Patrice Nostalgie, now a software engineer, was completing his second year at University in China when he had about the Visit Rwanda campaign.
Although he was impressed with how the campaign went viral on campus, it had never crossed his mind that he would venture in the tourism sector. When he eventually entered the industry; he utilized his tech skills.
The 25-year-old noticed a challenge in terms of tourists accessing tourism services. This led him to focus on using technology to connect tourists to destinations with an aim of promoting the country.
“I kept on asking myself, so now that the government is putting a lot of effort in tourism and people are recognizing the country, how do I make it easy for tourists to access those destinations? My focus was hence to see how I can use technology to address this challenge,” he says.
Last year, Nostalgie established ‘dtravela’ a local start-up that provides digital solutions for the tourism industry through hotel booking, car rentals, and tour packages.
The company was also among the top tech-oriented solutions selected last year to operate their innovations at the recently unveiled ICT innovation centre- a partnership between the government of Rwanda and Korea International Co-operation Agency (KOICA).
Business Times’ Edwin Ashimwe caught up with the young innovator for further insights on operations and future plans of the company.
What does ‘dTravela’ stand for and how did you come up with the business concept?
A year down the road, the company has a total of seven cars that are directly managed and more than 80 cars that are registered for rent. (Craish Bahizi)
To start with, dTravela is an acronym that stands for digital traveller. The country has been promoting digitalisation in every sector, and on the other side we have witnessed that the tourism industry is one of the key drivers of the country’s economy.
However, there is still limited access to information; hence I saw the need to make it easier for tourists.
Therefore, in brief dTravela is a digital cluster that enables travellers all over the world to book reservations online for hotels, car rentals and tours in Rwanda.
Let’s talk about the innovation. How does it work? And how does it differ from the other common online platforms?
The innovation behind this application is using digital tools to create a link between tourists and local tourism services. So we do that on three different levels. First is digital exposure, this shows destinations like hotels in the country, car rentals, tour packages and we create content for them which can be exposed to the public.
After that we have to push for action. We do a number of comparisons so that it is easier for a tourist or any visitor to choose what they are comfortable with, if they see that it is really convincing and that they can purchase easily that is when we introduce a booking system.
Two staff members demonstrate how the innovation was built in their office at the ICT innovation centre. (Craish Bahizi)
We have also made our system in five different languages. That is Kinyarwanda, Swahili, Chinese, English and French. This diversity allows us to tap into different other markets, with very big convenience to the people who are using it.
I understand there are other online platforms such as ‘Trip advisor’, ‘Booking.com’ among others. But it is key to note that as young Rwandans who have been given the opportunity to pursue what we are passionate about, there was a case of developing something of our own.
This is the first innovation on our local market, and I think it comes with a higher preference for those visiting our country. To start with, it is cheaper. For any successful booking we get a commission of 10% which is a different case for the other platforms, according to reliable sources.
As a home-grown solution we need to understand that the revenues stay in the country as opposed to those foreign online platforms. So it means that the money stays in the country.
One other important thing is that in case of an inconvenience, it is easier to get support from someone who is on board other than people who are rarely in the country.
Basically I can say that the innovation is built on the needs of the Rwandan business.
What was your mission at the onset?
The main emphasis was to drive technology in the tourism industry. The other vision was to create jobs for young people like me. Today the company has a staff of 7 people in different departments like marketing, software development among others.
Our main vision is to be in a position where any tourist will be coming to Rwanda and they find this as a place to access cheaper and reliable tourism services.
A year down the road, is there any success attributed to this development?
Our company is running on a small capital but we are committed. If I remember very well it was $5,000 that I used to make grounds for everything.
Today I can say that we stand on $20,000 which we use to run our services. It is spent in different ways; one is in developing content.
Our content translation is based on human-based translation so we don’t do Google translation. We are also building the technology, this means that engineers come together, and then we code and upgrade this app.
Now things are working well. We currently have 400 hotels that we partner with around the country, we have a total of 7 cars that we directly manage from our company and we also have more than 80 cars that are registered, we also have five tour operators that we currently work with and then we get our money via commissions. Our customers are increasing too; last year when I was doing the calculations we got 512 bookings per month. That was an average of 9 months.
The numbers may also increase when we are serving with a certain event or for example if we partner with any event organiser for bookings then they are high.
You talked about the opportunity of being incubated at the ICT innovation centre. What are some of the privileges that come with this facility?
I want to thank the Government of Rwanda for the continued support especially with for those with start-up companies. For instance, we had a budget deficit, we didn’t know that we would be able to get a good working place, enough materials to use, free internet among others. But all that was covered up by that facility at a free cost.
However, the most important aspect is the training that we have been given, for example late last year I travelled to Korea for a product-market-fit where I learnt about other businesses akin to what we are doing.
Basically such fellowships, I believe stand out for me.
Going forward, where would you rank your company on the country’s tourism scope?
Rwanda gets more than 1.5 million visitors a year; if we are not even serving 2000 per month it means that we are not even 1% yet.
We are still new on the market and right now we can’t say that the drive is to make a lot of money, but we just want to stay attentive and see what people want and build a way in which technology can scale up the growth of business projects channeling from this industry.Follow https://twitter.com/EdwinAshimwe