The theme of this year’s World Tourism Day, which takes place every year on the 27th of September, is “Rethinking Tourism”. An apt theme for the time we are living. For the sake of context, World Tourism Day is an UN-designated day to celebrate tourism across the world organized by the UN specialized agency for tourism World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). This year is the 42nd edition of the day.
In a concept note published on the UNWTO website, the organization writes: “World Tourism Day returns to focus on the future. As the sector’s recovery gets underway and building on unprecedented political and public recognition for the sector, UNWTO will highlight the opportunity to rethink how we do tourism. This means putting people and planet first and bringing everyone from governments and businesses to local communities together around a shared vision for a more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient sector.”
To celebrate the day, ShareTrip, the largest online travel agency in Bangladesh, has announced several new and ongoing initiatives with an ambition to rethink travel in Bangladesh.
The company says it aims to make travel inclusive, accessible, and beneficial for more people, contribute to sustainability discussion of travel through internal sustainability practices and community partnerships, focus on improving the state of inbound tourism in Bangladesh, improve customer experience, and put partnerships at the center of its growth. In this article, we take a look into ShareTrip’s several initiatives to rethink travel in Bangladesh.
Seamless travel services, accessible to everyone. ShareTrip started its journey three years back as one of the earliest players in the online travel agency vertical in Bangladesh. The company has introduced a series of fascinating products in hotels, flights, and tours and experienced phenomenal growth within a short period.
ShareTrip has built the largest hotel inventory in the country that allows users incredible flexibility in choosing the best hotel by comparing all nearby hotel prices, amenities, and points of interest on the platform. After checking the amenities, ratings, and reviews of the property, the user can confirm the booking.
ShareTrip has over 1000 domestic hotels directly connected on its platform.
The company says ShareTrip designers, developers, and product planners continuously run AB testing and quick iterations to improve user experience on the platform.
Along with the meteoric rise of its B2C travel services, ShareTrip empowers over 8000 offline travel agents through its B2B platform. It works with several thousand offline agents through a2i Digital Centers across the country.
These initiatives have accelerated the digitization of travel in Bangladesh and helped make travel services accessible to a greater number of people.
Digital services have seen excellent growth in Bangladesh over the past three years. ShareTrip anticipated the growth and leveraged it to become a leader in the country's online travel space.
The company says one of its goals is to make travel services accessible to even the remotest areas of the country.
True to its words, ShareTrip has launched a long list of exciting features making travel services accessible to a great number of people. It has made booking tickets, hotels, and other relevant travel services seamless through continuous innovation and excellent customer service.
Bringing down the cost of travel services. ShareTrip has brought down the costs of various travel services through partnerships and strategic initiatives.
The company doesn’t view travel as a luxury, but rather as a necessity. ShareTrip CEO Sadia Haque says “travel is a freedom that everyone should be able to taste.”
The company plans to make its service more widespread, affordable, and closer to people.
It has recently introduced NDC content in partnership with several airlines that’ll allow ShareTrip users to access premium flight inventory and get better pricing. ShareTrip is the first platform in Bangladesh to have implemented NDC content for several major Legacy Airlines including Singapore airlines, Qatar airlines, Emirates, and multiple LCC airlines.
ShareTrip has been building partnerships with various organizations. The company works with banks and many financial organizations. It has started working with lifestyle-based shops and outlets for distribution. The company routinely runs campaigns and offers in collaboration with these partners bringing various benefits to the travelers.
These initiatives have helped the company achieve phenomenal growth in GMV, customer retention, and engagement. The company now plans to take these initiatives further. The company says the focus of all these initiatives is adding value for its loyal customers, not just through travel but through experiences that can enrich their everyday life.
Moreover, the orientation towards making travel relevant to more people and making it a socially good thing has allowed ShareTrip to get the attention of users, investors, and stakeholders. For instance, last month Startup Bangladesh Limited, the Bangladesh Government-backed VC fund, announced that it has invested ShareTrip, the first such investment by the Government-backed VC fund in a local travel-tech company. The company says the investment from Startup Bangladesh Limited is a validation of the work it has been doing.
Making tourism work for Bangladesh. ShareTrip says it plans to focus on inbound tourism in the coming days to make tourism work for Bangladesh. Travel creates opportunities for both travelers and host communities. This aspect of travel is one of the agenda of this year’s World Tourism Day, where panelists will discuss how to use travel as a tool for sustainable development and common prosperity.
