At a time when technology is reshaping the way we experience the world, Qatar’s travel industry is also witnessing a transformation. From innovative booking platforms and cutting-edge navigation tools to personalized experiences with AI and ensuring safety with blockchain, the country’s travel startups harness technology’s power to redefine how we travel.
The FIFA World Cup significantly boosted the travel sector, and forthcoming events like the Doha Expo are anticipated to further enhance the profitability of the country’s leading travel startups. And, in a market marked by saturation and intense competition, technology is granting them a competitive edge.
“We use advanced technology to analyze travelers’ preferences, interests, and budgets to suggest tailored itineraries and activities. We also use advanced matching algorithms to connect travelers with the most suitable hosts and experiences,” says Ramzi Madanat, Co-founder and Head of Growth at ViaVii. This innovative online platform connects adventurous travelers with local hosts and communities. The travel tech platform connected fans to local destinations during the FIFA World Cup.
“Since the FIFA World Cup, tourism in Qatar has undergone significant changes. The country has focused on improving tourist services and experiences, including visa facilitation and digital services. Qatar is poised to see an increase in tourism activity,” adds Madanat.
GAINING INSIGHTS INTO USER BEHAVIOR
To cater to that “increase”, the platform already uses data analytics to gain insights into user behavior, market trends, and popular destinations.
Nada Farouk, founder and CEO at Turismo, has also used AI to “provide the most personalized itineraries.”
“We are incorporating AI algorithms to analyze user preferences, historical data, and other relevant factors. By considering individual interests, budgets, and time constraints, we ensure that each itinerary is tailored to the user’s unique needs,” she says.
Turismo is now working on a custom chatbot to respond instantly to customer inquiries and support requests.
Farouk admits that while Qatar’s strategic location as a transit hub, its investments in tourism infrastructure, and the successful hosting of major events like the FIFA World Cup have put the country on the global travel map “to boost the travel tech industry in Qatar further, there is potential for increased collaboration between the public and private sectors, fostering innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Besides leveraging AI for data collection and creating personalized experiences, technology has also found various other applications. For instance, Wqtah, an online booking and ticketing platform, used technology to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks.
“So far, customers have loved that we made it easy to compare many different options in a few seconds, which helps them make well-informed decisions,” says Mohamed Khamis Al-Sulaiti, CEO of Wqtah.
Besides itineraries and ticketing, travel startups in Doha also leverage technology in airport operations. One such startup is Emma Systems, a SaaS-based, AI-driven platform for airport and airline operations.
“We use AI to calculate the variable taxi time, so we can predict how long it will take for a plane to arrive at its gate after landing. We also use it to sequence the outgoing flights. We can see AI being used much more in decision-making and optimizing resource scheduling between airlines and airports as well as between airports,” says Wisam Costandi, the company’s co-founder and CEO.
Wisam believes that while the market in Qatar is small, it serves as a great launch pad to the world. “We leverage the strengths of Qatar as a world leader in the aviation sector, and despite being a startup, Hamad International Airport and Qatar Airways have given us credibility on the global stage.”
A TAILORED APPROACH
Christina Urrutia, Investment Manager at QSTP Investment, recognizes this is an exciting time for travel startups, with technology playing a pivotal role in their expansion.
“The end of the pandemic and the World Cup meant a need to scale up quickly on the platforms. That’s been both from the customer perspective – in terms of the airlines – and from the startups’ point of view, with all the tourists using the platform. It has been about finding the new norm and looking at alternative products to launch, such as a subscription product,” she says.
Discussing sector trends, she emphasizes the necessity for a more “tailored approach.”
“People want things off the beaten track, personalized, and rooted in culture. That is one thing that we see companies tapping into. The other one is around sustainability. Sustainability can be targeted through technology, but they also need to include this content into the portfolios they are selling,” she adds.
Working as a travel tech company in Qatar also presents challenges such as navigating complex regulations, respecting cultural sensitivities, facing stiff competition, and addressing the weather-dependent nature of tourism, elaborates Madanat.
“To overcome these hurdles, we actively ensure regulatory compliance, focusing on innovation to stand out, prioritizing user trust through security measures and feedback loops,” he says.
Farouk also identifies “seasonality” as one of the prominent challenges facing the global travel and tourism industry, Qatar included.
“This uneven distribution of tourists throughout the year affects the financial stability of travel-related companies and requires innovative marketing and resource management. Overreliance on a single season (October to March) can leave businesses vulnerable to external factors like economic downturns or unforeseen events such as pandemics, disrupting tourism patterns,” she says.
She suggests promoting off-peak tourism by highlighting unique experiences such as lower prices and reduced crowds, implementing dynamic pricing by adjusting rates based on demand to optimize revenue and diversifying offerings to create year-round attractions.
Meanwhile, the convergence of tourism and technology is poised to bring significant advancements in the sector.
“There will be enhanced personalization, AR/VR technologies will revolutionize how travelers plan and experience their trips — from virtual tours of accommodations to immersive destination previews, and blockchain technology will play a significant role in enhancing security and reducing fraud,” says Madanat.
“With a growing focus on sustainability, we expect innovations promoting eco-friendly travel. This includes platforms that help travelers make responsible choices, such as booking green accommodations or reducing carbon footprints,” he adds.