Running a travel agency in a foreign country


Running a travel agency in a foreign country

Sasha Seraphine Mbote (right), founder of Maridadi Tours, with some of her clients while visiting Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Pictures | Swimming pool | NMG

As a globetrotter, Sasha Seraphine Mbote was the go-to person when her friends wanted to find the best hotels and tour guides on their trips. It was fun to offer valuable advice that allowed his friends, who over time also referred their acquaintances to him, to have a good time on their travels.

Then, as the referrals increased, she decided to take the trip of a lifetime. She quit her job as a spa manager and turned what she did into her business.

“When problems arose with their bookings, they (friends and quittance) came back to me. I realized I was spending a lot of energy so I decided to open a travel agency, says the co-founder of Maridadi Tours who was living in Tanzania in 2015 when she took the leap from entrepreneurship .

Being a foreigner in the country, she had to partner with local businessmen to successfully register the business. She teamed up with two women and opened the first office in Zanzibar.

They have since added an office in Kenya in partnership with another company which she did not disclose. Likewise, they have online branches that work hand in hand with other tour operators in Africa and plan to open physical offices once the industry recovers.

Target market

“We market Africa as a whole because I only travel to Africa to build the economy. We cannot book Dubai and Europe and expect Africa to develop while we fund other countries,” she says, adding that they sell tour packages mainly to Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa and Ghana.

As the business took off, she learned her first business lesson. The partnership fell apart and she had to start over on her own.

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“I learned that when you are running a business in a foreign country, you have to choose your partners wisely. If you fall into the wrong partnerships, be prepared for massive trials. Once I started getting big numbers booking, the partners turned on me and almost took the money out of the clients,” she says, adding “When you partner in a foreign country, do everything through a lawyer, don’t do don’t trust anyone.

The second lesson it offers is that while sometimes you can fall head over heels and lose it all, you shouldn’t give up because resilience pays in the end.

She slowly rebuilt the business and over time attracted a unique clientele of black diaspora people who come to experience their African roots.

“They always insist that I book cultural tours for them so they can learn more about us. It also taught me a lot about our real history. Our trips are a free history education through interaction with each other. We realize just by logging on that we have been lied to in our schools,” she adds.

Product differentiation

For her company to stand out, she had to differentiate her products. Instead of relying on bush and beach products that are the backbone of all other travel companies, she digs in and offers the unexplored.

“In Africa, we have a lot of less visited destinations. Our marketers should stop selling only safaris and oceans. In Namibia and Kenya, I sell sand dunes that many people have no idea about. Cultural tours are not just about the Maasai people. For example in Tanzania we have the Hadzabe natives who live in the forest and eat from the forest. There are a lot of things that are not said on this continent,” she says.

Did she need massive capital when she started her business?

“Apart from the government registration fees, I started very little. People think you have to own passenger vans to start, but you can start by hiring and then acquiring your own as you go,” she says.

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And the same goes for marketing. She says, “I only grew up on social media. I am part of many international travel groups on Facebook which have been my main source of clients.

The company serves all budgets. For example, they book their budget customers on Airbnb, and for their high-end customers, they rent helicopters for them and customize their itineraries according to their needs.

Seraphine says the biggest challenge so far has been the Covid-19 pandemic. “Covid has literally brought us to our knees, but we thank God that the sky is opening up,” says the entrepreneur who had to reduce her workforce from 20 to 5 for the survival of her business.

One piece of advice she would like to give to those who want to get into business, and not just tourism, is that “it’s better to sell tomatoes by the side of the road than to associate with the wrong people, even if it is a partnership”. , make sure your team understands the vision, otherwise it’s in vain.

She also urges people to take classes if they have to and not start a business blindly just because they have capital.

“That was my biggest mistake – starting something I hadn’t taken a course in. mistakes have been my best school and a guardian for the future,” says Séraphine.

His future plan is to empower young people to ensure they are equipped with the right tools for the rapidly changing job market.

She notes that the future of this continent depends on skills. “I love how Tanzania adds agricultural tourism to our trips and we take our customers to farms to learn about our products which keeps young people busy instead of waiting for politicians to create jobs for them . In Tanzania, you will rarely see an unemployed young man waiting for manna from heaven. They are busy earning money directly from their farms and it is not taxed so it helps the farmer to earn money directly from their farms.

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