Over the last two years, the global tourism ecology has shifted to local travel under the pressure of the coronavirus pandemic. In response to the change, Go Zayaan, the Dhaka-based fast-growing travel-tech company, has doubled down on domestic tourism. It launched several products that address the need for inspiration and logistics for traveling Bangladesh.
As the local future of travel manifests more clearly across markets, the company aligns its strategic ambition and plots big to dominate the domestic travel market in Bangladesh. In this article, we go deeper into Go Zayaan’s domestic travel ambition and strategy:
Valued almost $9 trillion, travel and tourism was 10 percent of the global economy in 2019 (1). It was a record year for the travel industry. A year later, in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic shook the entire industry, creating unprecedented domino effects across the travel and tourism ecosystem. International travel plunged. Every player, from major airlines and hotel chains to smaller accommodation providers to peripheral tourism services, suffered a drastic fall in demand. Experts predict travel spending is unlikely to rebound to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
The effect of the pandemic has equally been devastating for the travel industry in Bangladesh. As we have written before: industry insiders reported a more than 50% drop in business. Hotels, transportation, travel companies had barely been operational. TOAB predicted a 30% job loss in the sector in 2020. For many travel companies, navigating the pandemic has been like sailing into a hurricane.
Two years in, many are trying to figure out the ecology. As companies get a better sense of the crisis, many players have acted to launch new products and services, retain brand reputation, focus on innovation and customer experience, find new sources of liquidity, and work effectively to build relationships and distributions.
We have also seen signs of growing demand for travel. Customers are willing to travel again. A 2021 McKinsey survey finds that travel is the second-most-desired activity among respondents.
The other major development since the pandemic started is that travel patterns changed significantly with customers preferring local travel, trips to natural destinations, and shying away from international travel. This shift was initially driven by the travel restrictions and the uncertainty—we will not get stuck in a travel destination due to unpredictable travel restrictions. People choose to travel locally and do shorter trips that are closer to home.
It has since evolved into a dominant trend and is expected to shape travel in the near future. Experts suggest long-haul, intercontinental travel is unlikely to rebound to pre-pandemic level anytime soon.
Contrary to that, in many markets, local travel has rebounded in both leisure and business segments to a meaningful degree as countries withdraw lockdown and expand vaccination. In Bangladesh, almost all popular tourist destinations are currently experiencing an influx of tourists comparable to pre-pandemic times. It means the future of travel is local.
The pandemic has made a few things clear. The travel market can undergo abrupt change. But human longing for exploring unknown places and experiences will always remain. We have seen the manifestation of this longing in the immediate market response to the lifting of lockdown mid this year with a massive increase in domestic travel booking.
In response to the changing tourism ecology, Go Zayaan, the Bangladesh-based fast-growing travel-tech company, has doubled down on domestic tourism and launched several products that address the need for inspiration and logistics for local travel in Bangladesh.
On the business side, Go Zayaan has been working hard to help its business partners bring online, reduce costs, improve offerings, and realize economies of scale. To that end, Go Zayaan has started to invest in understanding the domestic travel market and design solutions to cater to the travel partners.
“We saw over the last two years that people are willing to travel within the country when lockdown eases from time to time,” says Go Zayaan’s Asst. Manager of Brand Communication Sharif Farzana Bushra. “We realized this offers a huge opportunity for domestic travel in and around the country.”
The company soon started working on domestic hotel acquisitions, partnering with hoteliers and property owners. Within a short time during the two subsequent lockdowns, Go Zayaan acquired some 150 hotels, starting with city hotels of Dhaka and then hotels and resorts across tourist destinations around Bangladesh. It has partnered with resorts in and around Dhaka to serve families, business travelers with weekend getaways and short trips and day outs.
Today, it has over 300 hotels and resorts, of different categories from 2-5 stars, on its platform. Bangladesh has some 6000 hotels and resorts. Go Zayan says it is working continuously to onboard more hotels and properties.
Go Zayaan provides hotels a dedicated admin panel to update their inventory in real-time. Customers can see and book the same in real-time through its website.
Hotel listing comes with detailed information about the amenities and policies of each hotel. Detailed photos of the rooms, beds, features, give customers a clear view of the room and facilities. The company says it will soon add interactive maps and videos to hotel details. “We offer a 360 degree understanding of each property,” says Ms. Bushra. “Customers can browse based on their priorities using various filters, compare and finally book.”
On the transportation end, the company has all the domestic airlines — Novo, US-Bangla, and Bangladesh Biman — on its platform and covers all the popular routes in domestic flights. A comprehensive listing of flights helps customers to choose based on their needs such as cost, speed/time, and so on.
