Thomas Müller is an entrepreneur with more than 37 years of experience in IT and more than 16 years in digital marketing and technology in the global hospitality and tourism industry. In this exclusive interview, he shares his thoughts with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online on the state of sustainable tourism development in Africa, the role marketing and branding play in facilitating sustainable tourism, the impact of his company, rainmaker in Africa and more. Excerpts.
Alaba: Could you tell us about rainmaker digital and the gap it’s filling?
Thomas: rainmaker has been created as a social enterprise and as such is focused on the impact we can create for destinations, for their hospitality and tourism businesses and people. It is our passion to change the hospitality and tourism sector to keep more tourism spend in the destination through the democratization of technology which we make inclusively and pervasively available to all emerging, small, medium and independent hospitality and tourism businesses. With this, the destination and their hospitality and tourism businesses take back control of their visibility, digital presence, reputation, marketing communication, and distribution.
Together with Tourism Authorities and Hospitality and Tourism Associations we create a public-private partnership, create local capacity and create a digital transformation initiative, aligned to the UNWTO digital transformation strategy and contributing to the Sustainability Goals.
Alaba: What attracted you to sustainable tourism development in Africa?
Thomas: I have got my “Africa-Virus” already in 1984 when I traveled to Kenya. When I was working with Thomas Cook in the early 2000’s I spend quite some time in Senegal. However, for 10 years I am now living in Namibia and am very active in the Southern African and Pan-African Travel, Tourism, and Hospitality industry.
I have realized that in the last 5 years the world has dramatically change to the disadvantage of the destinations and their hospitality and tourism businesses and therefore for its people. One major result of tourism is to contribute to the sustainable development of the destination and its people. However, the way things have developed worried me.
Traditional value chains are no longer sustainable as only 50% of the potential traveler makes use of a high street travel agent and therefore the traditional value chain of a travel agent – wholesale operator – DMC inbound tour operator. At the same time, hundreds of digital platforms have been created. With this a duopoly of the booking holdings and Expedia group has been established, two companies with about 40+ brands now dominating the market.
At the same time, I saw the hospitality and tourism businesses suffer from the overwhelming complexity and the increasing cost of distribution while at the same tie losing total control of their visibility, reputation, and distribution, becoming ever more dependent.
The fact that such a platform makes more money with a booking that the hospitality and tourism business in the destination worried me. I simply find this unethical as tourism in that way can’t contribute to a destination sustainable development as it should and could. I also call this market situation “Colonialism 3.0”.
It has become my passion and vision to change this for the better of the destination, their hospitality and tourism businesses and people. That is when I started rainmaker as a social enterprise or zebra type company in 2016.
Alaba: What are your major achievements and impacts in Africa?
Thomas: We started in 2016 in Namibia and we grew on average by 100% each year only in Namibia. We only started rendering our services in South Africa in late 2018.
We have achieved some 42 Million 360° virtual tour views for our Namibian customers; those have been gained from 11.7 million Google Searches, 23.1 million views. Looking at the conversion we gained some 321.000 website conversions, 612.000 directions conversions, and 74.000 phone call conversions. Finally, more than N$ 20 Million in direct booking revenue have been achieved for our Namibian customers. Some customers we only grew by 80% but others we grew by 700% of direct revenue. This is a significant achievement towards their profit and sustainability.
Given that Namibia is a rather small destination with only some 250.000 to 300.000 leisure tourists, where we only have a market share of about 18% in the hospitality and tourism sector, this is a significant achievement and track record, given that for example the official website of the tourism board scores some 700.000 views per year.
It is because of this tangible impact, our 5 Stages of Success and our VISTA Destination Network have been awarded with the prestigious HSMAI (Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International) in New York in 2018, with the World Tourism Forum Lucern Destination Innovation Start-Up Award in 2018 and with the African Tourism Leadership Forum Award in 2019.
Alaba: How does your organisation measure its impact?
Thomas: The impact we achieve is measured by key performance parameters such as increase in occupancy, an improvement on average daily room rate, migration from online travel and DMC bookings towards direct bookings and the impact on ADR and profit as well as the improvement of the respective online reputation which as a significant impact on direct bookings. Furthermore, the number of searches, views, and conversions from Google based on the overall strategy.
Alaba: What are the practical tips to create links among ecotourism, conservation and community development?
Thomas: When it comes to terms and buzzwords such as ecotourism, sustainable tourism, green tourism, responsible tourism, etc. I am getting quite excited as this is a big topic nowadays in almost every source market to Africa. However, as you can see already on the wording, and the so-called “Greta Thunberg” effect has done a lot to sensitize travelers, it is rather only focused on the ecological site of sustainable and to an extent to the social side of sustainability.
