Odong’s journey into tourism business

Sunday July 19 2020

Brian Odong sits on one of the tour cars he

Brian Odong sits on one of the tour cars he uses for game rides. PHOTO/EDGAR R. BATTE  

By Edgar R. Batte

They include savannah game drives, mountain gorilla trekking adventures, chimpanzee trekking and habituation experiences, private tour holidays and small group tours.

“We have been in the business for close to five years now, offering safaris ranging from family, holiday and group all the way to the typical expert/ expedition safaris,” he explains.

Tourism dream
The 33-year-old says that although being in the tourism sector was not his main goal, it still helps him achieve a major goal in life: to support his family financially. Odong has beaten many odds to be the business owner that he is today. His unemployed parents survived on menial jobs, but instead of this bringing him down, it only motivated him to work harder.

The dream to start a safari business was born at university. Managing trips for his friends compelled him to find a way to earn from his hobby.

He loved travelling to see new places, experience new cultures and traditions that where quite unique from his.
“When you travel all through Uganda, it is blessed with so many wonders and beautiful places. This greatly inspired me to join the tourism and hospitality industry so I can share these experiences with others,” says Odongo.

Professionally, Odong is a social scientist. Shifting from his academic profession to tourism was not so hard, taking into account that he is passionate about the industry.

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That majorly helped him come up to speed with all the dynamics of the industry. Secondly, he argues that the two fields are similar despite the different unique areas and spheres.

How he started
In starting out, he spent a considerable amount, a figure he is uncomfortable revealing. His focus was to offer personal experience. “I am a hands-on person. As long as I am available, I prefer to be out in the field in the 4X4 tourist safari vehicle than at the back of a desk,” he says.

“As a business, we are big on experiential guiding in the field of flora and fauna, and in some cases if language is an issue we have multi-lingual safari guides, full board accommodation throughout the stay, then safari experiences such as savannah game drives, mountain gorilla trekking adventures, chimpanzee trekking/habituation experiences, private tour holidays,” says Odong.

Dynamics
He values a guide’s knowledge while on excursion because it is a top priority and a determinant factor for a good or a horrible safari experience for the tourism clients. To underscore the importance, he has invested in skilling and exposing the guide. “A lot has been invested.

From individually scouting some of the best guides, ensuring they are individually registered with Uganda Safari Guides Association, attending some of the tourism related trainings and also frequently taking familiarity trips to further enrich their knowledge in most of the attractions.”
He has taken the team on familiarisation trips to the north eastern part of Uganda, covered Kapchorwa, all the way through Pian Upe Reserve to Kidepo National Park with so many stops in-between.

The trainings are carried out by Uganda Safari Guides Association on wild life and birding expeditions. For the places visited, Odong says Pian Upe left a layer of memories on him.

“It beat my expectation. It’s one of the reserves that’s under marketed but with so much potential what’s unique about it is the unique environment that gives you scenic view from flat plains covered with savannah grass lands harbouring a variety of wildlife such as giraffes, zebras, leopards, ostriches and bordered both Mountain Elgon and a very beautiful Mountain Kadam,” he says.

He remembers the welcoming Karimojong community that gives a walk through their ways of life events and so much more. He adds that the Karimojong nomadic life is a portrayal of the true African way of life, the construction of their shelters, the ways they collect, process and store their food. Then their hospitality.

Marketing
The tour operator has been able to commercialise his tourism efforts through social media marketing of packages for tourists, building a trustworthy brand with other tour operators, attending international tourism shows to market Ugandan packages and maintaining membership with some of the international tourism brands.

However, he confesses that the most important bit is through referrals from clients of successfully held safaris.
Additionally, he takes lessons from the exposure to the outside world on how other countries are doing it in the tourism business.

Have you made mistakes in business? I ask, and if so, how and what lessons has Odong picked? He says: “Poor planning at the beginning. This business is seasonal so initially, after the season was over, I injected what we had earned back into the business and ended up with so little to push us through the low season.”

Lessons
Then also using inexperienced guides to run safaris which almost cost him a safari. He had to step in after a few days and take on the safari. From then, he learnt his hard lesson and vowed to only use highly experienced guides.

In sporting a good guide, he looks at how they manage their vehicle, as an important factor that draws a line between an experienced guide and amateur. Then, time management.

In terms of technical aspects including guest handling during airport pick-ups and drop-offs. For the places, he has visited, some have made it to his list of favourite tourism destinations.

Challenges
Despite the fact that Odong has to organise tours for hundreds of people every month, sometimes even a hundred people per trip, he has very few people who help him.

Odong has to visit a location, manage logistic issues, advertise the event on social media for enough people to register and cater for his client’s needs throughout the trip.

“I face multiple challenges since I mostly work alone or together with hired companies that provide car hire services, food, accommodation or anything else I can’t provide my clients. Sometimes the car hire services will avail the car you didn’t order. Sometimes caterers will serve food that doesn’t satisfy everyone,” he says.

“Competition from bigger companies is also a big challenge. However, we attract our customers with our affordable packages, friendly customer services, quality, and some giveaways,” he adds.

Favourite
Murchison Falls National Park is by far his favourite. “It was the very first park I visited and fell in love with instantly. The rolling hills, the roars of the falls gushing downstream as well as the welcoming wildlife,” says Odong.

Kidepo Valley National Park comes second. He loves it for its typical arid and true African nature. Being in the park is stack reality of traveling back in time to the early days when wildlife and humanity lived in harmony.

He loves Kabale’s Lake Bunyonyi for its breath-taking landscapes and, depending on the time of year, by far offers the best sunset views. The Ssesse islands, mainly because Kalangala has sandy beaches and a conducive environment. It is also home to wonderful welcoming people.

Jinja is a town he describes as one with everything. “Whether you’re a beginner or an expert traveller. It has activities to suit every need so it makes it to my list,” he adds.

Future plan
Odong’s dream for the next five years is to turn Braca Tours & Travel Limited safaris into a household name. He also plans to employ more people and purchase assets that will help compete with the big safari companies such as Amos Wekesa’s Great Lakes Safaris

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