Muslim-friendly online travel agency segment, the new HolidayMe-Tripfez platform will compete directly with UK-based HalalBooking.com and Singapore’s HalalTrip.
(Reporting by Emmy Abdul Alim; Edited by Michael Fahy email@example.com)
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