The hospitality industry in Africa is one sector that has started to take technology seriously.
Well known sites such as Sleepout.co.ke, HotelLink are EatOut.co.ke are quickly gaining traction with more services sprouting every quarter.
And the growth of Nigeria’s Hotels.ng has been one of the success stories from the continent.
Only launched 9 months ago, the site has seen strong growth according to its founders.
ITWeb Africa has spoken to the founder of Hotels.ng, Mark Essien, to find out how the business started and where it is headed in terms of the changing the landscape of hotel bookings in Nigeria.
VINCENT MATINDE: When did Hotels.ng begin?
MARK ESSIEN: Hotels.ng officially launched in January 2013.
VINCENT MATINDE: What type of need had to you noticed that had lacked before starting the service?
MARK ESSIEN: Before Hotels.ng there was no way of researching hotels in Nigeria. Even if you researched them, there was no way of booking or reserving the rooms. We have brought all this online and make the hotels bookable.
VINCENT MATINDE: What were some of the challenges you faced when setting up the service? What are the constant challenges you face?
MARK ESSIEN: The largest initial challenge was getting the hotel inventory. However, with some creative crowd-sourcing, I solved the problem and quickly gained 4000+ hotels across Nigeria. The challenges we face now are the usual - poor power, poor internet. But that does not in any way stop us from marching forward in high spirits!
VINCENT MATINDE: What are some of the high points of the business?
MARK ESSIEN: When we discovered that we do more hotel bookings that all foreign brands combined in Nigeria.
VINCENT MATINDE: In your own observation how has the site changed the accommodation industry in Nigeria?
MARK ESSIEN: Hotel owners talk about how they get bookings ‘from the internet’. People reserve rooms now - something that basically was impossible a few years ago. The accommodation industry is basically modernising, hotels are getting computer systems. Our online reviews of hotels are making the hotels aware that the customers can tell others how the experience was. We are driving the change the industry needs.
VINCENT MATINDE: What are some of the mistakes you stumbled upon while setting up the business?
MARK ESSIEN: We should have spent more time on the quality of the first set of hotels we had.
VINCENT MATINDE: Do you have competition and how do you set yourself apart from them?
MARK ESSIEN: Our credible competition at the moment is WakaNow and we try to set ourselves apart from them in focusing mostly on hotels in Nigeria and not internationally.
VINCENT MATINDE: How easy or hard is it to start an online venture in Nigeria?
MARK ESSIEN: I think it has never been easier to start a technology based business in the entire world
VINCENT MATINDE: What kind of support have you gotten through your journey in establishing the site?
MARK ESSIEN: The entire tech community has been very supportive and encouraging. More than half of the ideas that are implemented in the site came from suggestions from Nigerian and African techies. I think this is one of our greatest strengths in Nigeria - nobody works truly alone, there are always people helping.
VINCENT MATINDE: How many hotels has the company enlisted?
MARK ESSIEN: We have got 4,000+ hotels, with 1,000 added over the last 3 months. We are running a big awareness campaign among hotels all over Nigeria, which is why we are signing them up so quickly
VINCENT MATINDE: What is the number of users on your website?
MARK ESSIEN: We have over 60,000 hotel bookers visiting our website monthly
VINCENT MATINDE: Are Nigerians embracing this form of booking accommodation?
MARK ESSIEN: Yes, they are. It is fast and easy to do, and it ensures that your room is reserved for you. Nigerians appreciate that.
VINCENT MATINDE: What is your take on the outlook on online accommodation in Africa?
MARK ESSIEN: I think we are seeing an explosive growth in the space because Africa is coming online, and as people get more technically adept, they realize there are so many things they can do - including getting hotel recommendations and reserving their rooms
VINCENT MATINDE: Have you expanded your business territory? Plans to go African wide?
MARK ESSIEN: Maybe in future. But first of all, let's get Nigeria working perfectly.
VINCENT MATINDE: What are some of the reactions about your service from the hotels?
MARK ESSIEN: We have spoken to over 3,000 hotels in Nigeria. In practically all case, the hotel owners have been incredibly receptive and excited. We have occasionally had the hotel owner who did not under this online thing, one even threatened to take us to the police. We sent a team to meet him, and when we explained it well to him, he became quite excited about the business and gave the team free dinner!
VINCENT MATINDE: Have you received funding recently?
MARK ESSIEN: Yes, we are funded by Spark
VINCENT MATINDE: Any new upcoming developments?
MARK ESSIEN: Yes. Expect a big redesign coming soon!
VINCENT MATINDE: What business quote or saying keeps you going?
MARK ESSIEN: "Think big, act small"