NUR-SULTAN – Online booking services have advanced to such a level that fully personalised travel to almost any point on Earth is possible – except, that is, to Central Asia. It can still be difficult for foreign visitors to plan their journeys in the region, but the new Tourcenter booking service plans to change all that.
The startup, developed within the Astana Hub, plans to show that exciting and comfortable travel is possible to any place in Kazakhstan and indeed along the Silk Road that connects China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Tourcenter is already partnering with more than 50 tour operators in Kazakhstan.
“In fact, on the international market, such services have been around for a long time. But when it comes to our countries, the countries of Central Asia, this niche is almost a complete vacuum,” Tourcenter cofounder Ainur Nusipbekova told astanahub.com. Such a simple thing as finding entertainment or tours in Kazakhstan is difficult – visitors “have to call companies, send requests, wait for them to be processed, and so on. From this we can conclude that the tourist market is not automated, and looking ahead, I will tell you that it is not structured,” she continued.
Tourcenter is out to prove people who say there is “nothing to do” in Kazakhstan wrong. It offers a wide range of excursions, including extreme sports and forays into nature.
“When we started to work, began to study the market, we found a lot of unique offers made by small and medium-sized businesses, we found a lot of individuals who arrange very interesting activities. For example, who would know that near Astana you can go kitesurfing and windsurfing, in East Kazakhstan you can fly a helicopter over Katon Karagai, and in Western Kazakhstan there is diving and cruises, and in [the South Kazakhstan Region] you can hunt on horseback with eagles? This list of extreme leisure can continue indefinitely,” she said.
The startup team began to study the market and develop a website, tourcenter.kz, in 2017. They received support from the DAMU Entrepreneurship Development Fund and the Almaty Akimat (administration). The website launched last year after establishing a partnership with the Almaty Tourist Information Centre. Last summer, Tourcenter sold tours to more than 500 visitors from countries such as Belgium, France, Germany and the Czech Republic.
At its initial stage, the startup team had been designing its business model around its customers, the tourists themselves. The team has now pivoted their business track to include tour operators as their customers as well.
“We are working to maximise their profits and make their business processes more convenient. Analysing the work, we realised that every tour operator faces problems at the following levels: the first is the lack of calls from tourists, for which they need to develop their websites, invest in advertising and affiliate programmes. The second is the low conversion of the transition from conversation to purchase. That is, there are requests; managers are sitting there, constantly processing these requests, but, in fact, these people ‘merge’ and do not make a purchase. The reasons are the problems voiced above, namely a long waiting time for settlement, the absence of a structured product, the lack of automation, the impossibility of making a purchase online, the need for communication, often in a foreign language, and so on,” explained Nusipbekova.