#Asia Tahiti is losing holidaymakers, so it’s luring them back with free wifi


Image by Steve Corey

Image by Steve Corey

Wifigen, the startup which offers a way for businesses to get something back from offering customers free wifi, was one of the smattering of startups from Pakistan to get funded this year.

Since then, the small company headed by founder Bilal Athar has been growing, bringing free wifi to new areas. Today Bilal revealed that Wifigen has secured its largest deal to date – one that covers an archipelago of tropical islands.

The deal will see the startup deploy wifi at tourist venues across French Polynesia – which consists of the islands of Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, and 100 smaller islands and atolls. It will form a huge network of places where holidaymakers can jump online to catch up on tweeting and Instagramming humblebrags about their awesome vacation.

Where there’s no internet at present, the startup is partnering with Tahiti Innovation Labs to build the infrastructure. The agreement, pushed forward by French Polynesian authorities which got venues and other participants to join in, is part of a drive to transform the tourist haven into a “smart country.”

Screenshot 2015-01-02 13.00.56

Tourism tumbles

Tourism is one of the main revenue sources for the idyllic but isolated cluster of islands that offer abundant marine life, breathtaking coastal scenery, and luxury hotels built right on the ocean. However, the sparse population and sheer distance from everywhere means the archipelago is disproportionately dependent on a steady influx of tourists to keep the economic cycle chugging along. There are simply no avenues for manufacturing and trade.

Tourist arrivals to the islands have been dropping dramatically. From a high of 250,000 tourists in the year 2000, the number has gone down to only 164,000 in 2013. The country fears that unless it’s able to reposition itself and provide new incentives, the number of tourists will simply continue to decline. Hence the free wifi.

Wifigen founder Bilal Athar tells Tech in Asia that this is a “huge project” for the team, but they’re supremely confident in their ability to deliver. Earlier this year they deployed the free wifi solution in at Singapore’s Changi airport, which helped them with the traction they needed to expand their footprint across the region.

Wifigen sells itself to businesses, such as restaurants, cafes, and stores, as a way to offer wifi to customers while getting back a wealth of data on those visitors from their social media logins – such as demographics, preferences, and frequency of visit. It also results in another ‘like’ on the business’ Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts, which certainly doesn’t hurt. The company is a graduate of Lahore-based accelerator PlanX.

The startup was selected to be one of the Arena finalists at Tech in Asia Singapore 2015, and in April received an undisclosed amount of seed investment from a Silicon Valley-based investor.

Bilal reveals that they’ve refused buyout offers as well as a further capital injection, claiming that the “time wasn’t right.” These decisions led to one of the co-founders, Melissa Peters, leaving the company.

He says that the islands rollout is “on steroids.” It should launch in early January and will start from the island of Tahiti, gradually rolling out to Bora Bora and Moorea. “Tourism season in Tahiti has ended and will start again in April/May. We’re gearing up for that,” he adds.

So what’s the startup’s future? Bilal says they’ve narrowed down their focus on specific verticals. “Initially we were fragmented, catering to all sorts of customers. We made mistakes – entered too many markets and weren’t able to cater to them. Now we’ve decided to focus on the tourism market exclusively […] on enterprises and country-level projects. This way, even one client can get us thousands of wifi access points,” he explains.

See: This entrepreneur dropped out of high school, discovered engineering, and built a $1 million startup

This post Tahiti is losing holidaymakers, so it’s luring them back with free wifi appeared first on Tech in Asia.

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