Romeo Sempiira was a promising football player with the famous Friends of Football (FoF) academy under the tutelage of Coach Eddie Butindo. He went on to play through all age-category teams with his best moments coming at Old Kampala SS in the Copa Coca-Cola School Championships. He was part of the winning team of the national trophy in 1999 when the finals were held in Masindi District. He went on to train with Jogoo Young, the youth side of SC Villa, Bunnamwaya (now Vipers) and State House but he never made real impact until he ventured in China in 2007.
A chance manifested itself when his uncle planned to take him on a business trip to China. But a busy schedule forced his uncle to cancel the trip days to departure.
Devastated, Sempiira was not ready to lose this chance. He borrowed money from friends and acquaintances and left with Shs7m to China on the day Queen Elizabeth arrived in Uganda on November 21, 2007 for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
“That was a momentous day for me as a person because it was the start of my long journey in China,” the 33-year-old, who has since been offered Chinese citizenship, recalls. Sempiira says it took him seven years to finally find a team.
“I struggled a lot, even though I participated in several city tournaments. The competition was always very stiff because there were very many players from South America, Africa and Europe, some of whom had better profiles,” Sempiira says.
In trying to make ends meet, he ventured into phone dealership bringing cheaper Chinese phones to Kampala. “Double-line phones were in great demand then and I made a killing,” Sempiira says.
His football chance arrived in 2015, when he joined Collier FC where he stayed for one season before moving to Inter Heroes for two more seasons. Bettiland came calling in 2018, before joining Guiyang Hongrun last season.
Born to Steven Ssenkubuge, Sempiira is the only football player among his siblings, most of whom are limited by their Seventh-Day Adventist faith. He has been lucky as Chinese First Division games are normally played on Saturday night. The Sabbath begins at nightfall on Friday and lasts until nightfall on Saturday.
It was during this time that Sempiira learned his trade as a businessman. He established a sports shop in Kampala, getting kits and equipment directly from manufacturers in China. The business endured its storms before sealing deals with some top clubs in Uganda.
After several years in China, he had come across many Ugandans who needed help to do business. He ended up becoming their official guide.
All things fell in place after an interaction with one of his Italian acquaintances, who hinted to him that tours and travel was indeed a business opportunity to exploit.
“I was a frequent traveller and when he hinted on this I realised this is something I could do so well,” says Sempiira.
With his wife as the country director, he started Xavier Tours and Travel is based at Namaganda Plaza to help people traveling to China, while also offering cargo services.
“Surprisingly I was the first client of the company as they booked my ticket after a holiday in Uganda.”
Although he remains tight-lipped on the earnings, he explains the company has grown by leaps and bounds since its establishment.
“We are no longer working with clients travelling to China but across the world. When you get into the system, you learn how it works and we now have representatives in Europe and America, while we offer tourist packages to foreigners in Uganda,” he says.
After establishing the office in Kampala, he acquired a booking system, which he says allows the operator to manage bookings from one place.
“When I started the company, I was so excited. It was named after my first son and my wife was equally interested, unlike my previous sports shop business,” he says.
Sempiira was actually the first client after his wife processed his ticket. It was the beginning of a new journey. They got the second client after two weeks before other clients, mostly friends with business interests in China started booking with the company.
He built his business on trust and he says that having friendly customer care in this business is the most important asset.“Most of the business is by referrals and this means clients have to get a good experience to be able to recommend you to someone else they know,” he says.
Tour and travel companies require a lot of trust and this is the core upon which it is built. Most clients are well exposed and offering them the best services is key.
Customer care is, therefore, key because many of these clients are arrogant and need a lot of pampering.
Today, he has a portfolio of clients whom he helps arrange travel as well as hotel and train bookings.
He cautions on employing family members whom he says can be part owners of the business, but they do not have to work inside the company. He employs four people directly while several others are part-time commission agents.
Constantly increasing sales in a travel company is the number one focus of any agency manager.
He is focused on keeping his customers happy by building a reputation that can help him earn more bookings. Sempiira says there is cutthroat competition in the travel business yet for beginners, he says it is a capital intensive venture.
“You must have ready cash to be able to book in advance for clients that pay even after the services are offered. For instance, one time I failed to take on a deal that required $150,000 (Shs0.5b) because I did not have that money at hand. It pained me but I had no option. Such clients, who normally pay after aboutthree months are numerous in the travel industry,” Sempiira says.
The tour company falls in his dream of establishing a football academy.
He says any travel hitches would be properly managed when he starts taking children for football trips in China, Hong Kong, Macau or Chinese Taipei where he has established contacts.
He is not planning on retirement soon. “I am always in the right shape because I maintain a healthy lifestyle without smoking and drinking alcohol. I will take every available opportunity while seeking partnerships that can help Ugandan children,” he says.
A business idea that is bound to fail will mostly be a copy-paste of someone else’s idea. Always remember that copy-pasted ideas will be the ones that cost you more before they can bring in anything.