What you need to know:
- Friends and family constantly asked Sheila Kogo for travel advice: Where to go, what airlines to fly, and which parks to visit.
- Kogo loves traveling, so she was happy to recommend her favourite spots. She was good at it too, and the travel questions kept on coming. That is when Kogo decided to parlay her passion for travel into a business.
She is a firm believer in the statement that ‘hustle beats talent when talent does not hustle’. Sheila Kogo is a go-getter with eight years of experience in the tourism and hospitality industry in the East African region.
Kogo is a graduate of Oxford Brookes University with a Master of Science (M.Sc.) degree in Business
Administration and Management, specialising in human resource. Her bachelor’s degree is in arts, Business Management and Marketing.
While on her study sojourn, she gained a wealth of valuable training and practical experience in identifying, meeting and often surpassing clients’ needs and requirements.
Kogo was a member of the front-line staff attending to guests in River Island, a popular UK clothing retail store and at Odeon Cinema, one UK’s most recognised cinema outlets.
Through her work and educational experience, Kogo learnt the importance of happy and satisfied customers because they are ultimately the business’ true ambassadors and direct link to more customers in the future and how vital teamwork is.
Her experiences notably facilitated ability to work with teams, many culturally diverse on top of collaboratively working with colleagues, clients, and business partners to achieve a common goal.
She is using her experience to offer expertise under her enterprise Lodge Solution Limited a one stop shop for tourism and hospitality needs in East Africa.
In the first six months of operations, she had put to pen three contracts. The idea behind Lodge Solutions is to ease the pressure on the behind-the-scenes management.
What Kogo does
A lodge or tour/safari company can outsource some jobs or operations to Lodge Solutions who have direct knowledge and experience in what the back office of a tour company or lodge looks like.
“You place your order we deliver. Using our experience on every inquiry, we work together with you or your team to go through the needs and gaps and present you with different solutions and work collaboratively to achieve the deliverables,” says Kogo.
With the tourism hospitality world being so competitive, it is imperative that you are positioned correctly with the right infrastructure, the right team running behind the scenes, the right team delivering services at the front, having the right presence at the right time with the right pricing.
Buy Uganda build Uganda
They foster the tagline, ‘Buy Uganda, Build Uganda’ or Bubu, as its short form which the founder explains is hinged on her experience with many people who quickly decide to hire or buy items outside Uganda with the assumption that they are a ‘safer’ option.
And that was an observation during periods such as the first Covid-19 lockdown where most products and services coming from outside countries came to a standstill and even international travel where you could go to China and purchase a container of interior items was not possible anymore.
With limited options, many had to look within many suppliers as well had to leave their analogue ways and go digital and get their products online. It was on Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp statuses too.
Kogo was looking and was pleasantly surprised by the number of unique products Uganda has within her borders. The only gap was no one was actively linking them or teaching them how to further tailor their already unique products to meet the tourism and hospitality market as opposed to direct clients or homes they were focusing on, so she chose to make the linkage.
She noted a clear link between guests greatly appreciating anything that was local during their stay at a lodge in their feedback forms and the lodge managers stock on items as simple as Uganda tea bags running out at a faster rate than Kericho Gold from Kenya for example.
Now that she is in a position to avail much more than samples to guests, she is optimistic that Bubu is the future in the Uganda tourism and hospitality industry.
She explains, “Having been a ‘main actor’ behind the scenes I can tell you for free the demands in every department on any given day at any given time are literally never ending.”
She plans to fulfil her dream of growing her enterprise becoming a trusted long term one stop shop, to be the first company that comes to mind when a client requires anything tourism or hospitality related.
Her firm also works with marketing – including photography and videography, logo and website creation or management and social media management.
Some of the tangible results her business solution has achieved include developing manuals and internal controls, training, interior design consultancy and marketing support.
Her business model is very personal. She makes sure she vets each supplier she works with. “I will only work with people who equally have a personal love and passion for their own products or skills. They must have years of experience in what they do, and their work is able to speak for them,” she says.
“How much do you reward and pay yourself?” I ask. She says that, at the moment, she is at the building stage- everything made is going back into developing new products or bulk purchases in operations to make the next sale.
On her wish list is to change her suppliers and clients’ lives positively and live them better than where she found them with each purchase and service rendered. Kogo tips that for one to run a successful lodge, there are things to consider, know and implement.
“Know your target market- where do they spend most of their time, are they with family or travelling alone, are they retired meaning they have more time or millennial meaning they have limited leave days, are they looking for adventure or relaxation?
Know what is possible and not possible based on the location of your land – access to power/ water, tourist attractions, road accessibility,” she advises.
The entrepreneur adds, “Understand that there will be investment not only in infrastructure but key elements including interior design, human resources, and marketing. It is also important to implement internal controls for management to be able to professionally run the lodge to ensure a return on investment.”
Part of the milestones her agency has reached is a fantastic international partnership opportunity in July last year. It is aimed at empowering the business to compete on the international market and make a difference in the tourism and hospitality industry.
Kogo attributes the successes she has gotten to God and persistence. “I never give up. I may not have all the answers, but I work diligently with whoever I need to make sure I get the answers and results required and within the time it is required. This means getting my hands dirty as well – but for those who know, it is when your hands are in there that you better understand your staff and your clients and can make more informed decisions,” she additionally explains.
