Ozow partners FlySafair to improve air travel access for millions of South Africans
Thomas Pays, Co-Founder and CEO of Ozow
A new partnership between digital payments company Ozow and leading local airline FlySafair is making it easier than ever for South Africans to purchase flight tickets.
According to Ozow co-founder and CEO Thomas Pays, the vast majority of South Africans have no credit cards and require alternative means of purchasing goods and services online. “There are more than 49 million bank accounts but only eight million active credit cards in South Africa. This poses the threat of locking millions out of digital and financial services. As an impact-driven and market-led company, Ozow is at the forefront of developing products, services and partnerships that enable greater digital and financial inclusion for all consumers and businesses. The partnership with South Africa’s most innovative and consumer-friendly airline is one more step toward this goal.”
Kirby Gordon, Chief Marketing Officer at FlySafair, says: “We’ve always respected the need to offer customers without credit cards various options to make payments both online and offline. We’re pleased to have partnered with Ozow who offer a safe, reliable and easy-to-use option for our customers.”
While airlines have been grounded and air travel limited since lockdown was first implemented in March 2020, South Africans generally love to fly. In 2017 alone, the Airports Company of South Africa tracked more than 40 million passengers traveling through the country’s nine largest airports.
Pays adds that the two companies share a commitment to ensure their services are accessible to all South Africans. “As a business, we work to break down barriers that keep more consumers from enjoying the benefits of digital payments. Cash remains the most expensive and least secure method of payment, but most South Africans still rely on cash payments for most of their purchases. By partnering with likeminded, consumer-led businesses such as FlySafair, we can accelerate the decashing of the South African economy and bring digital and financial empowerment to all South Africans.”
How This EdTech CEO Is Helping Africans Access Premium Tech Skills Relevant For The Future Of Work
Eyitayo Ogunmola is the CEO of Utiva, a leading tech education startup in sub-saharan Africa and a technology education entrepreneur with more than 9 years experience in Product management, international development And technology leadership. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, He talked about his entrepreneurship journey, the Utiva brand and how they are helping people transition into roles in the technology industry in Nigeria and Africa. Excerpts.
Alaba: Tell us about Utiva and the role you play?
Eyitayo: Well, Utiva is a one-stop-shop for everything technology education. What we do is help Africans learn premium technology skills and then create paths to helping people transition into roles in the technology industry. If you think about this inform of a mission, I’d say that ours is to help Africans participate in the digital economy and benefit from the value that
digitalization gives to us as a continent.
One of the ways to think about this is to think about the population of the African youths.
According to research, by 2030 Africa will have one of the largest populations of young people that are ready to work in the job market, about 600,000,000 of them. And what we do at Utiva is to lower the barrier to entry and learning for so many young Africans that want to acquire technical skills. And also help them access new jobs.
Within 2 years, we have developed learning programs in some very specific areas of digital skill training. From Product Management to Product design to Data Analytics to Artificial intelligence to Digital Marketing. Our focus is to make the learning programs so interesting and attractive for people to participate. That is pretty much what we do at Utiva.
Now talking about my own role, I am the Chief Executive Officer, so what I do is to lead the team, lead the practice, and to champion the organization’s policy the way the organization is structured. So I typically will report to the board, I am the person that pursues the investors, also the one cheer leading and helping the stakeholders to get attracted to the brand Utiva.
Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?
Eyitayo: Now the interesting thing about Utiva is that we bootstrapped from the very beginning. We didn’t raise a dime. I pretty much used my own personal savings to run Utiva from day one. And as a social enterprise, I will say that we have benefited so much from impact investing or social impact financing in the form of grants to subsidise our training.
So Utiva has been a bootstrapper from the beginning, we so much believe in bootstrapping to a point before we start using other people’s money to run the organization.
Alaba: What are the challenges, competition and how are you overcoming them?
Eyitayo: Well in terms of competition, I will say that we pretty much do not always see ourselves as competitors in the education space, we love to see ourselves as complementors. But there are other amazing companies and organizations that are playing in our space. There are organizations that are niched and are focused on different areas of technology education training, so I may not be able to mention names here but I will say that there are great organizations that are focused on training in programs. There are organizations that do not do training, they just connect people to the job market, there are organizations that are focused on digital skills training, some are focused on providing internships to people that have been trained.
So what we do which is like the competitive advantage that we have is that we are a one-stop shop for everything technology skill training. From Data to Product to Design to Digital Marketing to Growth Hacking to Artificial Intelligence and this is a value proposition that makes our students get very attracted to Utiva. Because they trust us and the trust is pretty much built around the fact that we have built several digital schools and they know that yes we really know what we are doing.
