As a fresh graduate of bio chemistry, Nadia Keza had to choose between joining the laboratory and saving her mother’s business, a travel agency. The company, International Travel Agency (ITA) Rwanda, under BCD, a global travel company, opened in 1995, however, Keza took over as manager in 2005, a decision she says she is proud of. She shared with Women Today’s Sharon Kantengwa her experience with the ever-changing global travel trends.
Tell us your start-up story?
ITA-BCD is a family business. My mother started the company in Burundi in 1989 and came to Rwanda in 1995 to start a branch in Kigali. During the holidays, I went to office with her, where I learned about travelling, serving clients and I found it very interesting.
I studied bio-chemistry at the University of Montreal, which was totally different, so when I returned in 2004, I was torn between working as a bio-chemist in laboratories and continuing with the family business. I made a choice to continue with the family business. Well bio-chemistry opened my eyes, I learned to work hard and even though it’s not the same field, it’s the same methodology of working that can apply in different areas.
The company has been around for more than two decades. Looking back to when you started, was that a good decision?
I began managing it from scratch seeing that the agency was one of the last ones because the management was really not that good, and I saw some improvement when I came in. I’m glad that now it’s one of the top three travel agencies in Rwanda.
I love what I do and I come every morning with a smile, motivated to meet my team, which is also as motivated as I am. We have the same vision and we work closely together. Our objective is to make sure our clients have a memorable trip so they can refer us to their friends, and that’s how we grow.
Socially, I know more people, and it’s a good opportunity for me to travel the world, learn and try to bring new services and innovations in Rwanda.
What’s the biggest revelation you have learned about travelling?
We meet so many different people and each client to us is a king so we make sure everyone is happy. They all have different characters but we have to keep serving and smiling, you don’t follow the mood. We have learned to be calm and polite because if you don’t have those qualities you can quit easily. We have learned not to take anything personal and serve the person no matter the mood and character and we are not afraid to serve anyone, although in the beginning it was very hard.
What is your take on the transformative travel trend and what are the factors driving the buzz?
It’s true that the trend has changed as more people and families are travelling. July and December have so many travels because people want to rest. Kigali is a busy city and with families spending most of their time, either at school or work, travelling helps them bond more, which is an advantage for us because it’s an opportunity to propose packages for them. Also, because of globalisation, people travel for business and also to see their partners abroad. But it also has also become a lifestyle, people will want to do what others are doing. There is a lot of ‘copy and paste’ in this country which is a positive thing because it is good to travel and give family some time.
What can you say of Rwanda’s tour and travel sector based on when you started and how it is now?
Again, there are so many people travelling and businesses are not the same anymore, compared to years back. The travel sector has evolved as seen at the airport, which operates 24/7. We are becoming a hub and the bigger the national carrier careers grow, the more people are keen to travel because they have more destination options. Also, we have been able to sell our country very well and the construction of another airport in Bugesera shows you how the travel industry is growing. People want to come and experience Rwanda’s interesting story. So both sectors are growing and all this is because of the great leadership. We have an increasing number of travel agencies which are necessary to serve the increasing number of travellers.
From your experience how have leadership roles for women changed over the years?
Women in the past did not enjoy leadership positions but we are now empowered and we are giving it our best to manage our tasks. Women have the capacity to multi-task so all they have to do is focus, write their business plan and be passionate about what they are going to do. The results will follow.