Top travel firm eyes local tourists to beat advisories

Mohammed Wanyoike, the Charleston Travel Limited chief executive officer, during a past interview. PHOTO | FILE

Top travel firm eyes local tourists to beat advisories

“It is unfortunate that hotels in Kenya have very competitive packages for foreigners, but not locals.”

Although the recent travel advisories issued after terrorist attacks in Kenya hurt the tourism industry, Hamisi Hassan, managing director of Charleston Travel Ltd, Kenya Operations, is bullish about the company’s growth prospects.

The company has been promoting more leisure travel to boost its cash flows since business travel — which is mostly done on credit — accounts for 70 per cent of its revenues.

“Leisure business is a cash business and will balance our cash flows better,” says Mr Hassan.

The travel advisories late last year led to cancellation of several conferences and events, which were moved to South Africa, Uganda and Tanzania, and the company lost some business. To mitigate this, the company has been aggressively targeting domestic tourists to fill the gap by designing competitive packages.

“We want Kenyans to experience the wonders of their country. The domestic market can provide 50 per cent of our requirements, but people are not well sensitised, so we need to increase awareness and offer competitive pricing where you combine air and road transport and accommodation into one competitive package,” he says, adding that it is unfortunate that hotels in Kenya have very competitive packages for foreigners, but not locals.

“You find a tourist from Europe being offered $70 (Sh6,464) all-inclusive per day rates that are marketed by agents while locals pay almost $100 (Sh9,234). Hotels need to come up with similar promotion rates for the local market. The prevailing mind set is that foreign tourists will come to Kenya and spend more money and sometimes they don’t. By growing the domestic market, hotels can survive if there are problems like the travel advisories.”

Remain relevant

Another key challenge, he says, is vendors (hotels and airlines) who compete directly with travel agents by offering similar or even cheaper deals to travellers, especially through online platforms.

But Mr Hassan is confident that the services of travel agents will remain relevant in the market, particularly for a company like Charleston Travel which provides travel management as opposed to just ticketing services.

The company manages travel budgets for its clients and peripheral business like hotel, tours, and airport transfers, in essence handling the whole travel experience. Whereas people can get cheap tickets by dealing directly with an airline, the latter only handles one aspect of travel and companies still have to arrange for accommodation and other logistics.

A good travel agent, Mr Hassan observes, can save a client time, money and the headache of dealing with the many aspects of travel, leaving employees free to do the core business of the company.

Charleston is a franchisee of the global travel company FCm Travel Solutions, which has 2,500 outlets worldwide. The company’s goal is to ensure clients have seamless travel across multiple destinations.

“We’ve also gone online because we want our customers to have service on the go. We plan to introduce a mobile application. Our customers will therefore get the best of both worlds. If an airline is offering cheaper fare, you can get it through our online solutions,” says Mr Hassan.

He sees devolution as a big opportunity for the company although in the short term it has resulted in some lost business because money that was previously spent in Nairobi by the central government has now gone to the counties where the company does not yet have a strong presence.

“We plan to be physically present in five to 10 counties including Nakuru, Eldoret, Kisumu, Meru, Thika and Malindi so that we can milk the cow from where it is. We won’t set up our own offices in the counties but we’ll identify already existing businesses which we can franchise. We’ll provide training, computers and software, brand the premises and provide the full set up,” he says.

Original article courtesy of