Bukky Akomolafe- Commercial Manager, Travelstart Nigeria in this chat with WW spoke on how the company has been able to sustain its performance in the ticketing and travel agency industry, its challenges and the stunts it has pulled. Excerpts.
Branding and marketing play a huge role in the success of any business and requires many different resources. What determines the amount of resources you channel towards achieving your marketing goals at a flight booking company in Nigeria?
First and most importantly, 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 large promo, we are firing at all cylinders versus when we are pushing our daily deals or trying to engage with customers. It is important to know your objective and allocate resources in a cost efficient way.
What campaign 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 team, from marketing to finance to business development to Operations put in to ensure it is successful. There are two campaigns that stand out 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. Second will be the “Based on Logistics” sale where for three days, customers were able to get a 25 percent discount on all domestic flights because of the elections postponement.
The travel period was for any flight in 2019 instead of only for the elections weekends. These campaigns mean a lot to me because we were able to ease the financial burden and stress of the customers involved, showcase that travel is more than just a luxury (people travel for a necessity as well such as to vote or to compete), and show that we are a responsible company that is more than just about every day sales but about giving back in a meaningful and relevant way where and when we can.
You have been working for Travelstart Nigeria as the Commercial Manager since 2017. What informed your decision to join Travelstart and what does your role within the organization entail?
I joined Travelstart because of the company’s aim to really make travel simple for customers and helping to fix travel in Africa. The entire company believes and works hard to use technology to improve the flight buying process and delighting our customers. I saw the opportunity to work with young ambitious go-getter leaders that use data to improve process and product delivery.
I lead the marketing team as Commercial Manager. 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 deals. All our hard work will make us the #1 Online Travel Agency in Nigeria. When Travelstart opened its doors for business in Nigeria on March 27, 2012, the barriers to travelling within and outside Nigeria were quite high from cost to unreliability of travel times.
Where did the motivation to start come from and what makes Travelstart different from other travel companies in Africa?
Travelstart is Africa’s Largest Online Travel Agency. Originally from Sweden, our founder, Stephan Ekbergh opened the first office twenty years ago in 1999 in Cape Town, South Africa. In 2012, we opened the office in Lagos, Nigeria because we saw that customers had to go through many hurdles before getting the price for a cheap flight.
Travelstart is the solution to that problem. We relieve 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. Travelstart customers can just visit our website, www.travelstart.com.ng, to search for their preferred flight, book and pay easily & securely online. You know life has enough challenges and we believe that booking a flight shouldn’t be one of them. This great technology, in conjunction with our vast inventory, which includes access to 500 airlines flying to more than 11,000 destinations worldwide keeps us competitive.
Within its 7 years of operating in Nigeria, Travelstart has been able to make its mark in the industry. What would you say are some of the landmark achievements during that time?
Steady and consistent growth year on year since 2017; even with the challenges that we faced along the way. We were able to get back up and keep 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 lower than N280,000 direct flights to London and an influencer trip to Windsor, the day after the Royal Wedding to see where the Royal couple got married.
We are a small company with a mighty reach, we have a staff strength of close to 50 people, but we are a proof that, sometimes, you don’t need a lot of people to be able to execute the work well. Being part of a team that is creating a recognizable brand – when I first joined, I would attend events and have to explain who Travelstart is and what we do. Now, when I attend events, I am still explaining but I have many 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 tough.! We have won a series of awards including Best Travel Agency 2018 from the Pyne Awards. Last year, you celebrated your 6th year Anniversary in Nigeria by offering very cheap flight deals and making ordinary people heroes in the 6 Days, 6 Destinations campaign.
What should we expect for your 7th 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 have decided to take our time to celebrate our most important people, our staff and customers.
Through this campaign, we will be providing even cheaper flights to our customers’ favourite destinations from Emirates Airlines, Air Namibia, Air-France, KLM and more. We also kicked off this campaign with a pre-sale phase with Etihad Airways. We are also giving our Day 1 customers lounge and spa vouchers for use at Murtala Muhammed International airport.
Travelstart Nigeria has direct and indirect competitors. What strategy do you have in place to retain customers who are tempted to switch attention 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 good 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 constantly trying to be the best version of myself every day.
By Princewill Ekwujuru