Home Insider Interview with Frans Maas Managing Director of Jovago Myanmar

Interview with Frans Maas Managing Director of Jovago Myanmar

Name : Frans Maas

Position : Managing Director of Jovago Myanmar

When did you first visit Myanmar and what was your impression back then?


I first visited Myanmar in March 2016. Back then, I was working in The Philippines and was just reassigned to a job in Dubai, so I had a few weeks in between to travel. I was very keen to go to Myanmar for a long time since it was – and I think still is – one of Asia’s untouched pearls.

My first impression of Myanmar was great. I really like the hustle and bustle of Yangon. There is so much going on, the city really felt vibrant and full of energy to me. As I continued my travels in Myanmar, the country, its beauty, and its people kept amazing me. There is a good diversity in cities to visit and things to do. It is very easy to switch between adventurous activities, cultural activities and relax activities. For me, it was a perfect mix to fill my holiday.

What do you think of Myanmar now?

I have been in Myanmar for one year now, and I still think Myanmar is amazing. When I got the offer to move to Yangon for my company, I knew right away that I wanted to make the move. With unforgettable memories of my travels, and already having some friends working here, it was an easy choice. From a professional perspective, Myanmar is an exciting place to work in. At this time, the country is changing continuously. It is exciting to meet so many people who come to build a company here. These are both expats, as well as local talent setting up new businesses. I feel that here in Myanmar, in terms of business, now is the time to build your dreams into reality.

From a personal perspective, I think Myanmar is exciting to live in. The city is really evolving. A lot of construction is going on, new restaurants, hotels and bars open every week, and new people come in every day. Besides that, Myanmar is also really fun to travel and to have lovely weekends doing hikes, going to the beach or enjoy some culture.

How did you end up as this position?

I started working at Rocket Internet, which is a German investor in internet startups, about 2 years ago. Rocket Internet invests in startups all over the world and is known for launching and scaling startups real quick in many countries. In the last two years I’ve worked for Rocket Internet for 3 different startups in 4 different countries. I started in Bangladesh, then moved to The Philippines, then moved to Dubai and then finally moved to Myanmar. Here, I am currently the managing director of www.jovago.com. mm. Jovago is an online hotel booking platform that aims to make it possible and accessible for Myanmar people to make an online hotel booking.

What are your primary responsibilities?

Being the managing director of Jovago here in Myanmar, I lead a team of around 20 people with the main aim to further grow and develop Jovago towards a successful and impactful business. I would roughly divide my time in two parts: 1) operations and 2) business development.

In terms of operations I aim to achieve operational excellence in Jovago, and to continuously improve our KPIs. I spend quite some time with the teams to understand what goes wrong, why it goes wrong, what we can learn from it and how we can improve it. Usually these discussions provide useful insights from which we can learn.

In terms of business development, I focus mainly on how we can grow Jovago even faster and bigger. Finding mutual beneficial partnerships, expandingour B2B sales, meet with hotels to understand their needs, and in general, spend time in the market to understand the industry better and see how we can help our customers even better.

Please explain to our readers about Jovago?

Jovago (www.jovago.com.mm) is an online hotel booking platform with about 950 hotels listed in over 45 cities in Myanmar. We operate in more than 20 countries. Every customer worldwide can find us via our website, application or Facebook and book a hotel without any additional costs. In Myanmar we focus on domestic travelers, so Myanmar people traveling in Myanmar. What we saw when we were thinking of entering Myanmar is that local people have almost no access to making an online hotel booking – not because they could not reach the existing platforms, but because of the setup of existing platforms. Most online booking platforms require a credit card to make a booking, have no customer service via phone, have no ‘pay at check-in’, have no website in Burmese and do not have local rates. All of these things make it hard or even impossible for local people to book a hotel online.

Jovago, on the contrary, has a website in both Burmese and English, around the clock Burmese speaking customer service via Facebook and phone, requires no credit card to verify your account or to make a booking, and has local rates for most of our hotels.

Why did Jovago decide to enter into Myanmar?