I am of the opinion that this is short thinking and not taking all aspects into account. To me, there is one major part missing. Economical sustainability. If that can’t be achieved in the first place, there is no basis, no funds and no resources available in a destination and from their hospitality and tourism businesses to properly invest in social and/or economic sustainability and with this helping communities, conservancies and therefore emerging businesses, entrepreneurs and the people in the region to prosper.
As long as 60% to 80% of the profits leaking outside of the destination to global giants, this is a problem we need to fix in order to actually achieve a real sustainable tourism development.
Alaba: Can you say that sustainable destinations have a competitive edge? Why?
Thomas: Yes, they do have a competitive edge as the world and the travelers globally are sensitized on climate change, sustainability, ecotourism, green tourism, etc. and are very careful when selecting their journey. However and as mentioned above, they are not aware that they actually harm a destination and it’s hospitality and tourism businesses when booking through online travel agents and such as their tourism spend doesn’t contribute to the destination, their hospitality, and tourism business and its people as it should and could.
We need to make the traveler aware of the impact it has, especially for developing countries and destinations, their businesses and people when booking directly instead of through platforms.
Alaba: What role does brand and marketing play in facilitating a more sustainable tourism in Africa?
Thomas: It plays a huge role in my perspective. But as mentioned the focus is only on one or two parts being the ecological and social segment of sustainability, often neglecting the at least equally important economical sustainability aspect. There is a growing market of conscious travelers who care. This issue needs to be addressed and the market needs to be made aware.
Alaba: What advice will you give African decision-makers (political and business) on tourism sustainability?
Thomas: Well, from my perspective, destinations need to enable to do businesses with potential travelers to meet their demands, wants and desires while at the same time address the sustainability issue as a holistic topic.
At first, every hospitality and tourism business in a destination is it a Lodge, Guesthouse, B&B, Guest Farm, Hotel, Activity Provider, Activity Provider, Tour Guide, Car Rental provider, and local Tour Operators need to be digitally enabled.
This is why we are working with Tourism Authorities, Tourism Associations and the UNWTO to democratize technology, make it pervasively and inclusively available in a public-private partnership and freemium applications.
It provides a huge competitive advantage for all stakeholders in the destination and makes it seamless and easy for potential travelers to do dream, plan, book and pay for their journey in such an enabled destination.
Alaba: What are the trends to watch in Africa’s tourism ecosystem in 2020?
Thomas: While many countries and destinations such as Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, and others are on the right track and are very dynamic and progressive with all kinds of innovation, digitization and implementing the basis for the 4th industrial revolution, other countries are a bit behind and need to hurry up in order to gain back control of their visibility, digital presence, reputation, communication and distribution for sustainable tourism development.
I know that there are many fancy technologies and some vendors talk about the Internet of Things (IoT) automated check-in/checkout and automated room key on the smartphone etc. However, I am of the belief that we first need to get the basics right and enable the destinations and their hospitality and tourism businesses before we even look at all the fancy and cool technology that might work in a Hotel in New York but not necessarily in an i.e. remote Safari Lodge in Africa. It is also the question if travelers even want this.
Alaba: Could you mention some of your favorite destinations in Africa?
Thomas: This is a very difficult question as every country has its beauty and attraction. You can’t really compare them with each other. This is why “Brand Africa” is an important initiative. We are not 54 countries competing against each other, but 54 countries offering the most diverse, interesting and educational experience in all aspects.
B I O G R A P H Y
Thomas Müller is an entrepreneur with more than 37 years of experience in IT and more than 16 years in digital marketing and technology in the global hospitality and tourism industry. While working for companies such as IBM, (Mannesman Mobilfunk) Vodafone, TUI, Thomas Cook, amongst others, he was part of opening four Hotels, turning around Hotels and other tourism businesses and started rainmaker digital as a social enterprise TravelTech company in Namibia in 2016.
Thomas had the opportunity of working and living in eight countries around the globe and Southern Africa is his home for more than 10 years. It is his passion to democratize technology for African destinations and its hospitality and tourism businesses to keep more tourism spend in the destination for sustainable tourism development. For the extraordinary achievements of the 5 Stages of Success and the VISTA Destination Network, Thomas and rainmaker were honored with several awards in Europe, the USA, and Africa.
Biography: Remi Duyile- RemiSpeaks, Career and Impact
Remi Duyile: Author | International Speaker | Empowerment Coach | Strategic Consultant
About Remi Duyile
Dr. Remi Duyile is a Nigerian-born and accomplished author, founder of Legacy premier foundation, a business leader with expertise and extensive experience in the financial sector, government and corporate strategy and communication , an eloquent International Keynote speaker who is intentionally in the Diaspora and abroad impacting the next generation and being a business bridge to Global Investors. She is an insightful legislative advocate and trusted community leader. Remi Duyile wears many hats, the one that she wears very proudly is being a devoted wife, and mother to three awesome children.
