Stay22’s Hamed Al-Khabbaz Speaks In Travel Massive’s Webinar On Start-ups Affected By COVID-19
Stay22 had the pleasure to take part in a webinar regarding COVID-19 and the impact that it’s had on startups within the Travel Industry. Hosted by Travel Massive and presented by Kevin O’Shaughnessy, Co-Founder of CityHook, this marks their fourth installment of webinars on the impact of Coronavirus in the Travel community. Stay22’s Co-Founder and CTO, Hamed Al-Khabbaz, was there to offer his insights and perspective on how to face the challenges ahead in what he referred to as a ‘historic moment’.
“At some point people will want to travel, be together, there will be a boom and we want to be there for them.”
Hamed Al-Khabbaz, Co-Founder & CTO of Stay22
Highlights of the webinar:
Three travel start-up Co-Founders: Hamed Al-Khabbaz (Co-Founder & CTO of Stay22), Johannes Koeppel (Co-Founder & CEO of WeTravel) and Yael Farjun (Founder & CEO of ChinaClickGo.com) weigh in on what the impact of coronavirus represents for startups.
Main topics covered included the rapid pace and global impact of the virus on the Industry, their ‘war plans’ to adapt quickly, the unfortunate cost-saving decisions they had to make and what’s in store for the future.
Despite the topic of the webinar centering on COVID-19, it was filled with optimism for the future and positive messages including Hamed’s quote ‘This too shall pass, and when it does we want to be there for people’.
“There was a massive drop the first week of March, the numbers went back to what they were at the beginning of the startup”
Hamed Al-Khabbaz, Co-Founder & CTO of Stay22
Facing COVID-19 and what it entailed:
The world going into lockdown to protect itself from COVID-19 triggered a domino effect of bad news for nearly every business, with the Travel Industry being one of the most affected. To add insult to injury, 1 in every 10 jobs belongs to said industry, meaning 1 out of 10 jobs is either lost or at risk. A reality that all three founders had to face when they had to take drastic cost measures and unfortunately let go of part of their team, forcing them to restructure whilst also switching to remote work life.
Johannes Koeppel, CEO of WeTravel, reflected on how the shift felt like it happened overnight; ‘It’s crazy that it happened in two weeks’ but at least they weren’t caught off guard; ‘We saw what happened in Italy and knew it was going to spread’.
For Hamed Al-Khabbaz the signal to start making decisions were the results themselves; ‘There was a massive drop the first week of March, the numbers went back to what they were at the beginning of the startup’. A difficult reality for a company that had been experiencing 400% growth over the past couple of years.
The situation was radically different for Yael Farjun, CEO of ChinaClickGo.com, whose business was not only part of the Travel Industry but based in China as well. ‘We were confident that China would deal with it (COVID-19) quickly, which it did. Now, two months later things are going back to a new normal,’ Yael reflects. However, the issue for her startup wasn’t the crisis in China, ‘The problem came when it started to spread to the rest of the world, we’re talking about shutting down, it’s almost certain’. Since the Travel Industry rarely depends on the socio-economic situation of just one country, a ‘global lockdown’ means that you might not see positive results if other countries are still suffering. However, the silver lining in this is that countries are beginning to recover.
“We’re trying to save our users, we don’t want to change our users”
Johannes Koeppel, Co-Founder & CEO of WeTravel
Fighting the crisis with empathy & optimism:
The importance of empathy during a crisis that affects the whole world was at the core of the response of all three Co-Founders. ‘It’s impressive how our sales team had to adjust from looking for partners to helping clients,’ Johannes explained, ‘we’re trying to save our users, we don’t want to change our users’. Which explains why, even if it might anger partners, they’re not changing their free refund policy. In doing so they can not only take care of their users, but also prevent high levels of chargebacks.
Since the impact of COVID-19, Stay22 has launched a series of initiatives designed to help their partners, users and community during this crisis. Some of these include: improving commission rates to partners to help them recover part of the financial losses they may be facing; adapting their solution to help identify important information related to Coronavirus, adding new product features; and even having part of their team offering their time and resources for free to those who need it most.
Hamed, who chooses to remain positive, sees this as an opportunity; ‘Things are quiet now, which means that we can catch up with all of our backlog and focus now on improving our product.’ For the CTO of Stay22 this is a chance to strengthen the product for when things will eventually begin to recover. ‘When Travel comes back, which it will, it will be different,’ Hamed says, ‘We’re working on generating new sources of revenue (for partners) and on our product, whilst event organizers bounce back’.
For Yael, who was in Israel awaiting to be able to go back to China during this webinar, there is a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ and chooses not to give up despite the hard hit. When asked about going back to China she responded, ‘I’m going to go back, I’m not giving up. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re all trying to be proactive. I’m going to go back and give it another shot.’
“I’m not giving up. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re all trying to be proactive.”
Yael Farjun, Founder & CEO of ChinaClickGo.com
What’s in store for the future:
When asked about what was in store for the future all three guests emphasized how this crisis will end. Johannes mentions that despite it seeming optimistic, he hopes that this is all behind us in ‘6 months’. Yael is set on ‘thinking forward and staying positive’ as she lists a series of opportunities that are beginning to come up now that China is recovering.
As for Hamed he states that even if business models change during this crisis: ‘We’re hopeful. Business has to move, all you can do is look at the future. At some point people will want to travel, be together, there will be a boom and we want to be there for them.’ Right now the important thing is not to stay still.’ ‘This too shall pass,’ he says as he reinforces ‘There is no regret in taking action’.
You can listen to the whole webinar here. Shout out to Travel Massive and their Content Manager Maria Stoyanova for putting together their series of webinars on COVID-19 and its impact on the Industry from a variety of angles.