In terms of the way we also overcome the competition, we built Utiva to be very affordable. We lower the barrier to entry for Africans and we do not believe that you need to break the bank to learn a technology skill and that is one of the areas of the competitive advantages that we have. Another one for us is the post-training values that we offer our students.
We have built 3 different models around our post training value. One is the virtual internship. What this means is that at the end of every training program, you have the opportunity to work on multiple projects in the form of virtual internship. The second one is access to job opportunities. Our students gain access to different job opportunities because we have a large network of employers that are hiring through us. And the third one which I consider to be an awesome value is the fact that we are lowering the barrier to entry for those that really need help, speaking of people with disability. We actually just launched a training program that gives 500 people with disability an opportunity to learn digital skills.
These are some of the many values that we offer that makes people want to be a part of our learning program.
Alaba: How does your organization measure it’s the impact?
Eyitayo: So, there are three major ways of measuring impact for us and we are quite very intentional about the way we measure impact. So think about it this way, we measure impact, first by measuring how we are helping you as a student close the knowledge gap. So from the beginning, we want to know what you know, then at the end of the learning program we want to know what you know. So we see the knowledge gap and how we have been able to close it.
The second way we are measuring impact is how you have been able to take the knowledge from the class to practice and we do that within the 3 months virtual internship, we look at how our students have been studying using multiple analytical strategy to evaluate how our students are working on multiple projects and how they are able to juggle these projects and most importantly how they are able to translate what they have learned from the class environment to the real work environment through that virtual internship.
The third one is what employers are saying about our students, that’s like ultimate value. We currently have a 65% transition rate into new jobs and beyond the transition rate, we also look at how employers are getting satisfied with the quality of talents that are passing through Utiva because it is not enough for you to transition, we also need to know how satisfied these employers are with our students.
So, these are the ways we are measuring impact. How you are transitioning to new jobs and the values that employers are getting from the quality of students that pass through our programs.
Alaba: What is the future for Utiva and what steps are you taking in achieving them?
Eyitayo: I am going to be very brief about the future for Utiva because for us at Utiva, we are still in the execution phase. Our focus today is to deliver quality training for our students. But the future of Utiva is to help other educators become successful. The education space is an amazing space to play in and one of the things that we are doing is that we are helping every other educator to become successful in the future.
Beyond being a company that offers quality training, and helping young Africans transition into new jobs, we also want to help other educators to become better so that we can scale the value for Africans, I mean we can’t do it all, how do we even train 600,000,000 young people alone? So we want to replicate ourselves in other educators. That is the future for us.
Alaba: How is your business contributing to the development of the educational sector in Nigeria and Africa?
Eyitayo: Yes, yes! So let me explain a little bit about that. Our contribution is to replicate ourselves, so the way we think about this is that we want to be successful, we want to build successful models, we want to build a successful learning approach. We want to be successful and we want to help other educators to be successful. We want to help other educators to learn the right andragogy and the right pedagogy to become successful.
For us at Utiva, success is built around how much we are helping other educators in the educational sector to become successful. It is in view of this that we launched a mini project which is like a startup incubator for educators. And right now we have about 10 of them that we are coaching and mentoring and helping to access funding abroad just to scale success and that is the way we are thinking about that.
Alaba: How is the government policy supporting startups and entrepreneurs in Nigeria?
Eyitayo: I would say that there are two ways to think about this right, there are so many government policies out there that are structured around providing support to lots of entrepreneurs in Africa, so I will give you an instance, the creative industry loan. The creative industry loan was a CBN initiative that was built to support Nigerian startups. Let me give you another example, the Vice President launched multiple projects to attract investors and also to make the entrepreneurial ecosystem quite very attractive.
However, the policy is not the challenge, what the real challenge is the access. Because most of these policies that the government put in place are there and also the programmatic intervention that the government put in place are there. Where the problem lies is that most African or most Nigerian entrepreneurs do not have the capacity to access some of these opportunities. You know the CBN interest rate policy supports startups, supports entrepreneurs. They are there, but Nigerian entrepreneurs need to be supported in such a way that when these policies are enacted, the barriers to benefiting from these policies are lowered so that we can access them.
Also, the government needs to create an opportunity to talk to entrepreneurs. Beyond just creating policies here and there, the government needs t o talk to entrepreneurs every time. The more you talk to entrepreneurs, the more you are able to understand what works for them and create structures that can really support them.