Dr. Duyile is an example of how faith, hard work and diligence can lead to numerous exposure and growth, she is passionate about seeing others succeed, it’s no doubt she was honored by the Governor of Maryland in the United States of America for her matchless efforts to better humanity. She has made it her life’s purpose to empower others to recognize their own strength, skills and abilities.
Early Life and Education
Dr. Remi Duyile was born and raised in Ondo City and Lagos State, Nigeria. where she learned the thesis of discipline, hard work, commitment and staying true to oneself. With this strong foundation, she relocated from Nigeria to the United States over 30 years ago with just one purpose: to shatter the glass ceilings which she fulfilled, is still fulfilling and will continue to fulfill.
As a fervid believer in the power of education as the key to unlocking opportunities, Dr. Duyile enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia between 1982 and 1987 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a Masters’ of Business Administration in Finance and Business Economy.
Dr. Duyile started her corporate career at one of the nation’s most revered banking institutions, Bank of America(one of the largest financial institutions in the United States). It was here that she shattered glass ceilings when she was promoted to Vice President of Retail, Premier, and Mortgage Banking. Dr. Duyile served in these roles managing over 600 financial portfolios of high net-worth clients for several years, until she decided that it was time to step into her true calling as a serial entrepreneur and empowering others in her community.
Impact and Philanthropy
Dr. Duyile founded Premier Mortgage Solutions (a mortgage solutions business), Image Consulting Group (an international consulting firm), and Legacy Premier Foundation (a non-profit providing mentorship and financial literacy for women and girls. She’s also the founder of RemiSpeaks. RemiSpeaks is a Coaching, Speaking and Training Platform for Management, Emerging Leaders and Entrepreneurs in quest of sustainable growth with Global Relevance. Under the umbrella of her companies, she has become an empowerment mentor, community mobilizer, certified trainer, as well as an international key note speaker.
She has spoken throughout Africa, Europe, and extensively within North America (Canada and the US) teaching financial literacy, offering entrepreneurial development, and encouraging emerging leaders to engage in the Diaspora and beyond.
Professional Memberships, Affiliations and Boards
- Member Continental Who’s Who
- Member, World Trade Center Institute
- Member, National Black MBA
- Advisory Council Member, Leadership Initiatives
- Member, Wambia Capital
- Advisory Board Member, Mentoring International
- Member, National Speakers Association-DC
- Member, Les Brown Platinum Speaker Network
- Member : NCBW 100 of Prince George’s
- Member: LPGA Golf Female Executive Member
- Board Chair: Pan African Diaspora Women Association
- Board Member, Sisters 4 Sisters Network, Inc.
- Member, Jesus House, DC
- Chair, Census 2010 Complete Count Committee. 2009 – 2010
- Member, Maryland Democratic Party, Continental African Leadership Council
- Member of the National Coalition of 100 Black women
Nomination and Recognition
- Top 100 MBE award winner 2009
- 2010 Smart CEO Award
- Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, 2013
Biography: Ngozi Oyewole – Noxie, Career and Impact
Ngozi Oyewole, also known as ‘Noxie’ is the Founder of Noxie Limited, an award-winning, SONCAP (SON/LSOII/CB/2324) and MAN (MAN/GML/05047) integrated service provider and manufacturer. She is a certified health and safety professional and a big player in the medical, food, construction, oil and gas industries supplying protective equipment.
A result driven, resilient and ace ‘womentrepreneur’ with an extensive experience in leadership, business management and strategic planning. She is an experienced, certified Interior Designer and holds a degree in Business Administration; an alumnus of Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.
In 2015, she was nominated by Forbes Magazine as one of the leading women entrepreneur in Africa championing business sustainability and women inclusion in business. A WEConnect International award recipient for Woman of Excellence 2019.
Ngozi is also a 2019 award recipient of an Exceptional Leader of Excellence from the Women Economic Forum (WEF) and All Ladies League. She is a certified and active member of WeConnect International, SheTrade Commonwealth, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Nigerian American Chamber of Commerce (NACC), WIMBIZ and Nigeria Gas Association (NGA).
She is a member of the Pan-African Manufacturers Association (PAMA); a member cum Assistant Secretary of the International Women’s Society (IWS); Lioness Club of Africa Group, Thrive Women Solution, GAIA Women Club, Global Fund for Women and World Pulse Group; a member of the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) Nigeria; a member and COO of Commonwealth Business Women Network Nigeria. The CBWN sits on the main governance body on gender for the 54 commonwealth governments.
