After visiting several countries, Ridwan Hafiz, a passionate traveller, realised that travellers in the countries he visited could use a wide range of services through online platforms such as Expedia, Booking.com, Klook and so on - services that are unavailable in Bangladesh.
In contrast, when travellers in Bangladesh had to book a trip through offline agencies, two of the missing elements were control over customising their travel and the lack of clear-cut information.
In August 2017, Ridwan founded Go Zayaan to fill this void and put travellers in charge of their travel plans.
"Assume a customer contacted an airline agent to inquire about the cost of a ticket," said Imamul Islam Suprio, Chief Marketing Officer at Go Zayaan, "The customers have to accept the price quoted by the agent because there was no way available to them to compare between available options or know about the lucrative deals that were being offered by other airlines at that time."
This dependency worked well for the offline agents because customers would end up paying a good chunk of money for a cheaper flight.
"But now, customers can search with us using their preferred date and location. They can see which flights are available for them and whether they are offering any discounts. This allows them to save a substantial amount of money," said Suprio.
A tool that is widely available for travellers in most countries around the world.
Initially, Go Zayaan focused solely on international travel with the plan to expand their resources in the domestic market after a few more years.
However, with the emergence of Covid-19, international flights were banned and lockdowns were imposed. They soon realised that it would take a long time for international travel to return to a pre-pandemic state.
Thus, for long-term sustainability, they decided to enter the domestic market immediately, and they began developing products to meet the needs of domestic travellers. In this regard, the launch of their hotel booking platform was a momentous occasion for them as it immediately gained traction.
During the first lockdown in our country, Go Zayaan contacted the hoteliers and trained them on how to use the platform so that the products could be launched as soon as the restrictions were lifted, according to Suprio.
"It quickly became quite popular. It was the first time in our country that such a comprehensive online solution focusing on hotel booking was available in the market," said Suprio.
"Almost all international flights departing from Bangladesh, as well as all three domestic flights currently in operation, are connected with us. In addition, we offer booking services for over 300 local hotels," he added.
Go Zayaan later launched various special tour packages for popular local destinations such as Cox's Bazar, the Sundarbans, Khagrachari, Sunamganj, Sylhet, etc. Moreover, they integrated an intercity bus booking service that covers most of the buses that a traveller might need to move from one city to another in our country.
"Beyond these core products, we constantly keep innovating to ensure that the customers can make the best use of our service," said Suprio.
For example, Go Zayaan introduced 'Travel Loan,' with which travellers can visit their desired destinations and pay later, 'Travel Insurance' for secured coverage and 'Fare Trend' to identify the most cost-effective air tickets available..
To get to where Go Zayaan is today, they had to overcome a number of challenges, some of which remain a threat to the growth of the online travel agency (OTA) industry in the country.
One of the prevalent challenges was customer perception.
"Despite the fact that our e-commerce industry has been in operation for quite some time, there is still a lack of trust in people when it comes to purchasing any goods or services online," said Suprio. "So we've been trying to close this gap since our beginning."
"We clearly state important terms and conditions such as refund policy and service charges so that customers do not have to deal with any problems later. Furthermore, we strive to make the process as transparent as possible in order to foster trust and ensure the long-term viability of the OTA business in our country," he added.
Secondly, because the OTA industry is still in its early stages, there is a general lack of awareness and trust among the customers.
In regards to digitalisation of the travel industry, Suprio said, "The world is moving fast towards digitalisation. For the last 20 years or so, the travel industry of many countries in the world has been driven by OTAs."
"Even in our neighbouring country India, OTAs like MakeMyTrip and Yatra dominate most of their travel industry. Our travel industry, on the other hand, is still primarily being run offline," he added.
Go Zayaan wants to bring all of the services to Bangladesh that are commonly provided by travel service operators online in other countries. "Simultaneously, we want to educate more consumers about the benefits of booking travel-related services online. We also want to ensure that those whose services we are aggregating receive a sufficient profit," Suprio .
Among other awards, Go Zayaan won the BASIS National ICT Awards 2018 in the Tourism and Hospitality sector and the "Brand Leadership Award" 2019 in the Bangladesh Master Brands Award.
Go Zayaan recently raised $2.6 million in a seed round led by Wavemaker Partners, a leading venture capital firm in Southeast Asia. They plan to invest in providing a better customer experience, increasing human resources and introducing more travel services online.