Qatar-Born App Turismo Aims To Digitize The MENA Region's Tourism And Hospitality Sector
With a vision to disrupt domestic tourism and hospitality operations in Qatar, Egypt, and the MENA region through digital transformation, Turismo's goal is to offer a seamless and worthwhile experience in the region, for both residents and visitors alike.
In 2017, as a fresh expat in Qatar, Nada Farouk found herself rather bored, with nothing to do except to shop or dine. Following the recommendation of a colleague, she decided to try out a dhow boat cruise over the weekend, but she found it hard to find reliable information about it online. Then, when she went to the venue, Farouk found the process to be rather unorganized- as she recalls, "They were lacking the basic hospitality operations, and it wasn't a cool experience at all."
This is a problem that tourists and new expats often face in Qatar and other countries in the MENA region- after all, a lack of local knowledge and cultural background can make it difficult to navigate a new country. Farouk, a management consultant with a chemical engineering background, found herself pondering about this issue for quite a long while -three years, to be exact- and realized a solution still hadn't appeared in the market. "I thought there should have been a better way to promote such activities in Qatar, especially when Qatar is the first Arab Muslim majority country to host the upcoming FIFA World Cup, which is a golden opportunity that should be well leveraged," she says.
This is what led Farouk to band together with co-founder and CTO Zeba Rahman, a full-stack engineer with 10 years of experience in the mobile app industry, in January 2021 to join the Digital Incubation Center's startup incubator program, established by Qatar's Ministry of Transport and Communication, to find a fitting solution to the aforementioned problems. And that journey ended up with the two launching Turismo in November 2021. Farouk describes it as a "localized marketplace for location-based inbound and outbound experiences, trips, cultural tours, activities, lodging, and entertaining events in the region, as well as personalized trips and experiences using artificial intelligence technology."
With a vision to disrupt domestic tourism and hospitality operations in Qatar, Egypt, and the MENA region through digital transformation, Farouk notes that Turismo's goal is to offer a seamless and worthwhile experience in the region, for both residents and visitors alike. "It might seem to be a risky decision, but I believe Turismo is the right solution at the right time," says Farouk. The CEO believes that the platform solves many issues in the industry, including the inefficient value chain and low margins for tourism vendors due to offline operations, as well as poor customer experience due to offline market and unawareness of hospitality operations on cultural sites. "70% of tourism companies and agents in Egypt alone are underserved and running offline without any technology nor safe payment methods," Farouk adds.
Turismo is a localized solution, and this, according to Farouk, is what makes it distinct in the market. "For example, in Qatar, we align with the country's vision and we aim to digitize sports and cultural tourism. However, in Egypt, our goal is different." In addition, the platform offers to solve lead time for customers to book instantly entertainment activities, trips, tours, lodges and rentals on demand. "Basically, we solve the problems and spot the opportunities in each single country we operate in," Farouk explains. "We are not another TripAdvisor, it's not just about being a marketplace. In an ever-evolving digital world, the industry in the region needs to redefine itself to cope with the digital transformation, [and] that's why we are here."
Talking about competitors in the market, Farouk and her team notes that their strategy is targeting a niche. "Understanding that niche from millennials and Generation Z, and the value behind delight is what makes us unique. We are implementing insights quickly, including agile, incorporating predictive analysis and iterating journeys with customers to understand them better and make their experience unique with us." Available as an app for iOS and Android devices, the self-funded startup is free for all users, with commission generated from its service providers. As a team of eight working across Qatar, Egypt, Pakistan and India, the young startup has built successfully strong partnerships with 99% of the country's tourism service providers, according to Farouk.
Some of the Qatar-based providers it works with include 365 Adventures Qatar, Qatar Flying Club, Nomadik Hub Dive Center, Prime Marine, Victoria Travels, Murex Activities & Tours, along with kitesurfing certified professionals and licensed yachts and watercraft owners. After a year in operation, Turismo has also been able to enter the Egypt market, bringing more partnerships and a wider network for its vendor and customer base.
Turismo thus believes in the potential presented by the MENA region's cultural heritage, natural and religious tourism assets, and keeping them going in a sustainable manner -without getting impacted by external risks- is what Farouk and her team are keen on realizing through continuous innovation. "We want to be pioneers in digitalization and sustainability, along with maintaining our environmental, social and governance values with the aim of making the regional destinations more resilient, lively, and better places for locals and visitors," she explains.
When talking about her journey building a startup in Qatar, Farouk is candid about her experience, saying, "The absence of regional VCs and accelerator programs, in addition to the lack of awareness about the startup ecosystem, makes the retention of entrepreneurs in Qatar quite low." However, she notes that the key benefit was the ability to test Turismo's technology in a small market, iterate and utilize insights quickly. And when asked about Turismo's future plans, Farouk paints an optimistic vision. "We dream big, we believe that the future is in developing smart cities," she declares. "We want to do our part, and contribute to building the [future] of smart tourism."
'Trep Talk: Turismo founder Nada Farouk's tips for entrepreneurs
Know the basics "Understand business pivots, and have a clear pivot strategy on when, what, and how to pivot effectively with minimum loss."
Use a lean approach "Be careful with your finances at the early stages of your startup. Avoid unnecessary overheads, and learn to efficiently optimize and utilize your resources."
Keep it real "Face it till you make it. You don't need to fake anything or prove anything to anyone. Don't lie to yourself if something is not working, face the brutal facts with versatility, confidence, and faith that your hard work will eventually pay off. And most importantly, put your mental health your number one priority, always."