Why we are Africa’s leading travel agency, Akomolafe, CM Travelstart
Air travel in Nigeria entails varying degrees of challenge and stress, from the difficulty in getting cheap flight tickets to the complicated flight booking process. In a bid to ease the stress off air travelers in the country, Travelstart in 2012 opened its office in Lagos to provide solutions to the challenges. Bukky Akomolafe, Commercial Manager, Travelstart Nigeria, in this interview with DANIEL ANAZIA, expressed how the company has beyond several obstacles, solved the issues bothering around travelling within and outside the country.
Prior to opening its doors for business in Nigeria on March 27, 2012, the barriers to travelling within and outside the country were quite high, from cost to the unreliability of travel times. What motivated Travelstart to come to Nigeria and what makes it different from other travel companies in Africa?
Travelstart is Africa’s leading online travel agency. Founded in Sweden in 1999, it is the brainchild of entrepreneur, Stephan Ekbergh. He opened the first office 20 years ago in Cape Town, South Africa, and today we have offices across Africa and the Middle East, where hundreds of our staff that we call Travelstarters are dedicated to rocking your travel world. We opened the Lagos (Nigeria) office in 2012, because we saw that customers go through many hurdles before getting the price for a cheap flight, which Travelstart has a solution to. We relieve the air travelers the stress and inconvenience of booking the traditional way. No longer do consumers have to sit through traffic to get a quote, search the market tirelessly or wait for a call to get a price. We believe that if you want to travel, you should just be able to book your flight easily. Travellers can visit our website, www.travelstart.com.ng, to search for their preferred flight, book and pay easily, and securely online. Life has enough challenges, and we believe that booking a flight shouldn’t be one of them. Our nimble technology, in conjunction with our vast inventory, which includes access to 500 airlines flying to more than 11,000 destinations worldwide, which keeps us competitive.
What informed your decision to join Travelstart and what does your role within the organisation entail?
I joined Travelstart because of the company’s aim to make travel simple for customers and help to fix the travel challenges in Africa. The company believes and works hard, using technology to improve the flight ticket buying process to the delight our customers. I saw the opportunity to work with young, ambitious go-getter leaders that use data to improve processes and product delivery, all with the aim of making us the number one online travel agency in Nigeria. As Commercial Manager, I lead the marketing team and my responsibilities include online and offline marketing, affiliates, sales and business development with strategic partners, and I work with the airlines to further promote their brand.
How is the agency faring in the marketing space?
I would say very well; we have spent the last two years getting very cheap flight deals from the airlines, improving our service to our customers and we have been very consistent with our marketing message — Travelstart is a simple to use website where you can search, book and pay easily and securely online. We have told this story through some cool campaigns such as the Turkish Airlines Big Summer Flight Sale, where flights to New York cost less than N300,000 and the Pepperdem flight sale, where customers got cheap flights to Johannesburg on RwandAir for N129,999.
Within its seven years of operating in Nigeria, Travelstart has carved a niche for itself in the industry. What would you say are some of the landmark achievements?
For us, it is steady and consistent growth year-on-year since inception. Even with the challenges that we faced along the way, we were able to get back up and going. We have gotten some incredible airline deals that have really differentiated us from the rest. I remember when the royal wedding was happening in England last summer, we partnered with Virgin Atlantic to sell direct flights to London for under N299,099 and then we took some travel influencers to Windsor, the day after the wedding to see where the royal couple got married. We are a small company with a mighty reach. We have staff strength of close to 50 people, but we are a proof that, sometimes, you don’t need high staff count, plenty of offices to be able to execute excellent work. In addition to that, we are part of a team that is creating a recognisable brand. When I first joined, I attend events to explain who Travelstart is and what we do. Now, when I attend events, I still explain, but I have more people nodding their heads in recognition as well as customers coming up to me to say they buy from us, giving great compliments about our service. Recognition amongst our peers in the industry has also been a nice touch. We have won series of awards including Best Travel Agency 2018 at the Pyne Awards.
Last year, the agency celebrated its sixth year anniversary in Nigeria, and as part of activities for the celebration it offered cheap flight deals and made ordinary people heroes in the ‘Six Days, Six Destinations’ campaign. What should customers expect for your seventh year anniversary celebration?
This year, our campaign is simply tagged, ‘Sale-A-Brate With Us’. Because we have recorded huge wins over the last seven years, we decided to take our time to celebrate our most important people, our staff and customers. Through this campaign, we provided even cheaper flights to our customers’ favourite destinations in partnership with Emirates Airlines, Air Namibia, Air-France, KLM and more from March 25 – 31. We kicked off this campaign with a pre-sale the week before with Etihad Airways. We also gave our Day 1 customers lounge access and spa vouchers for use at the Murtala Muhammed International airport in Lagos.
Branding and marketing play a huge role in the success of any business and requires resources. What determines the amount of resources Travelstart channel towards achieving its marketing goals in Nigeria?
First and most importantly, Travelstart is a sales organisation; we sell cheap flights to numerous destinations around the world. Our resource allocation depends on the message that we are pushing at that moment in time. When we are running a long promo, we are firing at all cylinders and when we are pushing our daily deals we only activate a few channels. It is essential to know your objective and allocate resources in the most cost-efficient way.
What campaign of the agency would you say you are most proud of and why?
I am proud of all our campaigns to date. This is because of the work and dedication the entire Travelstart team, from marketing to finance to business development to Operations put in to ensure success. There are two campaigns that standout for me; first is when we supported the Nigerian Skeleton & Bobsled team in their quest for gold to the Winter Olympics in 2018. We partnered with Air France-KLM to send the 32-passenger squad to South Korea. The second would be the Based on Logistics sale. For three days, customers were able to get a 25% discount on all local flights because of the postponement of the elections. The travel period was up until December 2019, so it extended past travel over the election weekends. These campaigns mean a lot to me because we were able to ease the financial burden and stress of our customers, showcase that travel is more than just a luxury – people also travel as a necessity such as to vote, to compete or for education etc. We were also able to show that Travelstart is a responsible company that is more than just about every day sales but gives back in a meaningful and relevant way where and when we can.
The Nigeria travel market is competitive and it is believed that your agency has direct and indirect competitors. What strategy do you have in place to retain customers who are tempted to switch attention and loyalty to other travel agencies and remain competitive?
Our overall focus is to run our own race, not someone else’s. The market is big enough for competition, but there will always be one Travelstart. Our mission is to fix travel in Africa, and we are doing that one day at a time by providing cheap flight deals, providing excellent customer service, keeping our cost-structure low and staying relevant with our communication.
Recently, you were named as one of Nigeria’s ‘100 Most Inspiring Women’ in 2019 by Leading Ladies Africa.
How were you able to achieve this feat?
Simple! I kept my head down, worked very hard, remained consistent with my work ethic and stayed focused on my personal and professional goals. From a Travelstart perspective, I always had clarity around my KPIs, so I knew what my team and I were working towards every day. Most importantly, in my journey, I wasn’t trying to be anyone else but the best version of me. Self-improvement is key to me. I am continually trying to be the best version of myself every day.