As the Zimbabwe & Zambia co-hosted United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) conference draws near, the opportunity of using technology to showcase the region globally and indeed to facilitate business processes stares tech startups in the face. One startup, Zimbabwe Bookers, is looking to fill the long neglected gap of online hotel reservations. Neglected because not enough entrepreneurs have attempted to fill it and, more importantly, because so far the few that have tried, haven’t had much success.
Referring to themselves as the “Definitive Online Accommodation Finder” for the country, the startup launched in December 2012. According to founder Matthew Thompson, they launched to showcase Zimbabwean tourism accommodation in preparation for the year of the UNWTO conference. The website, zimbabwebookers.com, lists hotels and lodges in the country and provides means for tourists to make accommodation reservations and pay online using PayPal.
In his communication to us Thompson says the listings are through arrangements his company has with the tourism operators in the country. Browsing through the site, one can see that Zimbabwe Bookers is still to list some of the largest hotel chains in the country like RTG, African Sun and the Zimbabwe National Parks. On this Thompson says they are engaging the hotels but that “some are quicker than others to respond” and those that do are listed on the site. Operators also have the option to add their company information and accommodation offers on the website. A map on the website shows at least 27 hotels and lodges listed, we’re guessing out of hundreds in the country.
In terms of the model, operators basically list their hotels for free and only pay Zimbabwe Bookers a commission for reservations made via the website. “I am in the process of formalising agreements with operators now, and hope to have the payment portal fully live in the next few weeks for real time booking and payment” says Thompson.
“Searching for tailored websites dedicated to Zimbabwean Tourism, I failed to find anything that I could relate to in terms of the vast expanse (of accommodation, activities, landscapes, etc) our beautiful country has to offer in the tourism sector,” Thomspson says on what motivated him to start the service. “The market was marginally covered by some large corporate names such as Expedia and Hotels.com, but I found they lacked a sense of personal touch. I thought, ‘Zimbabwe is an amazing country with huge potential, so why not dedicate a site to showcasing our tourism Industry and all that it has to offer?’” he explained.
Thompson is convinced he’s onto a great opportunity as, according to him, research has shown that tourists prefer to search for and make payment for their accommodation online.” A recent survey showed that 90% of European travelers prefer to pay for accommodation online before leaving home: traveling to another country can be daunting at the best of times, but if you have to carry thousands of dollars in your pocket it can make the experience altogether unpleasant,” he says.
Zimbabwe Bookers runs on an open source content management system called Elxis.
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