LagiSatu claims to have around 250,000 hotels spanning over 180 countries in its database
Integration with its HalalStars feature will allow it to tap into the vast Muslim traveller market
ACCORDING to a BBC report, quoting the World Tourism Organisation, travellers from the Gulf region spend US$12 billion a year on leisure travel.
In Malaysia itself, halal exports – including aspirin, chocolate and mouthwash – amounted US$11.57 billion, or 5% of total exports, in 2011, The Economist reports.
Many industries – from food and cosmetics to even banking and insurance – have woken up to the market opportunities of catering to the approximately 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, so it was only a matter of time before the hotel and travel industries did too, offering facilities and arrangements that abide by Sharia law.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for the Muslim traveller to parse all that information out there and plan a proper holiday, which is where LagiSatu.com comes in. Started by Cyberjaya-based Sonnenbaum Sdn Bhd, which maintains other websites such as http://www.welcome-kl.com/ and http://www.welcome-melaka.com/, the new venture started as a meta search engine for hotels, but along the path of development, saw the opportunity to tap into the Muslim market.
LagiSatu’s target market includes those looking to travel to and from South-East Asia, and those within the region. It claims to have around 250,000 hotels spanning over 180 countries in its database.
“The Muslim concept was developed along the way as we realised the importance of localisation,” says LagiSatu chief executive officer and cofounder Faeez Fadhlillah.
So last July, he and his Austrian cofounder Juergen Gallistl began tweaking the engine which they had developed, with the design and algorithm coming from Faeez, to introduce the ‘HalalStars’ feature which went live in March of this year.
“Basically HalalStars is an additional feature creating a unique selling preposition for our brand, and at the same time aiming to assist Muslim travellers,” Faeez says, claiming that it is developing into becoming “the largest database for Halal hotels in the world.”
“Integrating both, we successfully created the world's first halal meta search engine for hotels – which has won us the Best Startup Award by WebInTravel in Indonesia, while we were amongst the top three finalists under the ‘most exciting new startup’ category for the TravelMole Asia Pacific Travel Innovation Award, held recently in Singapore.”
Malaysian media powerhouse Star Publications (M) Bhd also saw the potential there, and last week announced that LagiSatu had been shortlisted in the inaugural phase of the RM20-million (US$6.5-million) Star Accelerator Fund it launched in April.
Faeez told Digital News Asia (DNA) then that he was hoping to get the maximum RM1 million (US$323,000) under the ‘Seed’ stage category of the Fund, trading in a 20% stake in LagiSatu to leverage off the media company’s tremendous brand value, marketing reach and media properties.
Star Publications has made its offer, and while he could not disclose details, Faeez confirmed that negotiations are under way. He speaks more about his company and his aspirations for it in the following Q&A conducted via email:
DNA: What is your education background?
Faeez (pic): I graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering, which is completely unrelated to this business.
But I think overall, my time in university and living together with so many international students opened up my mind and enabled me to learn many different values from different parts of the world. I think it is something which I will always treasure.
DNA: Where have you worked before and what is your domain expertise?
Faeez: My interest has always been in online travel, and that is why I pursued this area. Back in university, we used to travel a lot, and I wanted to bring this culture back to Malaysia – and what better way to encourage travel than to create an online meta search engine for hotels where travellers can compare the prices of hotels and be assured that they always get the cheapest rate available?
My expertise lies in the technical development of the website, as well as business aspect. This will be my first venture.
DNA: What expertise does your team have? How big is it now, and what do your cofounders bring to the table?
Faeez: Currently it is myself, my long-time friend Juergen Gallistl – who has vast experience in the banking sector – and two part-time developers.
Our team is very lean and eager to expand, and I think what we bring to the table is more than just a product. We are bringing in a concept that is proven to be successful and a brand that is recognised in the travel industry.
Although still new, we have won the Best Startup Award at the Web In Travel 2013, and were the finalist for the TravelMole Travel Innovation Award 2013 under the category of Most Exciting Startup.
We have been fortunate to be invited to speak at reputable conferences in travel such as Web In Travel and Travel Distribution Summit Asia organised by Eye For Travel. We are keen to expand, and hopefully together with our future partner, we hope to disrupt the travel market.
DNA: What problem are you trying to solve and what is your motivation or reason for wanting to do this?
Faeez: The basic principle of our website is a hotel metasearch engine. We currently have more than 250,000 hotels across 180 countries worldwide in our database. We also have HalalStars, another of our brands which focuses on the ratings for amenities and services that adhere to the Muslim faith.
Combining both, we have successfully created the world’s first halal meta search for hotels. Muslim travellers are part of a growing worldwide travel trend, and are increasingly seeking out hotels and services that adhere to their faith.
With Lagisatu.com, we intend to address this and enable them to find the cheapest hotels when travelling; and at the same time, look out for hotels that adhere to their Muslim faith.
According to [travel trade show] ITB Berlin (Internationale Tourismus-Börse Berlin), the Muslim market is valued at US$126 billion – bigger than the United States and Germany. We hope to tap into this vast market, and hopefully dominate this growing [sector].
DNA: Describe your product/ service and tell us why it is different from what exists in the market (for example, HalalTrip.com and CrescentTours). Do you ever foresee a time where you will shed the rest of your business to narrow down on the Muslim traveller market?
Faeez: Our product is generally unique and the only one available in the market. Currently, there are halal rating websites, and general meta search engines, but none that combines the two concepts. I think there is increasing demand for it.
We also currently have the world largest database of rated hotels that adhere to Muslim needs and requirements. We have hotels covering more than 10 countries -- Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Pakistan, China, Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan – and it is expanding every day.
DNA: Where is your funding from and how much equity do the founders still hold?
Faeez:We are basically are bootstrapped company, and as such, currently the founders still own 100%.
DNA: How long have you been at this?
Faeez: We started this project in July last year, and launched the beta version at the end of March, 2013. It has been amazing journey so far for us and we hope to further grow and expand into this region.
DNA: What has been the toughest hurdle so far?
Faeez: For me, the biggest challenge was ensuring that we always kept ourselves up to date with current travel trends, technology as well as contacts that would enable us to please our customers.
[In the online space], trends and technology evolve daily, and it is our task to ensure that we are constantly up to date in all aspects, which we would then have translate into an amazing product for our users that would encourage them to come back.
I think in particular, our focus – and we try to make it a challenge – is to do a great job in making our site as user-friendly as possible.
DNA: How do you keep yourself motivated?
Faeez: For me, a business is something you pour your heart and passion into constantly. Being able to see it grow daily keeps me motivated to pursue it further. It’s like your own little child – where you constantly put so much energy and effort into, and you would do anything to see it successful.
Every time you see it growing, you always feel satisfied inside, this would motivate you to work even harder for it.
DNA: What have you learned about being an entrepreneur so far?
Faeez: I learned that every step is a learning process. You will have to make so many decisions along the way – some may end up being the best decisions you've ever made, and some could end up being the worst.
I think it’s very important for you not to dwell on your failures, but rather focus on what you have achieved and learn from the mistakes that you have made.
It is a constant learning process and as long as you love what you do, and you work hard towards it, you will always succeed.
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