We talked to Chris Hakim, founder, and CEO at Wingbuddy, on how they facilitate the planning process of both simple and complex trips, by offering complete hassle free packages and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Chris Hakim: Thankfully, everyone around me is doing well, including family members, friends, and team members who have contracted the virus. Thank you for asking. This unprecedented situation has probably taken a toll on most of us, and particularly the travel, tourism, and hospitality industries.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Wingbuddy.
Chris Hakim: I founded Wingbuddy in 2012. I launched Wingbuddy while working in my family’s brick and mortar traditional travel agency after realizing the multi-day tour space needed more efficiency. Over the years, we have grown the company ten-fold, with double- and triple-digit growth year over year.
How does Wingbuddy innovate?
Chris Hakim: We are innovating the way tour, and cruise packages are produced and sold. Wingbuddy offers exceptional hassle-free travel experiences at exclusive rates. Over the last 2 decades, we have flights, hotels, car rentals, activities, and more being efficiently sold and booked online on various marketplaces. However, tour packages, as well as, cruise packages are still being booked practically the same way as they were 50 years ago. Very few travel companies can efficiently produce, package, and efficiently sell online rich and full travel experiences. Tour operators and travel agencies selling tours or cruise packages are still doing so mostly over the phone. Our production and sales technology will allow Wingbuddy clients to easily receive detailed quotes and book our exceptional travel experience in a much easier way than currently seen in this space.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Chris Hakim: We are laser-focused on providing international and long-haul travel experiences. As you can imagine, our sales were completely impacted since the beginning of the pandemic. Not only have our sales been affected, but managing cancellations and future credits have weighed heavily on operations and have incurred internal costs. Luckily, Wingbuddy operates in a highly optimal way, and we are solid enough to have been able to budget without creating debt or external funding. We are confident we will be able to go through these unprecedented times and come back stronger than ever. We are continuously working on developing our product line, our technology, and our company structure. We see the post-pandemic world as being a real relaunch for our company.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Chris Hakim: As mentioned, we work in a highly optimal way because not only are our processes optimal, but our team members are also highly efficient. Therefore, we did everything in our power to keep our valuable team together. This is definitely something I am proud of, especially since the duration of this pandemic is constantly being stretched.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Chris Hakim: It was a challenge to maintain customer relationships and communication. Who wants to receive a weekly newsletter with awesome travel experiences you can’t or are not ready to book? However, we still manage to find ways to keep our clients inspired during these difficult times. Our goal was to at least try to make our dear members dream about their next trip! On the other hand, these unprecedented times have allowed us to actually strengthen our relationship with many of our clients who had their trip canceled. Our high level of customer service handling clients’ cancellations and concerns has definitely created a strong bond with many clients.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Chris Hakim: As a Canadian company with sales impacted due to the pandemic, we are lucky to benefit from wage and rent government subsidies. When it comes to subsidies, we are truly privileged to be Canadian and operate a Canadian-based company (compared to so many other countries). However, being a travel company, no additional help was allocated to help our industry stay afloat despite being compromised by tighter government travel restrictions!
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