Tourism and hospitality is one of the fastest-growing sectors and top revenue earners for Uganda.
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, an estimated 1.8 million tourists visited Uganda in 2019 and in turn injected about $1.4 billion into the economy, which contributed to 10 per cent of the nation’s GDP. On the contrary, many Ugandans have not yet fully embraced the thrill of tourism.
That, however, has not stopped local innovators from tapping into tourism and 27-year-old Brian Namanya is already enjoying the fruits of his creativity. He developed a website and a mobile application called Tubayo, where thousands of local and international travellers can easily access accommodation, arrange for trips and book activities they would like to do while on their adventures.
Brian Namanya did not even study Information Technology or any related computer course but it was his passion for technology which pushed him to join the tech world. He got a job at one of the online transport services around town after convincing the company owners on how he could get them about 1,000 transport providers to enroll onto their platform in just a month.
After successfully achieving this, Namanya opened up a separate service center to efficiently serve the increasing number of service providers, something that did not go well with his bosses and, therefore, he left the company.
In 2019, Namanya took a hard decision of dropping his job of branding and promotion and ventured into tech after noticing that successful people like Mark Zuckerburg, Elon Musk, Alibaba and Jeff Bezos had earned from technology and using the internet and the impact they have made to the world. He, therefore, decided to come up with his own product or service that can serve as many people.
Since he is an Economics graduate with little technical knowhow about website and app development, he used his savings to employ technicians who developed the website.
“I looked around our local market to find out what product I could come up with and after carrying out enough research, statistics showed that travel was the fastest-growing industry by 2018 and since I also did not have enough resources, I need something where people were already organized and I only needed to create a market place for them where customers can discover them. So, I decided to develop an online travel platform which I named ‘Tubayo’ to mean that we are everywhere since the internet is also everywhere,” he says.
HOW IT WORKS
Namanya says the name Tubayo is a loose slang to mean ‘We are everywhere.’ When one downloads the Tubayo app from Google Playstore or AppleStore, they register in using their email address, Facebook account or Google account which enables them to be logged in.
It is organized in three main parts; the destination someone wants to travel to, the activities or trips one can do while in that destination and then the accommodation which includes private homes, hotels, lodges, guesthouses and apartments one can stay in while in a particular area.
All these listings from the fun activities to the accommodation facilities have prices indicated which makes it easy for one to plan and one has the options of paying either using mobile money services or a credit card.
The platform also offers people an opportunity to create and host their own experiences known as the Tubayo Experience where an individual, group of people or a company creates their own account which enables them to list the services they can offer to travelers whether it is accommodation of a private room, guest house, apartment, tree houses or can offer experiences like photography, cooking classes, yoga and dancing, hikes, water rafting, bungee jumping and many others.
“Hosting with Tubayo is an opportunity for everyone to showcase what they can offer. You simply have to create a package around it, put it on Tubayo and let us expose it to the world. Simply create an engaging list, choose what you want to charge and wait for reservations to come in. It is an opportunity to create memorable experiences for travelers while earning money from doing the thing you love,” Namanya says.
Becoming a host is free charge and the platform offers the host 24/7 customer support through phone calls, emails and chats, tools to help the host succeed through setting the right prices, managing reservations, receiving payments and tracking earnings, offer personalized insights into helping the host earn great reviews and grow their business and also offer education and trainings through free webinars on hosting basics and connecting with over 500 other hosts.
“Someone may want to start a travel company because they have interest-ing experiences they would like to share but when they do not have the resources to go through the formalities of registration, looking for office space, hiring people but our platform gives you all these tools. We market and do the selling for you. All you do is just receive a confirmed booking with money. We have people who are earning up to one million shilling per week on the platform. For us as the platform owners, we earn a commission off the bookings after they are successful,” he says.
COVID-19 A BLESSING IN DISGUISE
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the whole world, the tourism sector was one of the most affected because of the travel restrictions. But for Namanya, this was a time to step up the business. Before Covid-19, he only had the Tubayo website but when the pandemic kicked in, he and his team used that time to focus on the technology by cod-ing, developing and putting out the app. The app was consequently rolled out in April 2020.
“In 2019 when we started out, we had only five bookings online throughout the year because most people feared paying online and instead preferred meeting us and paying in cash. But last year when travel restrictions were eased a bit, people started booking online, especially for homes but later they would also book for activities. Right now we are doing between 100 to 120 bookings a week,” he says adding that there has been an appreciation for travel after Covid-19 because the number of people who are reaching out to them with plans of travelling has increased tremendously.
Though right now the platform only focuses on tourism and hospitality services, in the near future, more features like a wallet where people can save money, chats where people can interact from and services like education and medical and also do partnerships with other sectors like agriculture and oil and gas.
“We are looking at expanding globally and pushing our work through-out Africa and get into Europe and America. The app is going to be used in every country with our offices being right here in Kampala. Right now we have Mombasa on board but we want to add on more international travel destinations and we also have a vision of doing trips to Mars.”