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Mon 27 Jul 2020 02:52 PM

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UK's HalalBooking banks on Expedia deal to fend off pandemic headwinds

Halalbooking.com has over 300,000 registered users from around 84 different countries

UK's HalalBooking banks on Expedia deal to fend off pandemic headwinds

“Expedia is one of the world’s biggest travel companies, so when we were looking for a partner to help us scale up our business, it made sense to consider them,” Seçgin said.

Halalbooking.com, which offers Islamic-friendly travel services, says its new partnership with global booking firm Expedia will help it weather the international pandemic storm.

The London-headquartered firm allows travellers to search for holidays based on their requirements for halal food, alcohol-free areas and beach pool and spa facilities, as well as privacy for women.

HalalBooking has developed bespoke technologies that “augment” Expedia’s standard content with halal-friendliness data offering unique information to its customers, according to Ufuk Seçgin, chief marketing officer (CMO) at HalalBooking.com.

The firm, which raised $2.5 million in a pre-series A funding round with a valuation of $52.5 million in December 2019, has over 300,000 registered users from around 84 different countries.

HalalBooking was launched by a group of European Muslims in 2014 to tap into the Islamic economy sector, for which there is an appetite for in the UK due to a fast-growing Muslim population.

“The Expedia deal has meant that we have been able to add a large number of new hotels and villas to HalalBooking in a very short space of time. This means that we have been able to offer many new destinations to our customers in one go,” Seçgin told Arabian Business.

The Expedia partnership has tripled the number of hotels and villas available on HalalBooking.com to over 4,400, with new properties being added every day. These include villas and small hotels, which the company believes may prove popular with those seeking to maintain a higher degree of social distancing for their families on holiday.

The CMO said the Expedia partnership is vitally important for the firm as the travel industry continues to battle severe headwinds amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

International tourism faces its worst crisis since records began, with up to 1.1 billion fewer people taking trips globally in 2020, according report by the World Tourism Organisation, which predicts a decline in international arrivals of between 58 –80 percent this year.

“Due to the pandemic, we expect customer behaviour to change, and we anticipate that in 2020 many customers will choose to holiday in their home country,” Seçgin said.

“Previously, we didn’t have as much accommodation in our main source markets, such as the UK, Germany and France but now, as a result of the Expedia partnership, we have been able to increase rapidly the amount of accommodation in these countries,” he said.

Prior to the Covid pandemic, the company said it expected to reach $30 million in bookings by the end of 2020.

“Obviously, having no sales for the past four months has had a significant impact on our business. April-June all hotels remained closed, which not only meant zero sales, but also refunding of cancelled trips or changing bookings to later dates,” Seçgin said.

“But we believe that, with our technology set up, market knowledge, loyal customer base, large network of affiliate partners, and wide ranging accommodation portfolio we are well placed to weather the situation.”

Increase in customers

The CMO said that early results from July are “very encouraging” and show the Expedia deal has been well received by customers with an increasing number now booking accommodation in the UK, Germany and France.

“Expedia is one of the world’s biggest travel companies, so when we were looking for a partner to help us scale up our business, it made sense to consider them,” Seçgin said.

The CMO said the main benefit of the Expedia deal is that it allows HalalBooking to automate the process of adding new accommodation to the site.

“Expedia contracts the hotels, while we can focus on the part which we do best, which is to refine the halal-friendliness data and make sure that it is shared with our customers in the best way possible,” he said.

The commission will be split between Expedia and HalalBooking and customers will not see a difference between the Expedia hotels and directly contracted hotels, Seçgin added.

“This is a step forward for the global halal travel industry because it enables us to offer our halal-conscious customers even more choice.

“While we anticipate that the majority of our sales will continue to be to the ever-popular halal-friendly resort hotels in countries such as Turkey and Morocco, we also recognise that our customers want to travel to other places and book different types of accommodation,” he said.

“We now have accommodation to fulfil all our customers’ travel needs – whether it is for a business trip or a short break to a European city, a weekend getaway to Scotland or the French Riviera, a beach holiday in Turkey or Morocco, or a trip of a lifetime to the Maldives or the Seychelles.”

Before the pandemic, HalalBooking was ranked number 33 in the UK in the “Sunday Times Virgin Atlantic Fast Track 100” and at 237 overall in Europe in The Financial Times FT 1000, making it the fastest-growing travel and leisure company in the UK and the eighth fastest-growing company in the Islamic sector in Europe.

“We expect that some customers will choose to stay closer to home in 2020, but also there are those who can’t wait to travel abroad,” Seçgin said.

“We are fortunate in that our biggest destination, Turkey, has emerged swiftly from the coronavirus pandemic,” the CMO said, adding that the Turkish authorities have opened up to foreign tourists quickly and have put a wide range of safe tourism measures in place.

Seçgin said that some Turkish hotels have been awarded ‘safe tourism’ certificates and will undergo monthly inspections to ensure that they comply with a range of more than 100 hygiene measures.

“The first tourists visited these halal-friendly beach resorts three weeks ago and their reviews have been excellent, so we feel confident that everything is in place for business to resume,” he added.

Muslim travellers around the world are hungry for travel experiences and this has historically sustained the sector’s colossal growth, according to the State of the Islamic Economy Report 2018/2019.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the report predicted that global Muslim spend on travel will grow to $274 billion by 2023, up from $177 billion in 2017.

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