There is a variety of reasons why Myanmar adds to the portfolio of countries that Jovago is already in. Most importantly, there was (and still is) a huge gap and potential in the market. Still, the majority of hotel bookings done by Myanmar people are done offline. That is ridiculously inefficient and not transparent at all. By booking hotels with offline agents, the customer has no visibility on prices of competition, gets a very limited choice of hotels, and has to physically go to the office of the travel agent. By booking hotels online through Jovago he/she has access to almost all hotels in Myanmar, with upto-date prices, up-to-date pictures, real reviews of other customers, and the customer can do the full booking from their smartphone at home.

How many hotels have link with Jovago?

Here in Myanmar, around 950 hotels  are listed on Jovago and we’re still expanding and growing every day!

What are your future expansion plans in Myanmar?

Our future expansion plans are bright in Myanmar. So far our journey here has been great and exciting. If I look at the current hotel booking market, there are still many growth opportunities. When we started here in Myanmar we decided to focus on one expertise, hotel bookings, and to focus later on expansion into other parts of the travel market. Our first priority for expansion is still to grow in the hotel booking market and really establish our brand there for Myanmar people who want to book a hotel. Secondly, we launched our B2B sales a few months ago which is taking off really well. The results have been really good so far and the customer satisfaction as well. We take care of all the hassle that comes with organizing company travel and as it turns out we can do it often much cheaper than the companies themselves. Thirdly, we recently started to move into other parts of the travel market with the goal to make us the number one platform for all travel in Myanmar for customers.

In which  ways  workingin Myanmar different from working in any other countries?

For me personally, it is the sense of opportunity that prevails in Myanmar. Most of the people I meet, young, old, foreign, or local, have this mindset of ‘’everything is possible now’’. Despite some hurdles or problems, people here have a mindset to make a change and improvements in the country. Things that were impossible years ago are now possible. In the countries where I’ve been before this ‘mindset to change/ improve’ was less visible for me. It is an exciting and unique time to live and work here in Myanmar at this time.

What is your opinion on Myanmar’s tourism sector?

It is interesting for sure. It is a sector that will change so much over the coming years and a sector that will have to develop itself much more. The tourism sector here has so much potential. If you look at all beauty in this country, everything is present: adventurous hikes, culture, history, beaches, and a vibrant city like Yangon. Myanmar has much to offer to tourists and many people want to visit Myanmar. The tourism sector will grow and it will be different for a tourist in a couple of years versus a tourist now. Also the type of tourists that will visit Myanmar will change, from the more adventurous type of tourists, to the more general ‘holiday’tourists, as I would call it.

If you look at the tourism industry in general, the development of things like the (tourism) infrastructure and the information provision to tourists will be important. While they are already in the country, but also while they are still outside of the country

If you look at hotels specifically, they’ll have to adapt to a more tech-savvy stream of tourists. Many hotels work without any systems, keeping track of rooms on paper and losing track of bookings in general. The share of online bookings will increase sharply at the cost of offline bookings, and hotels have to adjust to that. With an increase of tourists, it will also be less sustainable to not adapt to technology.

From a business standpoint, what do you feel are the biggest challenges facing you and your team in next 1-3 years?

It is a big challenge for many companies to attract and retain English-speaking local talent, and I don’t think this will change over the coming years. Moreover, it will be a challenge to change the industry from mostly offline to mostly online. This change will come with time; however, we want this change to happen faster. Above all, we will keep working to position and distinguish Jovago as the best platform in the highly competitive travel market in Myanmar.

What advice would you give to someone who is looking to invest in Myanmar?

Make sure you have a deep understanding of the market before you invest because the Myanmar market is very particular and different compared to neighboring countries. Also, attract local talent. I think having strong local people in your team is a key to succeeding in Myanmar.

If you could make one major change to any government policy, what would it be?

I always find it a bit difficult to criticize a government of a country where I am a guest. Also, I think the current government is doing everything in its (limited) power to improve the country. If I have to name one thing, then it would be that it should become a bit easier for foreign investors to invest in Myanmar and to start hotels themselves without local ownership. I think this will have a positive impact on the development of the tourism sector in general and I think it is inevitable that foreign investment will be made easier in the future.