Alaba: What advice would you give potential entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?
Eyitayo: The Advice I would give is to start. Start fast and learn fast. I mean you cannot over-prepare for entrepreneurship in Nigeria because it is a totally different ball game. But start and learn very fast. That is the advice I will give, and I would say that think more global, build a more global product. It’s ok to build products for a Nigerian market, but build a global product so that you can benefit from the global dynamics.
Alaba: How does it feel to be an African entrepreneur?
Eyitayo: I think it’s a mixed feeling. Sometimes you are excited because of the opportunity, because of the market, because there are problems and where there are problems there are opportunities
and that is exciting. Then another one is like as an African entrepreneur, you are fighting too many unnecessary battles. We can really build a successful or a super successful African entrepreneurship ecosystem or build a super successful business landscape for the African market if African entrepreneurs do not always have to fight unnecessary battles.
Like you fight battles with electricity, you fight battles with bad roads, you fight battles with bad employees, taxation. You are fighting multiple battles that the government is supposed to fight for you so that you can focus on your core which is building business.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Eyitayo: I travel a lot. Although COVID-19 has really taken that opportunity away from me, because travelling is my thing. Then I read a lot of books around internal navigation, around leadership. That’s one of the things I have been studying so much. Beyond just the motivational leadership books, I read some core books around internal navigation. So one of the areas of books that I have been exposing myself to is biography. I have been reading the biography of some super successful entrepreneurs and I will recommend that other entrepreneurs also start to study biographies of other super successful entrepreneurs. Thank you!
P R O F I L E
Eyitayo Ogunmola is a Technology Education Entrepreneur with more than 9 years experience in Product management, international development and technology leadership. He has lived and worked in 4 countries and also led at the VP level of a consulting company.
Eyitayo founded Utiva, a leading technology Education company in Sub-Saharan Africa that helps Africans learn tech skills relevant for the future of work. Prior to Utiva, He worked in the International development sector, working on USAID funded tech projects. And also founded PM Hub, a boutique for product development.
He holds a Masters degree in business strategy, leadership and change from Heriot-Watt University. He is a MIT Solve Entrepreneur, 2020 Facebook Accelerator Leader, Halcyon Incubator Fellow, Global Good Funds Fellow; Chevening Scholar, Atlas Corps Fellow, 2019 Unleash Talent.
In 2019, Eyitayo was nominated for Future Awards Africa 2019 under the Education category and most recently is his nomination for the Tech Times Africa Awards under the CEO category.
African Hotel Reopening Strategies And Recovery Responses
Leading hospitality advisory and brokerage consultancy, HTI Consulting recently hosted its second Pan-African ‘Virtual Hotel Club,’ a digital forum that saw the operations directors from major brands active in the African hotel space share their unique insights around hotel re-opening strategies and ‘lessons learnt’ during the current global pandemic.
An introductory session saw key data delivered by CEO of HTI Consulting, Wayne Troughton, followed by a panel discussion involving the representatives from major hotel brands including: Accor, Hilton, Radisson Hotel Group, Cresta Hotels, Onomo and Valor Hospitality Partners.
Tourism’s fight for recovery
“The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the African tourism Industry has been both overwhelming and immediate,” stated Troughton. “When comparing figures to last year, Q1 2020 saw a total of 67 million fewer tourist arrivals to African countries, coupled with a loss of $80 billion in export revenue and 100% of destinations imposing travel restrictions of some kind,” he said.
“Data provided by STR Global reveals that hotel occupancy rates (Jan – Jul 2020) fell a staggering 79.2% to 16.9% across Africa, ADR (Average Daily Rates) dropped 9.8% to US$ 93.98, whilst RevPar (Revenue Per Available Room) fell 75.8% to US$15.91,” he continued. “The obvious impacts of lockdowns and the closing of international borders are clearly illustrated in these numbers,” he said. “But, in the past few
weeks we’ve finally begun to see reassuring signs as restrictions are lifted, international borders reopen and many hotels come back online,” he said.
“From an international travel perspective, its encouraging to see airlines such as Emirates, Qatar and Kenyan Airways resuming several flights to African destinations, and Ethiopian Airlines already operating at 40% of pre-Covid capacity. Hopefully these resumptions signal the start of an upward trend, although airlines such as KLM, AirFrance and Lufthansa are still blacklisted in some Africa countries due to EU
Covid legislation,” he stated.
