HolidayME, a Dubai-based online customized travel startup launched just last month, has announced a $4 million Series A round from Al Sanie Group, a consortium of Saudi-based investors.
The HolidayME story seems ripped from the pages of an entrepreneurial fairy tale. The founders, Geet Bhalla and Digvijay Pratap, have a combined 25 years of experience in booking apps, finance, and marketing. “In Saudi, outbound travel is growing at 12%, and online spend on travel is growing at up to 17%,” said Bhalla on a call yesterday. Further, he says, most regional holidaymakers still book their packages with brick-and-mortar travel agents. There’s clearly major potential for online holiday bookings, in the Gulf in particular.
As the two began developing their prototype last January, regional investors almost immediately took notice. After four months of bootstrapping, they were awarded seed funding in April; in July, after only another three months, they closed the $4 million Series A round.
What has made the brand-new bookings site stand out to investors among regional competitors like Yamsafer and Tripzzle? The inventory, for one: customers can choose from over 100,000 hotels worldwide, over 8,000 activities (like a seaplane flight in Abu Dhabi, a tour of Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, or a self-guided tour of San Francisco in a classic Volkswagen Bug).
But it’s not just quantity of listings that makes HolidayME unique; it’s the nature of the offerings, in particular, the customizable booking option. Customers can mix and match their holiday package, choosing from hotels, activities, and transport options to match their budget and interests. That, and the “real time booking,” says Bhalla on a call with Wamda yesterday.
While the founders wouldn’t share numbers on traffic and conversion rates (and the startup is too new to have reliable data anyway), Bhalla tells me that they are making sales every day. “Given that we’re in our second month, the numbers are exceeding our expectations,” he says.
Currently employing over 85 people in the Dubai, Riyadh, and Pune, India, Bhalla and Pratap plan to use the new liquidity to expand to other GCC countries (namely Kuwait and Qatar), launch an Arabic language version of the site, and add multi-destination holiday packages and flight options to the roster of services available.