The Go Places Digital team recently caught up with Josephine Fifi Rurangwa, Head of African Expansion and Airlines Partnership at Wakanow. She spoke travel trends, the future of African travel and how Wakanow is making travel easier and more affordable for East Africans, especially in Kenya
Prior to joining Wakanow, you have worked with various companies in Africa, offering you an extensive knowledge of the African space. How are you bringing this to bear in your role at Wakanow?
First, tourism holds a special place in my heart. I believe tourism is key to the future of Africa, and working with Wakanow has also helped to accentuate that passion for African travel. Having worked in various industries including Media, Aviation, Telecoms and FMCGs for more than 23 years, I have been able to build strategic relationships and relevant expertise that are essential for driving Wakanow’s expansion across Africa and also building key partnerships with various airlines to grow the brand. So, the experience has been exciting.
You were recently honored as one of the top 100 African women in tourism by the African Travel Market. How does it feel?
Let me say it’s humbling making that list, and I dedicate that award to my bosses – Obinna Ekezie and Ralph Tamuno, and of course the hardoworking Wakanow team for their support over the years. Those who know me can attest to my passion for growing the African tourism ecosystem. And to have been honored for that passion came as the perfect icing on the cake.
There were other travel agencies in Kenya prior to your launch. What major gap is Wakanow filling in the Kenya market?
First, when Wakanow founders – Obinna Ekezie and Ralph Tamuno – pioneered the Nigeria’s first online travel company, there was obviously no other person doing what they were doing.
But when we came to Kenya, we met a number of travel companies already on ground. But we knew quite well that the average Kenyan traveler needs more than what was obtainable in the market at the time.
Our focus is to make travel cheaper and more accessible to the average African. And to achieve this, we have in our portfolio a number of innovative offerings that make the travel experience easier, simpler and more enjoyable. In the next few weeks, we will be unveiling some of these innovations targeted exclusively at the East African travelers. So, we want to change the game with our unique offerings and inspire more Africans to travel.
What are the latest trends in the travel industry? How do you see travel in several years?
Globally, the tides are turning in the way and manner in which people travel. These trends are largely influenced by the rise of millennials, fast internet penetration and partly climate change. For years to come, we are going to see more of “global travel” where people explore more of their own backyards to have the same experience of a global destination. The reason is that most of these local destinations have been largely unexploited and unspoiled, and once we begin to see development in those areas, traffic will come as well. We are going to see more people exploring eco-friendly destinations too.
And without doubt, the quest for new experiences is redefining the way people see vacations today, and that will continue to dominate consumer behavior for years to come. We are going to see more of travel-inspired and adventurous events like the Global Scavengers Hunt introduced by William Chalmers. This search for fresh experiences would inform virtually all vacation packages and products being developed by travel companies. That’s part of the reasons why we introduced the annual Wakanow Beach Sports series last year which brings together corporate organizations to compete for glory in a relaxed atmosphere and network.
Travel patterns are also very different here. Whereas in the West (Europe, America), tourists often prefer to travel in groups as part of meticulously crafted travel packages, not just hop on a flight to a destination and trying to figure out the rest later. That means running a travel company in Kenya presents some unique challenges. What are these peculiarities of the Kenyan market?
One of the things we have successfully done is to take into account the peculiarities and nuances of every market in which we operate. For instance, whereas in the West, people book travel far ahead of time, most Africans do last-minute travel reservations.
For us, we do not try to fight these patterns. Rather, they serve as our map of innovation and inspiration for developing new travel solutions. That’s why we are introducing our highly successful Pay Kidogo Kidogo payment option. We observed that there are so many people who would like to travel or book a vacation to some decent destination. But putting the money together to pay at once for the trip is usually a problem. And so, we felt we could actually help them lock down a great travel deal way ahead of the intended travel date while they pay in convenient installments. In Nigeria and Ghana, many customers have received this solution like a bread fresh out of the oven. We believe the Kenyan public will jump at this as well. For us, these patterns are the very granite slabs upon which we drive innovation across markets – from our UAE market to US, UK and Africa.
What needs to happen in the travel and leisure industry to accelerate the growth generally?
Globally, the travel industry has continued to grow in geometric proportions. The World Travel and Tourism Council have shown us how, for the fifth year in a row (2015), travel growth (2.8%) outperformed that of the global economy which grew by 2.3%. that’s cheery to know given the many challenges that face the travel industry. In Africa, travel has also taken firm roots, and we will continue to see more of that growth in years to come. But governments need to up the ante in terms of development of critical infrastructure and generally initiating policies that encourage tourism.
We need to see more effective collaborations between tourism boards and travel companies. We need to encourage more investments in tourism like we have seen in places like Dubai. Africa is such a very massive, untapped market with incredible destinations the world would love to experience. We must begin to eliminate all bottlenecks that impede inbound and intra-African travel like visa restrictions. We can see how the East Africa bloc has stepped into the fray, with friendly policies on visa. We need to see more of that across the continent.
What do you see as the next big thing for African travel, considering that Africans are gradually embracing intra-African travel?
The next big thing for African Travel is the change in the demographic landscape (age and education) of the next generation of African Travels who don’t know any geographical barriers. Why does it matter? This is a generation of millennials; traveling is not a necessity and not a luxury. They travel the world through their social media, the consumers’ behaviors are different, the world is a world without much boundaries.
The next big thing for travel players like us Wakanow is to be quick to anticipate what the market needs need, cater for those needs, and invest in research and development of that specific market. Travel in Africa will be determined by easy access to visas and affordable travel – whether by air or road. The next frontier is to capture the future middle class of Africans who will be educated, well-travelled and with disposable income, and to convince them to consume what Africa has to offer beyond the conventional product offerings.
Business travel is yet to gain the needed traction in Africa. What is Wakanow doing in that regard to boost the sector?
“The 20th Century was about dozens of markets of millions of consumers. The 21st Century is about millions of markets of dozens of consumers”, says Joe Kraus, partner at Google Ventures.
Now, business travel in Africa will be fueled once again by the growing middle class and major increases in foreign direct investment, all leading to Africa being a prime investment destination. Business travel with be inter and intra-travel Africa, South South collaboration and partnerships. This is why Wakanow has struck bilateral agreements with major travel players within the East and West African blocs to promote business travel in Africa, the latest being a facilitated business tour for 25 members of major commercial banks in Cote d’Ivoire and other West and Central African countries. We felt we needed to expose the business professionals to the Rwandan finance landscape with focus on opening up the larger Rwandan economy for regional collaboration and development. We want to see more of that happen across the continent.