Bangladeshis travel across the world. The outbound travel from the country has been growing consistently. While inbound tourism to Bangladesh has seen some growth in the last two years compared to previous years, the slow growth of inbound tourism to the country remains a mystery. ShareTrip says OTAs can play a role in attracting international travelers to Bangladesh. Inbound tourism can increase earnings from tourism and create economic opportunities for more people.
ShareTrip’s focus on the sector can benefit the local travel industry and help the company build an early lead in the space. ShareTrip says it aims to be a strong contributor to growing inbound tourism in Bangladesh. Now that the company has been backed by Startup Bangladesh, it can open up new opportunities for the company.
Turning the ShareTrip app into a platform. Over the years, ShareTrip has built a suite of effective distribution channels. It works with offline agents through its B2B platform and several thousand agents through a2i’s country-wide digital centers initiative. These channels help it to take travel services to a greater number of people.
But being an online travel agency, its website and app are how ShareTrip primarily reaches its customers. To that end, ShareTrip has always made it a priority to provide the best experience to users across platforms. The company keeps on adding new features to its platforms based on the feedback and requirements of the users. For instance, the company recently added a Chatbot feature to give customers faster responses to their queries. Features like airline seat preference options allow users to choose their preferred seats easily. The company continuously tests and implements new features to improve the website and App so that users can get their expected results faster.
In fact, ShareTrip has turned its app into a platform over the years. Why a platform? Because a mere travel app has limited daily relevance to a user.
ShareTrip understands that a travel app does not warrant regular use. You don’t need travel services daily, you need these services once in a while — every few months or once a year. Now that’s a challenge if you are a travel services company looking to build lasting relationships with your customers.
It is also a challenge to reach a wider audience because people who don’t travel regularly wouldn’t see your app as something they need.
Over the years, ShareTrip has come up with several fascinating ideas to address the challenges. It has introduced a series of gamification features to encourage app engagement.
A game called spin to win allow users to spin and win TripCoins that they can use to buy services. Features like ‘treasure box’ and ‘I want to go there”, not only engage people but also help ShareTrip gather valuable insights about users and their travel preferences. These features have been in the ShareTrip app for a while, and we have written about them here.
To take the game a notch up, ShareTrip is now doing something more radical—it’s partnering with brands to offer additional benefits to its users.
These partnerships go both ways.
Some partnerships are intended to offer additional ShareTrip benefits to the employees or users of the brands/companies. For instance, it has recently partnered with Grameenphone’s GP Star program where GP users can get discounts and preferential treatments when they buy travel services on the ShareTrip app. ShareTrip plans to expand these partnerships with more companies. These partnerships can accelerate ShareTrip’s growth and app users.
ShareTrip is also doing a second kind of partnership — partnering up with different brands from lifestyle to fashion to food — through which it plans to provide additional benefits to ShareTrip app users. To put it simply, it is a loyalty program where if you have the ShareTrip app on your phone, you can get discounts and other preferential treatments from these partner brands of ShareTrip.
This is a clever strategy. If it works, it will encourage ShareTip users to continue using its app throughout the year—significantly improving user retention and strengthening its moats. It also means that whenever these users will need travel services, they will buy them from ShareTrip since they’ll already have the ShareTrip app. At the same time, the partnership with brands can create new opportunities and insights for ShareTrip.
In travel, maintaining daily active users is tough. These initiatives are likely to change that.
ShareTrip says it aims to turn its app and website into complete travel solutions for users. These new initiatives are a step toward that direction.
Travel used to be exclusive in the past, accessible to only a certain group of people. Mainstream acceptance of travel as a worthwhile cultural phenomenon was absent. This sentiment is changing under the pressure of demographic change, globalization, and the internet. Today, travel is a widespread cultural phenomenon in Bangladesh.
This transformation of perception is also remaking the dynamics of the travel industry. ShareTrip aims to put itself at the forefront of this transformation.
ShareTrip CEO Sadia Haque puts it beautifully: “We started with an ambition to attend the transformation of travel in the internet age. We wanted to be the pioneer in the sector in Bangladesh. We took stock of all travel services one might need and put together a strategy to offer that to our customers. We built our app and website with a goal to turn these platforms into complete travel solutions for our users.”
ShareTrip can be defined by its relentless focus on transforming itself. Being a tech-first OTA, the company routinely upgrades its technology to deliver the best user experience at the level of Airbnb, Expedia, and Booking.com for its users, if not better. We’ve written about the company’s long list of innovative services and initiatives before here.
The company’s new ambition to take travel services to as many people as possible and to rethink travel services in Bangladesh will not only shape the next iteration of the company but will equally influence the trajectory of travel as a cultural phenomenon in the country. We’ll closely follow the developments in the coming days.