Iran has a massive domestic and international traveling market which caused many old school travel agencies to get to thinking of selling online.
Over 100,000 travelers fly in Iran and this number is only for domestic flights, yet lower than 5% of the travelers (an estimate of daily 5,000 people) book their flights online. This alone is an interesting number. However, the massive shift to using online services creates an even higher incentive for entrepreneurs to take advantage of this opportunity.
Typically most of the online flight travel startups seen today in Iran were actually a travel agency selling tickets themselves. At some point, a realization happens that becoming a platform to sell tickets of other travel agencies is much more fulfilling than being one of the travel agencies that sells a limited number of flights. Alibaba, Eli Gasht, Zoragh, Tavolna, Samtik, Etik and Ghasedak are among some of these flight ticketing platforms which majority of these names mentioned started up before as a Travel & Tour agency.
We are going to talk about some of these to get a sense where the market is:
This company was also another tour agency which provided tickets, accommodation, travel insurance, tour packages and more. At some point, Eli Gasht went online to become an online portal to achieve all these services at once. Eli Gasht provides tickets and hotel booking not only for destinations in Iran but also international flights and destinations. Due to the fact that Iranians do not have credit cards to book hotels and flights, companies like Eli Gasht have leveraged this opportunity and they accept the normal debit cards in Iranian hands to sell these services.
Often mistaken by the Chinese Alibaba, this company provides full range of ticket sales not only for flights but for train tickets as well. Rail travel in Iran is also very popular for many destinations because of its comfort and financially affordable price. Hotel reservation is also an option with Alibaba.ir . Looking at these startup’s products and marketing strategies, Alibaba.ir seems to have more edge in competition with better UX and features. Alibaba.ir is also one of the startups in this field that counts big on content marketing and blogging. The company is also launching Iran’s first tourism startup accelerator in Tehran to invest and develop the tourism further.
The VC-backed travel startup in Iran counts big on product development and design. Again started off as a simple travel agency and moving to becoming a flight ticket and foreign hotel reservation platform, Zoraq raised an investment round which was funded by Iran’s leading VC, Sarava. The focus of the company in the past year was product development which distinguishes it from its competitors. Zoraq also narrowed down its services to foreign hotel reservation and domestic and international flight which gives more focus on these subjects.
Travolna is a new travel company in town founded by two Iranian and Uzbekistani entrepreneur. Instead of buying a product from India the tech developer team at Travolna built the product from the ground up from day one. The team prides itself on having the proper knowledge and experience in the field rather than “acquiring a ready software and announcing that we are an online travel startup” Said Botir Arifdjanov, one of the founders of the company. An interesting innovation from Travolna is it’s Telegram integration using bots. Telegram is Iran’s most used app and social network, making the founders think that Telegram should make it easier for users who are not tech-savvy enough to buy tickets online. Travolna’s Telegram bot can provide instant pricing of destination you insert and a link to buy the ticket. The responses of the bot has been highly positive as the founder puts it: “The Bot is growing crazy”
Other travel startups in the game worth mentioning are Samtik, Etik and Ghasedak.
Tourism and travel are considered big with a high escalated growth this year. Some international sanctions on Iran being lifted has opened new doors and opportunities in the tourism sector.