Start-up Watch: Travelandaid portal combines travel with charity
Managing a charity business has a reputation for being a somewhat sedate job – but for Mohamed Al Shahawy, strategic planner of Qatar Charity, it is more about transforming the charity into a successful business model. That is how the idea came up to develop a travel and aid portal, travelandaid.com, which can generate sustainable revenue through different channels. by Syed Ameen Kader.
When Al Shahawy, who comes from an IT marketing and strategic planning background, joined the Qatar Charity team a year ago, the main thing he wanted to do was to develop a sustainable business model that not only does charity work but also offers great value to people.
“My plan is to change the way people look at charity organisations. We are not here to beg for money. As a brand, we will offer you value and in return, you will give us money to support those people who are in need,” said Al Shahawy.
Currently, travelandaid.com has an arrangement with Expedia, which allows its interface to be used at the back end for hotel bookings. The charity portal also has tie-ups with seven leading airlines, including Qatar Airways, Etihad, Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa, to allow visitors to book air tickets.
But Al Shahawy is working with his team to develop a system that will allow users to book with every airline in the world, just like the hotel reservation system that they have with Expedia. “We are hoping to get this system ready in a couple of months’ time,” he revealed.
Under the current model, travelandaid.com earns commission on every booking made through its website. But, Al Shahawy explains, the idea is to not just have a portal where people who want to do some good work for the society, come and make travel booking once or twice but to “make them come again and again”. “So in order to generate that volume of traffic to our website, we need to give them some value or incentives. That’s why we are working on developing a blog on our website with some original content and crazy ideas about travel and charity,” said Al Shahawy.
The portal intends to develop a strong community engagement platform where people can participate in debates, discussions and various other online competitions and activities. They will also be rewarded with prizes such as free air tickets or hotel stays. Travelandaid.com has a target of attracting five million users in its first year.
“When I have that many visitors, and I go to any airline or organisation, they will be happy to sponsor my website. That’s our real plan because if I manage to achieve that, it will bring millions of dollars for our charity work through a totally different channel, and not the traditional ones,” he explained.
The website expects to generate at least USD1 million (QAR3.64 million) revenue in its first year.