While in his second year at the University, 28-year-old Augustin Bukuru was wary of completing University and ending up unemployed.
It is then that he decided that he could actually take around tourists in Kigali and even interpret for them Kinyarwanda.
In 2015, after accomplishing his Bachelors in Economics and Business Studies at Kigali Independent University-ULK, he embarked on his plan.
However, his plans did not materialise as fast, his search for job opportunities were not as fruitful and leading him to look for ‘plan B’.
He began advertising on social media platforms offering services to show tourists around at an affordable price. This also took him a while before any client came through. However, from his experience, there is a story of persistence and hard work which led him to start his own tourism company.
He spoke to Business Times’Joan Mbabazi about his journey into business, challenges and way forward.
What was your experience starting a firm?
Through advertising on social media, I was able to reach tourists offering them services to show them around the city.
I also made contacts with receptionists in different hotels who would recommend me to tourists. In the beginning, I spent like four months without receiving any client but I kept optimistic. I didn’t stop advertising.
Augustin Bukuru( in the middle) posing with some of the tourists.
When the firm started out, I thought all I did was just taking around tourists and interpreting from Kinyarwanda to English since I hadn’t done any tourism course before, little did I know that I was actually guiding them.
The little money I could get, I used it to print some business cards that I gave to tourists and saved the remaining money in the bank.
In a month, I was making about Rwf 120,000.
So how did you start your company?
In 2016, I decided to take my services to another level.
I would go to the airport and interacted with visitors just to know if any of them needed any services such as touring.
Surprisingly, some of the visitors were really interested in touring but they always asked me to allow them to get some rest and promised to get back to me, which I handed over my business cards to them and asked them to give me a call whenever they could. This actually worked.
These tourists asked me to also take them to parts outside Kigali, for instance to the National Park.
Initially, I thought they asked for more than I could offer, but over time my friends encouraged me that I could make it.
I officially started operating in 2018, where I named my company, “Show me around Rwanda Safaris Ltd.”
I had no single coin on me and I didn’t have enough money to rent an office. My home was my office. I had registered my company in 2017 and I got a tourism license.
A few months later, I was able to rent an office in Remera where my company is located up to now.
Did the company’s receipts go up after formalisation of operations?
There are high and low seasons in tourism, we usually, get more clients in the summertime when many people are on vacation.
This starts from about June to August. The low season is during the rainy season as there are few clients.
So what does your company really do?
Although I started with just touring clients around Kigali, the company has grown to offer services such as gorilla trekking, wildlife safaris, airport transfer or pick up, hotel booking, car rental, tour guiding, eco-tourism, cultural tourism, hiking and biking tours, helicopter tours, among others.
How many clients do you get in a month?
During the low season whereby there are fewer clients, we get about 20 to 26 a month while in a good month, we can even get about 50 or 60 clients.
What challenges have you encountered in this business?
Venturing in a new business is always challenging because there are people in the same business that started before you have aspects which you may need time to build on; this can be clients, experience, connections, marketing tactics and much more.
There are also some people who run tourism companies which are not registered.
Such people often have very cheap services since they don’t pay taxes, thus presenting unfair competition to those who pay the taxes.
I wish the government can look into that and make sure everyone operating a business has a working license.
There is a lot of competition, as many people are getting into the tourism business, this means one always has to be creative and present new concepts.
Another challenge I have experienced is that it is hard getting someone I can fully trust to work with or is committed to working as I am.
How many employees do you have and where do you get the touring cars from?
At the moment the company has a staff of four, I believe that as the company expands, I will be able to employ more workers.
I usually rent the cars from individuals and companies for a period of time agreed to use them. It can be for a month, a week, a day or more.
What have you achieved so far in your line of work?
I started while operating in only Rwanda but I have expanded to the whole of East Africa where I work with agents.
We recommend clients to each other around East Africa and offer commission to ourselves as tour operators. I am however hoping to open offices in the whole of East Africa as well, and even expand to Africa.
I have been able to make a living by myself without depending on anyone. I have educated three of my siblings, two are almost completing campus while one is in High school.
I have gained connections, regular clients and recommendations from my customers. Most of my clients are from America.
What advice would you give to someone who would want to start up this kind of business?
I would advise them not to give up because sometimes we start businesses with high expectations and in about two months if we don’t get the best out of it, we tend to give up. However, as long as we keep fighting and working harder, we can make it.
Good things take time and require determination. If I gave up before, I couldn’t be where I am today.
One should also identify their target market, register their business, get the necessary business license and permits as well as evaluate the market before setting prices.
They can also build their websites as this is how many travelers will find them when researching on their trips.
Those interested in this kind of business can start an online system to enable tourists book and make payments for their reservations on the website.
It is also necessary to build connections with other tour guides and operators about the tourism business as they might give advice and knowledge about this business.