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How Travelstart became Africa’s leading travel agency

Traveling by air in Nigeria entails varying degrees of stress and complications, from the difficulty in getting cheap flight tickets to the complicated flight booking process.

After identifying array of problems facing air travelers in Nigeria, Travelstart in 2012, opened it’s office in Lagos to provide solutions to the troubles.

Bukky Akomolafe, Travelstart Commercial Manager in Nigeria, in this interview, expressed how the company has beyond several obstacles, solved the issues bothering around travelling within and outside the country.

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 the unreliability of travel times. Where did the motivation to start come from and what makes Travelstart different from other travelcompanies 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 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. Our nimble technology, in conjunction with our vast inventory, which includes access to 500 airlines flying to more than 11,000 destinations worldwide keeps us competitive.

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 organisation entail?

I joined Travelstart because of the company’s aim to make travel simple for customers and help to fix travel in Africa. The entire company believes and works hard to use technology to improve the flight buying process and delight our customers.

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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 #1 Online Travel Agency in Nigeria. At Travelstart, 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 brand.

How is Travelstart 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 & 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 Rwanda Air for N129,999.

What Travelstart campaign would you say that 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.

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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.

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 in Travelstart 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 versus 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.

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?

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 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 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 a 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 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 touch! We have won a series of awards including Best Travel Agency 2018 at the Pyne Awards.

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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 in partnership with Emirates Airlines, Air Namibia, Air-France, KLM and more from 25 – 31 March 2019. We kicked off this campaign with a pre-sale the week before with Etihad Airways. We will also be giving our Day 1 customers lounge access and spa vouchers for use at Murtala Muhammed International airport in Lagos, Nigeria.

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 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.

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