Rola Fayyad, founder and CEO of ViaVii, an online platform for travel bookings, considers travel as a matter of engaging with the locals in the places we go to, not just sightseeing. What caught her attention the most was that travellers of the Middle East and North Africa region find it hard to discover experiences or things to do, allowing them to explore new cultures and meet new people.
Egyptian Gazette: Why did you start ViaVii? What was the passion behind ViaVii?
Rola Fayyad: People have become more aware of the real value of travel that goes beyond just sightseeing and attractions. They prefer being exposed to different cultures, languages and cuisine, all the while meeting new and interesting people. Our main goal is to connect people in the most meaningful of ways.
For that reason, all the experiences available on our platform are designed and hosted by amazing locals who are eager to share their culture and talents with visitors. It’s a win-win situation for both the curious foreigner and the local.
On another note, the MENA region welcomed over 87 million tourist arrivals in 2019 and over 80 per cent of travel content is offline. Today, ViaVii offers over 4000 ready-to-buy, immersive, digitally delivered experiences, online and offline.
EG: What is your background?
RF: Having been in the industry of travel and tourism for over a decade now, I was able to gain insight and understanding of travellers’ needs – all of which helped me identify some major gaps in the industry. What also encouraged me to build and grow a company of my own was my considerable experience and knowledge in leadership, which simultaneously led to initiatives focusing on empowering, engaging and educating women in the technology sector.
EG: What is your startup? What does it do?
RF: ViaVii is an online platform and mobile app available for anyone, anywhere, that helps users discover and easily book either in-person or online experiences in more than 50 cities around the world, including the MENA region.
All our experiences are handpicked and personalised to suit the traveller’s preferences and budget. Through our platform, we also empower local communities and hosts, who choose to work with us doing something they enjoy. We support local tourism.
EG: What are the issues you are solving?
RF: In this day and age, the number of travel websites and tools has increased, but so has the complexity of planning and booking a trip or activity, all of which overwhelms the traveler, leading to stress and confusion rather than anticipation and excitement.
We are well aware that the traveller is not seeking a traditional digital platform, rather technologies that respond to human emotions in an empathetic way. Our platform recognises the traveller’s thirst for authenticity and creates connections and memories throughout their journeys.
In a wider context, travellers and tourists are looking for an enhanced user-experience where technology meets empathy. We also play a part in supporting small local businesses and boosting local tourism.
We reach a lot of local communities that are not digitised to be on the online markets for travel and tourism, helping them generate a source of income for the hosts, while also showing their culture and craft to tourists who are looking for authentic locally-led experiences.
EG: What is your value proposition?
RF: We’re giving the traveller full control over their travel experiences through an online platform with an enhanced user-experience. By cultivating direct and exclusive relationships with the hosts, we cut the multiple layers of distribution and offer their experiences directly on our online platform, all of which enables us to offer affordable prices in the market.
EG: Tell us more about the process, users, and business model.
RF: The process to use our engine is pretty straightforward. Users and hosts from anywhere in the world can access our platform through visiting our website, or by downloading our application. The user can immediately start browsing, whether they choose an experience a drive away, or decide to travel across the globe – our diverse community of hosts offers experiences to suit every individual.
As for the hosts, they can sign up for an account and have it up and running within 24 hours, when they can then begin adding their wonderful experiences. Our best asset is the people, so our company collaborates with the hosts and their experiences and come together to provide a touch point for our customers.
As for the business model, our B2B consists of a SAAS model, including a conversational engine, where AI meets sentiment analysis and personalisation to help each customer through their entire journey. Our B2C is simple: we take a 30 percent commission for every transaction on the platform.
EG: What are your main challenges?
RF: Adapting to Covid-19. Global lockdowns are unpredictable which have been limiting accessibility and operational logistical needs. Rural areas that are targeted through our Covid-19 recovery strategy, may lack resources, expertise, skills, and efficiency, which will limit them from operating touristic experiences and transforming their villages into fully serving touristic destinations. As we grow, our constant motivation remains focusing on the bigger picture and why we started ViaVii in the first place, and that often means constantly adapting and riding the wave of change. An example of this is how we responded to the pandemic and launched online travel experiences.
Egyptian Gazette: How does the ecosystem help you?
Rola Fayyad: I believe that this era is my biggest help. I think the true ecosystems supporting all entrepreneurs are the digital, available on Facebook, LinkedIn or Clubhouse. Our world is dominated by technology and innovation. The diversity within the entrepreneurial experience enables entrepreneurs to support each other, expand their knowledge and instantly find solutions or answers by simply posting their needs.ß