Octa founder Zara Khanna is a little girl with big dreams

TD speaks with 10-year-old Octa founder Zara Khanna

Move and give way! Zara Khanna is on her way to conquer the travel tech industry with her chatbot Octa that helps kids and parents find cool things to do and epic places to visit when travelling.

I am used to interviewing top brass executives of travel companies but when I learned that a 10-year-old kid is one of the keynote speakers in the recent Skift Forum in Singapore, I begged my bosses to send me to the event to meet this amazing girl.

Zara Khanna introduced herself on stage as a traveller and creator of chatbot Octa. In an exclusive interview with TD, Zara told me, “I created Octa because I’ve always had amazing travel experiences and we’ve always found the best places for kids in many cities but I’ve noticed that my friends didn’t have the same experience, so I thought ‘God, I gotta change this!’”

Kids in travel planning

As more families travel than ever before, they want to spend more quality time with each other. Parents want to bond with their kids, but it is a common scene to see children bored to their skull on a trip. They can’t achieve the connection they’re yearning for unless the kids pick the places where they want to go to so they don’t get taken that the adults will find interesting, but kids wouldn’t.

On a mission, Zara started coding Octa when she was eight, hence the name. Octa is very easy to use and users simply have to type in the city they want to go to and discover family-friendly attractions, play areas and events. Octa is your insider on things that matter to kids.

Zara has bigger plans for Octa. First on the agenda is to add more languages so more kids can use it – first on the list is Mandarin. “Once we can conquer one language, we can conquer many other languages,” she told me.

She is also working on putting Octa on different platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Google Home. She also teased that she is looking to transform the chatbot into a voice assistant. I must admit, I am just in awe listening to this kid’s ideas.

Apples don’t fall far from the tree

When Zara is not fiddling with Octa, she is a typical school girl that loves to read and always with a sense of adventure. She started a student club on coding in her school called GREAT, which stands for Girls Resilient Enterprising and Amazing at Tech. The club meets every Thursday and members work on their individual projects. Once a month, the group discusses a science fiction book to see how tech will play in the world.

The Khanna family is always on the go every chance they get. They already have plans this summer to explore Turkey and Kazakhstan. Next year, they are bound to travel from China to Singapore.

Her parents, Parag and Ayesha, are Zara’s two pillars and main inspirations. Ayesha is the CEO of ADDO AI, an artificial intelligence advisory firm and incubator, while Parag is a renowned author of books in geopolitics and a managing partner in Future Map.

Ayesha (L) and Parag (R) Khanna

During Zara’s keynote, I sat beside Ayesha on the front row. The doting mom sends signals to her daughter to slow down. I just know that Ayesha is Zara’s rock who she can always rely on for help and support.

Despite his advisory role in Octa, Parag joked that Zara is pretty much in control of the direction of her technology. His role is basically on the logistics — which is to take his kids on places they want to go.

Parag told me that it is important to include kids in travel planning to ensure that kids love the places you’ll visit. It is also beneficial to the parents “by taking a tour together, I re-learned and learn new things. Doing things together is so important.”

Talking about future aspirations, it is not a surprise that Zara wants to continue what she is currently doing: being a coder and a traveller. She also wants to write a book about her travels. Zara defines the future generation of travellers — always seeking bespoke and fun adventures.

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