A NITAD certified trainer and holds various certifications in her industry which are Oxford Driving Disruptive Growth Program from Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, the MOODY’S Financing your Growing Business certificate, Women Leadership Institute certificate in Entrepreneurship and Leadership. She also holds more than 35 certifications from the SheTrades Commonwealth Global Entrepreneurship Program.
Ngozi Oyewole was a participant at the Road to Growth Training Program organized by Cherie Blair Foundation in conjunction with Exxon Mobil and Enterprise Development Center, Pan Atlantic University, Nigeria. She is a member of the oil and gas forum and an active player in various women oil, renewable energy, power and gas networks.
She belongs to a high impact entrepreneurial group (HIVE) and has been selected as one of their global speaker for their 2020 conference in Ghana. A panelist at the Nigerian International Petroleum Summit 2020 Women Forum where she spoke on how small industries can disrupt big industries. She was a participant at the LCCI Cyber Security 2020 Conference in Lagos.
Her business services cut across all spheres and major sectors in Nigeria such as the Oil and Gas, Communication, Banking, Power, Education, etc. As the Founder of Noxie Limited, she has been able to leverage her years of experience to ensuring that all her products, though produced locally, meet international specifications as certified by her vast client base, which is further supported by the company’s foreign partners such as PPE SERVICES B.V in the Netherlands; MIGE Office Furniture in Singapore, TINGLEY CORPORATION in the USA, ANOWAT PROJECTS AND RESOURCES LIMITED in Turkey and Hong Kong.
She participated at the SMEDAN supported USA-AFRICA Business Expo 2019 in New York, USA; WEConnect International and Moody’s Foundation 2019 Bootcamp; AWEP Annual Conference; WIMBIZBoard Institute Training; Africa SME Champion Conference and The Boardroom Africa Open Door Conference in South Africa.
She was at the 2019 African Union Expo and the AIW Africa Week Expo in Ethiopia. She was at the Global Business Expo 2019 in Botswana and the WEConnect International 2019 Annual Conference. She was also at the 2019 World Economic Forum in India. She was a key note speaker at the 2nd Thrive Women Conference in 2019 and at the 6th HIVE (High Impact Visionary Entrepreneur) Global Leaders Summit in Accra, Ghana.
As a social crusader and philanthropist, Ngozi Oyewole is the President of Mrs. Beatrice Chiebonam Foundation where she engages her influence to reach-out and render financial aids to over 400 widows yearly in various parts of Rivers State. She also organizes skill-based empowerment programs for women and mentors young female entrepreneur through the Cherie Blair Foundation and other platforms. She is a part of the team supporting education for the “Almajiri Child Right Initiative”; Women Impacting Nigeria and “When in Need” philanthropic group that seeks out to support the less privileged within her community.
Visit: Noxie Limited
Josephine Favre – B I O G R A P H Y
Josephine Favre, a Tanzanian grew up in Geneva, Switzerland due to the Diplomatic nature that brought her Father to Switzerland in 1975. Josephine attended the International School of Geneva from primary education to graduating with an International Baccalaureate Diploma.
She pursued higher-level studies where she obtained her Diploma in Marketing and Communication being nominated as MarCom Expert in her category. She later obtained Certification in Leadership (MBA Level) and registered for an Executive MBA with Cambridge University, UK.
Josephine worked her way up into senior management positions with global organizations, focusing on marketing and sales of consumer goods and services in foreign markets. Marketing and Communication being her strongest points, Josephine has worked within several industries such as Swiss Luxury Watches, (The SWATCH Group, Gucci Timepieces and IWC), Asset Management Systems, Banking Technology and Education.
Over time her roles and responsibilities evolved, enabling her to reach the strategic management level in various multinational companies. With more than 20 years experience in education, Josephine developed her passion for writing instructional programs and curricula for learning institutions. In Switzerland, She is still a very dedicated Language and Communication Instructor that continues:
-To foster position all earning environments for students with diverse learning difficulties.
-Maximize individual student performance.
-Develop student interest in language and communication.
Since a very young age, Josephine has been volunteering in humanitarian projects that led her to visit various communities in Africa where she actively engages herself in diverse initiatives including putting together agriculture infrastructure, programs and trainings enabling communities to sustainably secure food for their families while creating an enterprise mindset.
Josephine created The African Association for Vertical Farming (AAVF) in October 2018 where she sits as the President. An association that seeks to accelerate the practice of Vertical Farming and Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) into the continent. Through collaborations with various stakeholders in the entire Agro value chain. With its main focus on Agri Business, Education & Training, Research and Technology as well as Humanitarian Support.
She therefore has a good notion of the African continent which she dearly cherish.
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