With just ten days left before the ZOL Startup Challenge finals, this short series will profile each finalist in the challenge, exploring what they hope to achieve and how they intend to do so.
Team: Tawanda Sibanda, Vimbai Hungwe , Takudzwa Mhlanga
Product Summary: Online reservation and hospitality management
Product Status: live
Mukela Travel was one of the first two startups to make it to the finals. The team sailed through the initial stages with the help of what many observers attributed to good presentation skills, fluidity in the team/product and the (potential) size of the market. Africa’s tourism sector is on flux, in recent years growing trade volumes, an exploding middle class and improved geo-political conditions have resulted in the arrival of big name chains and the emergence of homegrown players like Zimbabwe’s very own African Sun and TA Holding’s Cresta Hospitality. While all this has been happening, a few key transformations have almost flipped traditional Tourism upside down. The first is the (almost) universal growth of the internet as a basic commodity, the emergence of social media and resultant shift in advertising from static to conversational engagement.
Mukela Travel is a startup seeking to play a part in developing Zimbabwe and Africa’s tourism sector through Mukela.com and its back end system, Kelanet.com. The platform allows hospitality services providers of any scale to market their products on Muleka, manage reservations at no upfront costs through Kelanet. It also enables real time access to user analytics for hotels such that they can be apply to derive data from bookings and user patterns. Besides working online, the system is also adapted for Africa’s growing mobile sector through SMS compatibility for areas without access to the internet or SME operators.
According to research conducted by the startup, there is 25% to 60% average room uptake across the continent, resulting in a very big potential revenue gap. Despite promising growth and economic stability demonstrated by most African markets, Mukela believes that Sub-Saharan Africa is not deriving optimum value from the internet as a platform to attract travelers and holidaymakers. For example, Zimbabwe did not benefit from the traffic inflows of the 2010 World Cup yet a team as prestigious as Brazil actually had a training match locally. A prominent reason for this and many other underutilisation examples can be attributed to a limited online presence in Africa, lack of compatible payment systems (credit cards, paypal and others), lack of exposure on the part of accommodation providers and also very few online reservation services dedicated to Africa.
International travelers intending to visit Africa face a big challenge of limited information, almost no advice or referrals, and very little booking or payment options. Mukela is intending to overcome this by providing comprehensive information, user feedback/recommendations through social media integration, and instant payment options through credit cards. In essence the platform appeals to travelers by serving as a one stop shop for all their accommodation needs while saving African hospitality players the hassle and expense of installing often pricey online reservation systems. The startup is setting its sights on tapping into the 10% year on year growth rate of Africa’s tourism sector and is building its business model on reservations, online marketing and also seeking to build on this through vertical integration.
Interesting statistics provided by the startup to assert their intentions are as follows:
Why Now, why Mukela?
- Africa has witnessed proliferated economic and political stability over the past decade
- Benefits of globalisation: growth in travel follows country GDP growth
- Future Growth Indicators: Mozambique’s tourism industry grew 35% in 2005: the highest growth rate in the world
- Internet connectivity increase in Africa
- Proven model in other emerging markets: Travelguru (India) and cTrip (China)
- Massive pull from African governments
Mukela has set its sight on capturing a significant chunk of the market in the long term, it has begun laying the groundwork by engaging key stakeholders required to make this possible.
Update: This article has been edited.