Sci & Tech

Hotel Booking Startup to Propel Tourism

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Hotel Booking Startup to Propel Tourism
Hotel Booking Startup to Propel Tourism

Touted by reputable international publications as a top ten destination in 2016, Iran has no shortage of attractions. However, apart from a lack of infrastructure, an area in dire need of improvement is online hotel reservation: a niche the award-winning startup Pin-ta-Pin hopes to fill.

Financial Tribune spoke to Sina Roshan, founder of the reservation website, who told us about the project's inception and his aspirations.

Iran's growing interactions with the West, thanks to President Hassan Rouhani's foreign policy and the lifting of economic sanctions, has helped shift the world's attention on the country, especially its nascent tourism industry.

This calls for a wide range of services to cater to the needs of both domestic and foreign travelers.

  Early Spark

After graduating in electrical engineering from Sharif University of Technology, Roshan, 29, moved to France to study management and finance at INSEAD Business School and later worked for Amazon in Luxembourg.

Living in Europe, Roshan would often travel along with his friends.

"We usually used services like, Expedia and Airbnb to arrange our trips. In Iran, however, the lack of similar functional and user-friendly services was a major problem for foreign tourists who wanted to visit Iran," he said.

He thought if these services were localized and complied with the Iranian market needs, more foreigners could experience the rich Iranian culture for themselves.

After nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West started to yield positive results and the private sector gained strength in the country, Roshan contacted an Iranian Internet group—an international holding that invested in startups.

The idea was eventually finalized last year and he moved back to Iran to launch the project.

With the help of a central human resources team, interviews were arranged and a team of over 50 people came together.

Pin-ta-Pin currently has five major teams: IT, sales, content, operations and support.  

On the supply side, the company’s biggest partners are hotels and on the demand side, the website partnered with travel agencies, banks and a number of major corporations.

Like most other e-businesses, Pin-ta-Pin makes money on commissions received from hotels.

  Challenges and Achievements

Asked about the major challenges faced by the business, Roshan, who is also the managing director of the company, said hotel owners mostly have a traditional approach and resist change, which makes it difficult to move toward international standards.

Although hotels that agree to use online solutions see the benefits of automation in their operations, that is less complication and lower costs, Roshan says most hotels do not feel comfortable sharing data and still prefer to do the reservations via fax or telephone.

He noted that the transition from "offline to online" has been slower in the travel industry compared to other online businesses, such as retail.

"However, after using our services, people usually prefer not to go back to bricks and mortar agencies," he said.

Pin-ta-Pin was one of the websites that won an award in the latest web festival held in Iran.

Referring to this achievement, Roshan said, "I believe focusing on building a good product that meets the needs of customers rather than thinking only about sales has been the key to success."

To advertise, Pin-ta-Pin uses Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing.  Roshan added that they are also using online banners and email marketing.

  Future Prospects

Asked about future prospects of the business, the young entrepreneur said, "Our goal is to become a hub of Iran's tourism by offering all travel-related services and information."

Currently only available in the form of a website, Pin-ta-Pin will also be releasing an application in the near future.

Roshan said the first version of the app will be released in a month.

"You simply cannot run an Internet-based service without an app. Online traffic is quickly shifting to mobile and to keep up with the customers, businesses must have a user-friendly app," he said.

Pin-ta-Pin will launch the English version of the website within three weeks. Master/Visa gateways will also be added to ease payments by foreign tourists visiting Iran.

It also plans to add domestic flight booking services in less than two months.