Curious about taking an eco-friendly trek to Mount Everest, vacationing in a Balinese villa with a dedicated chef or touring Sir Richard Branson's Ulusaba Private Game Reserve? Shahdad Jahanbani hopes so. He is the managing director of RihlaPrime, an online luxury travel start-up based in Dubai. Here, he talks about what it took to launch the business this month.
How did you get the idea for the company?
We saw it firstly with Jetsetter in the US. They do pretty much the same sort of thing, dealing with top-end, five-star hotels, and we really liked the idea. We saw a huge gap in the market here in the Middle East.
How long did it take to launch RihlaPrime, and what were the main challenges?
I think the main challenge was recruiting the right developer and designers for the website. We started to get the team together last summer. We started to build the website around September. At the same time, we started recruiting salespeople to source the right properties.
You are one of the first members of the Majid Bin Mohammed Innovation Center in5, which promotes entrepreneurship and innovation in technology in the UAE. How has that helped?
Their help has been invaluable insofar as for us to be able to get our offices here in Internet City and to get everything up and running without much headache and hassle. From the registration of the company to phone lines, internet, offices, everything gets much more streamlined, because [at the outset] you don't necessarily know what you have to do.
How did you get selected for that?
You just go and see them at their offices in Internet City, and we were lucky to get in.
Could you talk a bit more about the service RihlaPrime offers?
Often, when you go to a lot of these distribution channels when you want to book a holiday, you have hundreds if not thousands of hotels to choose from. What we do is put a collection together of 20 to 25 hotels.
How have you adapted to the Middle East market?
In the Middle East, we know that sort of 60 per cent of users still want to pay by cash and not credit card, and some of them may have difficulty with the online facility. So at any point they can click through either by phone or email to our customer-service desk and [we] can finish the booking off for them. As well as that, they can pay by cash.
What were you doing before?
I'm from a hotel background. I was with a hotel chain for 20 years back in the UK, and I moved over here in 2005. I worked my way up in the hotel business.