Chief Executive Officer, Jumia Travel, Omolara Adagunodo, speaks to IFE OGUNFUWA on the trends, challenges and opportunities in the travel and tourism industry
Has there been an improvement in the Nigeria travel and tourism industry in the past five years?
There have been improvements both in people’s mindset and attitude to travel and tourism as well as in the availability of tourism products. Today, our local tourism can be better. We are not yet where we should be with regard to getting revenue from tourism but again five years ago, people didn’t want to travel. When you tried to convince someone to visit Odo-Awaye for example, they were likely to refuse. But today, we have a generation of people who appreciate travel as education because they believe it is not about having so much money.
When we were growing up, when someone was travelling, it meant they had too much money and they were looking for where to spend it; but now, it is about education, knowing this country and understanding the people.
I served in Kebbi State and I had the opportunity to attend the Argungu Fishing Festival. It was a totally different experience for me. If I have money today, I will sponsor people to attend the Argungu Fishing Festival every year because it is something to be proud of.
Now, we have people who easily recall festivals and make plans to attend. We have a new generation of people who appreciate it and also tour operators who want to take people to those places. Some of them need help with the packaging of the tours and make them sellable. Today, we have groups of people going to Olumo Rock, Ogunde Museum and other attraction sites.
It can be better because we need infrastructure development. One young tour operator did documentation of his trip and he showed the roads that led to a particular waterfall close to Abuja. The place is beautiful but the roads leading there were horrible.
How do you then introduce it to someone when the tour operator is praying to come back alive because of the bad state of the road?
These are the things we need to get done to improve our travel and tourism. Our minds are opening more. People are more receptive to going to places and people have an understanding that they didn’t have before of how travel affects the mind and helps one to grow.
What is the attitude of Nigerians towards international travel?
For international travels, after the devaluation of the naira; a lot of people are still struggling and because every cost is in dollars. Five years ago, $1,000 was equivalent to N180,000; now, it is N365, 000 and people’s earnings have not grown in that same vein.
We have a fewer people who can afford international travel than before. However, this has helped people to review their travel culture. Some people who will normally have preferred to visit the US will opt for African cities like Nairobi and Kigali. This is because we love to travel but they can’t afford to visit western countries; so they look for alternatives. That is why there are more opportunities for tour operators and travel companies to create more options for regional travel across Africa and local travel within the country.
What are the untapped opportunities for tour operators and tourism companies to invest in?
There are opportunities to create more tours suited for people coming from outside Nigeria and I see that a few tour operators have started working in that line but we need to market it more and also push for government participation in growing tourism.
There are interesting places in Nigeria, even in Lagos. Sometimes, we can’t see it because we live here and we are tired of it. There are opportunities to create tours in Lagos and the state government has started packaging tours for people to visit places in and around Lagos.
If other states take up the opportunity and grow more in the direction as Lagos state government has done, then there will be room for growth, not only for government agencies at the helm of affairs, we will find more people investing in the industry and more tourists from other countries wanting to see what we have.
There are so much we can do starting with the government involvement and education of the people going into tourism. We now have a Department of Tourism at the University of Lagos. I heard about it last year and I realised that the students there had not even approached Jumia for an internship. I had to approach the department for students to work with us, grow their skills and become seasoned experts in their field.
There are opportunities in the education and development of tourist centres.
What is your assessment of the effectiveness of Nigeria’s Visa on Arrival policy?
When you compare the way we do Visa on Arrival to Kenya’s, I think we make it too difficult for people. We can relax it a bit and still make sure that the processes are followed. Here, visitors have to write a letter to request for it, wait for two weeks or you have to know someone to shorten the waiting period. In Kenya, all you need is an invitation letter and proof of residence. We can make it easier for travellers.
However, we have moved from where we used to be. The steps we have taken to do things the right way should be applauded. We need to start considering better process engineering and better ways to make things work for people. We need to ensure that people can get their letters within 24 hours by applying online. We need to deploy technology correctly to facilitate the issuance, ensure experts handle the deployment of the technology and make sure we are in the same place where other countries are.
The African Continental Free Trade pact has not been signed by President Muhammadu Buhari. Is this a good decision for the country?
I think the President needs to come to terms with the reality of the world today. It is a moving train and if we don’t join, we will be left behind. The truth is that having this kind of free trade for Africa can only lead to the development of the continent. The whole continent will grow as one and will take out a lot of imbalances that we have, which is one of Buhari’s concerns as well as other presidents.
Maybe, we will see a shift and some countries will be richer but then we are going to have a situation where trade is easier. We have on Jumia a platform for vendors who are producing local things. How nice it will be for someone to order a skirt from South Africa without getting worried about custom duties and taxes.
What value does Jumia Travel bring to hotels through bookings?
We bring a lot of value to our hotel partners, not only through bookings but through other levels of our partnerships. From the booking, the first impact that any of our partners will tell you is an increase in the number of bookings.
We do this through the online marketing push. We do Google Ads and social media marketing to push particular properties that have the kind of facilities customers want to pay for. We also do sensitisation about the properties offline to people who will normally not book hotels.
In the past ten years, we have seen the growth in the number of hotel properties in Nigeria and we need to fill those properties otherwise, those businesses are not profitable for the owners. What we do is that we offer discounts on hotel properties to our customers so that people who would normally not book a hotel due to affordability, with the discounts, can book at a lower price.
On what basis do you offer discounts?
We push vouchers to customers from our marketing budgets and sometimes, we get discounts from the hotels. This is because we do benchmark of prices for the hotels and we advise based on analytics, on how much people are willing to pay for a hotel in their region. We consider that maybe the price the owners are charging for rooms are too high and that is why they are not getting the business.
We offer training to hotel managers and benchmark prices with them and share industry trends with them. A lot of them don’t know what is going on regarding the Internet of Things and how they can use artificial intelligence to improve their businesses. We use that opportunity to educate them and let them know what is going on in the industry; warn them that if they don’t get on the train, they will be left behind. We let them know how to catch up with these things.
How receptive are the hotels to advanced technology?
A lot of them are interested in getting these technologies on board because there is no way you can say “I want to seclude myself from the rest of the world.” You are going to fail at it; no matter how small your property is.
Ten years ago, having Wi-Fi in your hotel was a luxury. No hotel gives you a Wi-Fi connection except a five-star hotel and when they give you, it is usually timed and that you can’t use it on more than one device. But today, Wi-Fi is a necessity and it is as basic as electricity. I laugh when hotel owners put free Wi-Fi as part of the facilities they offer. Things have changed and no matter how small your property is, you need to have that mindset that things have changed and you need to get moving.
When we first started, we did reservation books for properties that did not have an actual booking system. We had issues with customers because of such hotels. When people book on Jumia Travel and get to the hotel, because the person that took the booking in the morning had closed shift in the evening, the new person would tell them that they were not aware of any booking. This started reflecting badly on us and we provided a reservation book to track the number of bookings from different agencies.
This the only way they can keep records and pay commission among other things. We found out after some time that the books were not enough and they needed to be connected to a system. We developed for them an extranet model where they can get all the bookings by just logging in. They can accept or decline bookings and calculate commissions based on the number of bookings made.
Some of them are very reluctant to change; they would have the extranet and won’t open it. Even though we have deployed so many techs, we still have customer services who call them to find out more about the bookings.