To a stranger, the entrepreneur would describe herself as a trustworthy, down-to-earth, hands on, self-motivated, problem-solving extrovert with an enthusiastic nature towards work and people in general. She has passion for working in the leisure, tourism, and the hospitality industry.
Focus: Over time, Sheila Kogo has learnt to be more persistent and now goes out of her way to mentor others about the importance of pushing on. “Nothing is impossible as long as you have the drive, and trust in God,” she says. Kogo plans on growing her business by opening several other branches outside the country.
Travel agents will go a long way into helping you get clients. They are more conversant with the trade, and for a commission, they will help you look for clients even in places you didn’t think were possible. They will also help promote your packages to willing tourists, both domestic and international.
How to run a tour company online?
Having a website with beautiful, engaging images and inspirational video along with informative, well-written content has become the norm for tour operators across the globe to engage with their customers and generate sales. Local tour operators in developing countries must work on online success to reach new customers. Today, online website builders offer relatively low-cost design options and with the use of social media platforms, online travel agents (OTAs), bloggers and influencers as well, there are many opportunities to improve online effectiveness.
The Internet has become the most important tool for travel research among European travellers today, and it is estimated that 90 percent of travellers go online to research their trips. It is how your European customers will find your company, whether they are European tour operators you are looking to supply, or individual travellers seeking to make their own travel arrangements.
There are many good reasons to have your own website, all of which will help generate more sales in the short or long term:
• Fostering trust amongst potential customers is the most important function of a website. An online presence and good design will lend credibility and engender trust amongst potential customers.
• A well-planned and marketed website will help European tour operators decide whether they want to do business with your company.
• For fully independent travellers (FITs), a strong social media presence supported by an informative website will help them make decisions as they research their travel plans online.
• A website enables you to create your own brand and personalise your business in the way that you would like to be seen. Having a strong brand is another way to generate trust and confidence amongst your target audience.
• Through the information you promote on your website, you have the opportunity to present yourself or your company as an ‘expert’. This could be detailed information about places of interest in your area, the local culture and traditions and travel tips pertinent to your destination. The more you can present yourself as a specialised ‘one-stop shop’, the more useful your website will be.
• A website gives you the opportunity to showcase the best images and videos about your destination, your trips and your experiences. Inspirational photos and stimulating videos attract attention and can be more convincing than text.
• A ‘call to action’ such as an enquiry for more information or request to book gives you the opportunity to build a relationship with a potential customer.
However, before you start creating a website you must perform a thorough analysis of your current business and research your target market. A good place to start is to understand how today’s major consumer groups use the Internet to research and book their holidays and trips.
Be sure you know your business
Before you begin putting together a plan to build a website, it is important that you conduct a thorough business analysis. Even a simple business and marketing plan will help you identify your organisation’s SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) and will help clarify who you are trying to target and the skills and financial resources that you may need to start a new website. Keeping your business plan up-to-date and current will help you generate more bookings and increase revenue into the long term.
Make your website SEO-friendly
Good content is the most important aspect to consider when developing a website, and the quality of travel websites is increasing all the time. This means the web is a very crowded place and you will have to work hard to get your trips and experiences in front of your buyers. Not only is good content what inspires your potential customer, it is also crucial for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
SEO is the process of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic, or free, search engine results. Search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo send out ‘crawlers’ (or ‘spiders’) over the web to identify the most relevant websites based on the user’s search request. The websites that score highly are those that appear on the first search page. Most users won’t progress to results beyond the first page. Well-written, relevant content with frequently used keywords, images and videos all contribute to SEO.
Plan good content
Good content has to be visually appealing, engaging, inspiring and informative. If it is not all of these, the impact of the website will be severely diminished. When planning your content, these are the important considerations to factor in:
Plan your site map carefully and logically and think about how the user is likely to move through all the pages.
The Homepage and main Landing pages are the most important pages. They should feature strong headlines, use text that is easy to read and incorporates the major keywords and phrases without sounding stilted. Include a prominent ‘call to action.
Create a list of appropriate keywords and phrases based on what your buyers will use to search. Make sure you include the keywords as page titles and include within the page URL. Use relevant keywords throughout your content.
You should have a range of pages that feature written content which must be well written, informative, inspirational and compelling. Make sure your text is descriptive and offer insights – you want the reader to believe that you know your destination better than anyone else. Share little-known unique details wherever you can. Aim for around 500 to 600 words per page.
Gather images and videos
The travel industry is one of the most visual in the world and all travel websites use images and videos liberally. It is estimated that 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual and it processes images several thousand times faster than words. Therefore it is essential that you invest time, energy and funds, if necessary, into gathering the right imagery for your website. Your buyers will want to visualise the experience you are offering them, be inspired to make that booking, and feel confident they will ultimately enjoy the trip you are promising.
Before you start gathering images, do your research. You may already have a collection of photos that you can use. Analyse them thoroughly and ask yourself whether they are truly inspirational and representative of the experience you are offering your guests. Keep up to date with trends of travel images.
Blogs provide crucial content to a website. They afford the opportunity to showcase specialist expertise or provide detailed, specific information about a topic, or range of topics. The more blogs you can post, the better SEO you will be able to generate.
However, the ability to write good blogs is a learned technique and if the skill does not exist in your organisation, it may be worth investing in developing relationships with bloggers and/or travel influencers who will be able to help raise brand awareness, increase traffic to your website and drive your message to your target market. There are many of them around and you must find one that is a good fit with what you offer, particularly as they will bring with them a following that is compatible with your business- businesspartnermagazine.com