Still more encouraging, Troughton acknowledged, was that STR Data (Jan – Jul 2020) revealed that most branded hotels across East, West and Southern Africa have reopened doors. Occupancy rates in West Africa in July showed Nigeria (22.1%) as more resilient than other markets due to higher domestic demand, whilst in East Africa, Ethiopia was the best performer (increasing to 25.7% in July from a 16.7% low in April) compared to neighbours Tanzania and Kenya who lack similar international business demand.
Unsurprisingly, South Africa suffered the lowest occupancy rates in the Southern African region YTD July. International border closures and strict interprovincial travel lockdowns saw the vital regional hub experience a fall of -48% points in occupancy rates from 57.2% in January to 8.7% in July. It appears the country has now managed to flatten the curve and international borders open on 1st October, though with many key source markets experiencing worrying second wave outbreaks, the results of these openings await to be seen.
“Though the large majority of branded hotels, within the STR portfolio, across Africa have reopened, the current crisis continues to affect travel and tourism businesses of all sizes, from the largest international airlines to the smallest independent hotel owners,” said Troughton. “Immediate responses have understandably focused on designing plans for short-term survival. As the crisis evolves, however, the industry is now identifying key priorities and procedures to facilitate recovery in the medium to long-term.”
Navigating new pathways to open doors
In the panel session, participants shared some of the motivations and considerations around hotel reopenings:
Samantha Annandale (Regional Operations Director, Onomo Hotels) kicked off discussions, stating that the key motivation behind Onomo’s decision to reopen certain properties was, naturally, focused on breakeven parameters. “A tremendous amount of work went into establishing these base figures, as well as incorporating the vital human elements aligned to each property,” she said. “Further considerations centred on lockdown regulations and assessing the overall ‘appetite for travel,” she continued. “We were also keenly aware that in remaining ‘risk averse’ for too long, we potentially risked losing market share and support.” The Onomo group focuses predominantly on 3-star corporate city hotels or hotels near airports, which they all own and operate themselves.
Jan Van der Putten (VP Operations Africa &; Indian Ocean, Hilton Hotels) emphasised that ascertaining demand and opportunity were also some of the critical factors behind the group’s decisions to reopen hotels. “Ultimately, we knew there was no one recipe,” he stressed. “Issues such as cash flow and obtaining the owner’s agreement as to the right decision for each location remained imperative to us.”
Craig Erasmus (VP Operations, Accor Hotels) was in agreement regarding the importance of discussions with each property owner concerning the reopening of certain properties. Much attention was given to aspects such as safety, sanitisation and ensuring properties were completely prepared to ‘right-side to the new normal’ in implementing new hygiene protocols, he said. “How certain hotels are segmented against each other was another important factor,” he explained. “In Gauteng, South Africa, for example, four of our Accor Hotels have one owner, so the decision to open only one of these hotels served as an appropriate initial response.” Twenty-eight out of 67 Accor hotels across the African region continue to remain closed.
William McIntyre (Regional Director Southern Africa, Radisson) stated that the core of the group’s approach to dealing with the Covid crisis centred upon analysing the ‘cost of closure.’ “We subsequently made the decision that, apart from 4 hotels closed at owners request, we stayed open!” he said. “What this meant was that, in South Africa’s Lockdown Level 5, our properties were able to assist stranded foreign nationals and essential services personnel,” he said,
“We hosted call centre business who needed to ‘spread out their work force’ and, instead of setting up in cubicles, they worked in hotel rooms. We shut down certain sections and outlets of properties and changed our operating structures. We also utilised guest rooms differently by setting up way-lay stations, factory-type settings and corporate quarantine areas,” he explains. “And, in every circumstance, we managed to mitigate the costs of dormancy!” he said. “But it was hard!” he confesses. “We’ve learnt lessons and dealt with scary situations but, ultimately we’re happy we stayed open,” said McIntyre. “On the up side, we’ve cemented some new key relationships that will help take us into the future.”
According to Osbourne Majuru (Group CEO, Cresta Hotels) the reopening of Cresta hotels in various regions was tackled on a leveled, case-by-case basis. The group owns and leases properties in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana. “All leisure properties, such as those at Victoria Falls, Chobe and the Okavango Delta, were closed from March until now,” he stated. “But scenarios differed from country to country and our operating team had to take various factors into account,” he said. “The recovery trajectory for hotels varies for individual properties, even those within the same market. For example, two hotels in the same city—one previously filled with domestic business and another with mainly inbound international demand—will see their occupancy and market mix rebound differently.
