The hotel business is central in the development of a tourism industry in any given country. It is even more important in developing countries like Uganda where foreign tourists think twice before deciding to board the plane. For hotels in a country like Uganda must be in a good shape, with good services and well marketed.
In Uganda, Jumia Travel, formerly Jovago, is doing the job of showcasing Ugandan hotels on the wide wild web as Louis Badea, Jumia Travel country manager explains in this exclusive Question and Answer interview recently conducted by Earthfinds Editor Baz Waiswa. Read on.
What do you really do as a business?
Basically I manage the operations of Jumia Travel in Uganda. We are the first online hotel booking website in Africa. Jumia Travel is a portal on which travelers, guests and customers can find and book hotels for accommodation and meetings.
You recently rebranded from Jovago to Jumia Travel, how is this going to accelerate your business deepening in Africa?
We used to be part of a group called Africa Internet Group (AIG), now called Jumia Group, which owns a number of websites includes Jovago now Jumia Travel, Hellofood now Jumia Food, Everjobs now Jumia Jobs, Kaymu now Jimia Market among others.
Jumia was the most famous brand especially in Kenya and Nigeria. So our management considered that since this Jumia venture was popular and appreciated by our customers, they saw that if we ran all the ventures under the Jumia name, we would get more visibility and traffic.
Therefore we joined our strength to grow. Of course we were worried a bit, it’s a big change, but the impact is really good, people are curious, our traffic has increased and now people know that they can get whatever they want in one place.
One month after you rebranded, how has the Uganda market reacting to the change of name?
In Uganda we are seeing an increase in traffic but at the same time we did it at the beginning of a high season, the business is good. We have seen increase in traffic and hotel bookings.
You have been in Uganda for a year now, how have you performed as compared to your business plan and projections?
We have performed quite well. When we came here we used to cover only a few parts of the country, now we have hotels everywhere in Uganda. We are in western Uganda - Kisoro, Kabale, all the national parks, Mbarara; central region – Kampala, Entebbe; eastern region - Malaba, Mbale and in the north.
We have done well in terms of improved hotel content on our website. When you visit the website, you will see good pictures and accurate information. We make sure that our prices are competitive. We have good diversity of hotels on our web portal.
All a customer has to do is to go on the website, select the destination you are going to, for example is its Gulu, you select Gulu, filter through the list of the hotels in Gulu according to amenities you are want then select the number of rooms and nights you will spend there. On this page, you make a choice of how you want to make the payment.
You can pay by credit card, Mobile Money or cash at the hotel. The hotel gives us the rates. We can advise them according to the season or start promotions to attract customers. On the Mobile App, hotels can update the prices and details of what they are offering.
What have been some of the challenges operating in Uganda so far?
The challenge, I would say in Uganda, especially in national parks, is that the lodges are expensive if you compare with other countries say South Africa. Here we still lack middle range affordable lodges. Sometimes we have cheap tents but it is hard to find lodges of $100 -&200. It is the same with hotels in Kampala, there are many good quality hotels but very expensive.
We sometime we have issues with internet to communicate. We wanted to book for a client in Juba but we couldn’t, six months ago we wanted to book in Bujumbura but the network had been cut off so we were not able to confirm the bookings. Political instability is a problem, if there is a war we cannot do business, this is a challenge but we keep our customers informed.
Sometime the hotels don’t have trained staff or they don’t communicate to their employees. We have signed contracts with hotels but when clients reach the hotels, the receptionists don’t receive them well because management has not informed them of our arrangement.
The other challenge is locating hotels. Many hotels are located in places with no plot numbers so finding them is a problem. Some cannot be tracked on GPS.
And the achievements?
Every month hotel booking are growing and we have grown the number of hotels on our website. We have also seen the number of reviews increase on the website which means people are appreciating our services.
We have been able to give visibility to hotels in Uganda. 60 percent (about 400 hotels) of hotels on our web portal are marketing online for the first time. We give them that chance to get business and visibility on our website. This is good achievement for us.
Uganda is taking a giant step marketing itself as a top tourism destination, as a stakeholder, what are you willing to contribute to this cause?
Uganda is less popular than Kenya and Tanzania when it comes to tourism mostly due to lack of visibility. Most people outside Africa think Amin Dada is still here, this is because Uganda doesn’t market herself enough. We try to market Uganda – tell the world that Uganda is safe and cheap.
We try to tell the world that travelling to Uganda is possible. We connect travelers from all over the world to hotels in Uganda. For example a traveler from Tokyo can find a hotel in Uganda before coming down here at competitive rates. We make sure hotels in Uganda get visibility from all over the world.
How many Ugandan hotels have you listed on your web portal?
It should be about 800 hotels – 200 hotels in Kampala. We register new hotels all the time. For hotels to be on our platform they need to have two ways of payment – pre-payment and post payment – meaning people can pay using credit cards or Mobile Money or book and pay at the hotel. Most of the guests book online and pay at the hotel.
Other amenities that customers consider when booking are WIFI (37%), swimming pool (26%), bed and breakfast (17%, AC (15%) and transport (5%). If the hotel doesn’t provide these services then there is quite a problem. Booking by star hotel rating stands at 1 star hotels (3%), 2 star hotels (31%), 3 star hotels (46%), 4 star hotels (17%) and 5 Star hotels (7%).
As an institution that deals with hotels, what is your earnest comment on the quality and seriousness of Ugandan hotels?
I think they are good; the lodges are good but expensive, then if we look at Kampala, very many good hotels are coming up. We also have hotels that lack renovation. Sometimes there is lack of customer services training but I know Uganda Hotel Owners Association is working on it. Sometime the hotel staff is not well trained.
Where do these hotels need to improve?
They should make sure the operations manager is good. They should train people. Sometimes when you go to TripAdvisor you find hotels with bad reviews but their managers have not bothered to respond. It also happens even on our website, it is important to check reviews and respond.
If I am the manager, I make sure I check all the reviews and train my staff to ensure that whatever made the customer to complain doesn’t happen again. When you have good services, you get good reviews and ranking improves.
What do travelers look out for in a hotel? What are their expectations?
It is mainly WIFI, swimming pool, good food, good staff and good value for what they are going to pay. So the prices you put must match with what you are offering. Hotels sometimes think that all expatriates earn $10, 000, so they think all Mzungu can pay $600 for a room.
Hotels should have affordable prices. Not all tourists can afford to pay for a $500 a night. Hotels should pay attention to customer demands, what is happening in the market to stay competitive.
What type of travelers’ book for hotels in Uganda on your website?
50% of bookings are made from inside Uganda then from Kenya. So it is Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Nigeria, UK and US. We get lots of people from Kenya. We don’t ask for nationalities but we can only trace IP addresses. They are usually business travelers.
What are you planes for the coming years, what should Uganda expect from Jumia Travel?
We are going to start offline marketing, go out and meet people in the streets, sponsor events and sign up hotels. We will continue offering better services and improve our Mobile App to enable hotel owners manage their content better. We have a partnership with Uganda Hotel Owners to do training. We will handle topics like marketing and customer care.