Abu Dhabi start-up Dharma and football legend Cantona team up for themed travel platform

Looking FC platform features four-day trips, filled with personalised experiences that include getting to know teams and cities

From left, Nisma Benani, Charaf El Mansouri and Leah Howe, co-founders of Abu Dhabi-based travel management platform Dharma. Photo: Dharma

Dharma, an Abu Dhabi-based business-to-business travel management platform, is teaming up with French actor and football superstar Eric Cantona to launch a travel brand offering curated experiences for the sport's followers.

The Looking FC platform features four-day trips curated by the former French national team and Manchester United player, filled with personalised experiences that include getting to know teams and cities in depth.

“Our idea was to create the most passionate football trips on Earth, with charisma and soul. Everything today is optimised for price – we wanted to optimise for passion,” Mr Cantona said.

Dharma is currently offering 12 trips on its website, including matches from the English, Spanish, Italian and Argentinian premier leagues, as well as from the European Champions League.

Dharma's proposition hinges on the travel-brand-as-a-service model, blending SaaS technology, automated tour operations to not only monetise networks through travel but also create differentiation through transformative experiences, chief executive Charaf El Mansouri said.

Quote
Our idea was to create the most passionate football trips on earth, with charisma and soul. Everything today is optimised for price – we wanted to optimise for passion
Eric Cantona, former French national team and Manchester United player

Dharma was launched in 2018 by Nisma Benani, Mr El Mansouri and Leah Howe, and was one of the first start-ups accepted into the Hub71 programme, Abu Dhabi's global technology ecosystem. Its founding team relocated to Abu Dhabi from New York and Marrakech.

Its team has backgrounds from some of the world's most well-known companies, including Uber, Airbnb and Equinox.

The start-up raised a total of $3.5 million over the past year, from leading investors in the hospitality and passion economy space, including BY Venture Partners, Abu Dhabi's Shorooq and Flat6Labs, and San Francisco-based Convivialite Ventures, among others.

Hub71 is a flagship initiative of the $13.6 billion Ghadan 21 economic stimulus programme and was founded by the Abu Dhabi government, sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Abu Dhabi Global Market, Microsoft and SoftBank.

Mr Cantona, 55, played football for seven teams before ending his career at Manchester United, one of Europe's most successful clubs. In 2002, he was among the inaugural inductees into the English Football Hall of Fame.

Travel and sports were among the industries hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. As lockdowns eased in some countries around the world with the emergence of vaccines and governments look to keep their economies open, the sectors have registered a gradual recovery.

Football is the most popular sport worldwide. Fifa, its governing body, estimates 265 million people play the sport globally, while 3.5 billion fans watch the game.

The top 10 football clubs had a combined revenue of over $6.2bn in 2021, according to Statista data.

Though it continues to recover from the pandemic, the global travel and tourism market is expected to cross $8.9 trillion by 2026, growing at a compound annual rate of about 3.1 per cent, according to market research firm IndustryArc.

Updated: January 16, 2022, 7:42 AM
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