In areas where lockdowns weren’t that stringent (Zambia) we were able to keep certain wings of hotels open. In other areas, such as CBD’s or parliamentary areas (Harare, Zimbabwe), we opened sections earlier,” he said. “In Gaborone, Botswana, we saw no value in opening three properties at once, so we opened one that relies on local business.” Forty percent of the group’s property portfolio (and its leased properties) currently remain closed.
Euan McGlashan (Owner, Valor Hospitality Partners) emphasised the different approaches prevalent in different international regions, stating, “In the USA, our hotels almost never shut down. At its worst, hotels there were closed for something in the region of a week! ‘Staycation’ markets were running full capacity in the summer. On the other hand, the group’s UK portfolio was shut for 4 months (nearly 5) but has just opened, he remarked. Relevant to African markets, he gave 3 definitive criteria for reopening:
1. Government support (‘In the USA, govt. support effectively meant we could pay employees, taxes and mortgage’).
2. Cost of opening vs. closing.
3. Not being last to market to open. (‘Spier Hotel in SA remained online with food and beverage purchases’).
Green Shoots of Recovery – Rooted in Lessons –
“At Valor we’ve always known that culture is everything to us,” said McGlashan, “But this pandemic has just further cemented that fact,” he said. “We knew we simply couldn’t leave staff behind! Gaining profitability by cutting staff and leaving them unemployed is not the answer and we’ve tried to keep everyone with some form of income,” he stated.
“There are certainly some green shoots out there; movie crews and businesses are shortly returning to South Africa, for example. Guest sentiment and travel sentiment is that there is a pent-up demand for travel and we anticipate that by mid next year we’ll see a lot of activity in South Africa, in particular.”
Annandale believes the current crisis has brought about real tenacity and resilience in the hospitality industry. “Onomo’s processes and planning with regards to implementing new safety protocols, reopening hotels and maintaining operations has undoubtedly been a collective effort – from stakeholders, shareholders, employees and third-party suppliers,” she said “There’s been a real spirit of togetherness,” she says. “Service providers have stepped up, our employees (who have not always been on full pay), have also assisted us tremendously in keeping things going and thereby preserving jobs. ”
McIntyre expressed that one of the toughest aspects has been the financial and emotional wellbeing of employees and staff. “One of the hardest things is knowing that, at Radisson, we are working as hard as we can, adapting operations to the best of our ability, and knowing that there are still thousands of staff waiting to come back to work; waiting for unemployment benefits,” he said. “Aside, from this, the challenging nature of changing our operations so drastically and bargaining over centralized costs is another burden we had to overcome.” “But,” he said, “the dedication and effectiveness of our sales teams and staff was amazing and, ultimately, there are lots of heartwarming stories to come from this!” “We ultimately took a positive view on what was happening, took the decision to close away – and we just adapted! By the 1st October we’ll be fully open across the whole region.”
Majuru agreed that, for Cresta Hotels, the toughest aspects were dealing with human coping strategies and mental health issues. “These are never to be underestimated,” he said, “We’ve been working with the WHO who’ve brought in doctors and therapists to help staff. We’ve also addressed the stigma associated with Covid, especially in Africa.”
“As part of our reopening strategy we are integrating a process where we work to integrate staff back into the workplace. But from an operations point of view – will we go back to the staff to room ratios that we had? We don’t know! In many instances too, we found it easier for hotel staff to stay at the properties and therefore we went into salary negotiations around certain cash reserves.”
Annandale agreed that, along with the positives that have come from working together with external parties and stakeholders, Onomo will “do everything to provide an even better experience than pre-Covid, and do it with due diligence!” Together with the other panelists, she stressed the importance of continuing to create a welcoming environment for guests that centred around a safe yet familiar environment.”
“At HTI Consulting we continue to believe in the tourism potential in the African region and strongly encourage further support from governments and brand managers to allow owners to minimise further losses and support recovery” stated Troughton. “For the time being, the complete reopening of countries and tourism markets and the various possible scenarios remain very uncertain. Hotels need to continue with their reopening strategies and adapt to new markets and changing conditions – through product innovation, hygiene protocols and cost containment –
in order to survive this transition period.”
“African hotels can expect significant uncertainty during the transition period. Customers will need more flexibility in case situations change, and some may be fearful of committing to advance purchase rates with inflexible terms,” he said. “Whilst preparing for the comeback, industry professionals must not forget one fundamental rule that built their past success: knowing their guests’ concerns, adapting operational processes to new market requirements, and continually building competitive advantage around them,” he concluded.