This year, it has added buses allowing users to book bus tickets and hire buses without leaving the Go Zayaan platform.
Apart from the regular travel services, Go Zayaan has innovated for local travels and launched several interesting products such as tours and travel loans.
Go Zayaan Tours has introduced new ways to book local day tours, experiences, and activities in different destinations across Bangladesh. Using Go Zayaan Tours, you can book a wide range of day tours from expeditions at The Sundarbans to deep sea exploration at Cox's Bazar to a day tour to Mawa Ghat.
The company works with offline tour operators to design these tours and bring them online. Each tour comes with details such as price, safety, family friendliness, adventure, fun, etc to help customers make the right choice. Go Zayaan does not charge extra for these tours other than a small convenience cost. “We charge exactly the same price as the vendors,” says Ms. Bushra. “We work with our vendors in a manner that they get new online customers and our customers get the best deals.”
Last year Go Zayaan got into travel financing by launching a personal travel loan in collaboration with IPDC Finance Ltd. The loan, aimed at travelers and travel enthusiasts, can be used for purchasing travel-related services. The entire loan application can be completed online and designed to be simple, easy, and quick. The documents required are minimal. The conditions are flexible. After accepting the application, the loan remains valid for 3 months and can be paid in affordable monthly installments for up to 18 months. And no interest will be charged if you pay it back within 6 months. We have written about the Go Zayaan travel loan in detail here.
Travelers face rampant challenges in Bangladesh. Booking through offline agents comes with a series of drawbacks. The entire process is time-consuming, opaque, and requires a lot of handholding. Travelers often end up paying more for the same service.
Go Zayaan aims to change that. Founded in 2017, the company has attempted to make travel services easier to access with round-the-clock customer support.
It has introduced an omnichannel travel booking solution, making reservations possible at any time, from anywhere via the website, hotline, and messenger. It maintains the same process for booking flights, hotels, and tours. You simply go to its website, choose your preferred mode of travel, compare prices and book the most convenient option for you.
Customers, who prefer to speak with human agents, can call Go Zayaan customer agents and book over the phone and are provided with a payment link where they can sign up and complete the payment. The company says the service improves trust and converts offline users to online.
A superior technology solution helps deliver fast and reliable service. A highly optimized website returns results within 15-20 seconds. The user-friendly UI eliminates confusion. The search and filter options help find desired information effortlessly. “We have made using our platform super simple,” says Ms. Bushra. “A customer can book their travel needs in under 9 minutes on the Go Zayaan platform.”
As we mentioned earlier, throughout the pandemic, Go Zayaan focused on domestic tourism, partnered with local airlines, hundreds of hotels, and tour operators that had no presence in the digital space. Today, it has built an excellent inventory of domestic hotels and resorts of all ranges from all across Bangladesh.
The size of the travel industry in Bangladesh was reported at $5.3 billion in 2017 (2). Local travelers contribute approximately 98 percent of that revenue. The industry is expected to grow by 6.8 percent annually to $7 billion by 2023. Compared to that, OTAs have limited penetration with less than 5% of the total market share combinedly.
Go Zayaan sees this as an excellent opportunity to tap into a fast-growing market. The company plans to play with user experience for competitive advantage. “We will bring more useful features, better user experience, and better prices,” says Ridwan Hafiz, Founder, and CEO of Go Zayaan. “We are always a customer-first company.”
Today, Go Zayaan offers four services: flights, hotels, tours, and buses. On top of that, it has introduced travel loans, EMI facilities, and several other supporting services for travelers. It is working on a travel advisory feature called Go Safe to provide safety verification to accommodation and destinations that maintain COVID safety.
To help customers find the best fares, it has introduced a new fare trend feature that helps customers see flight fare trends within a certain date range and choose the cheapest fare.
It has introduced flexible payment methods and added comprehensive payment options including all MFS, cards, etc to encourage people to book online. It routinely runs campaigns and offers discounts and price benefits to customers in collaboration with partners.
Go Zayaan looks to offer comprehensive travel solutions to customers. The company’s product innovation efforts reveal the motivation. “We are working to build an ecosystem of products for travelers so that customers can get all their travel needs in one place from flights to hotels to experience to transportation,” explains Ms. Bushra.
The strategy is paying off. The company says it now has over 500,000 active monthly users on its website with 40% repeat customers.
Go Zayaan now looks further to grow the economy of online travel services in Bangladesh.
“We are bringing offline service providers online,” explains Ms. Bushra. “We are offering customers comprehensive information to help them make the best decisions. They can browse, compare, and book every service they need to travel in Bangladesh. We are putting travelers in control of their travel experience.”