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Sustainable Tourism Development In Africa: Interview With Thomas Müller, CEO, rainmaker

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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.

Also Read: Lillian Barnard: Tech Enthusiast And First Female Managing Director, Microsoft South Africa

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.

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CEO Corner

Rolake Rosiji, ex-Country Manager M-KOPA Solar Appointed As The New CEO Of Jobberman Nigeria

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Rolake Rosiji, CEO at Jobberman (Source: ROAM)

Jobberman, the single largest job placement platform in sub-Saharan Africa, has announced the appointment of Rolake Rosiji as the new CEO. Rolake takes over from Hilda Kragha, now Managing Director of ROAM Africa Jobs, and will continue the work of establishing Jobberman as the primary platform for job searching, talent acquisition and transforming workplace productivity across Nigeria.

Jobberman’s technology-driven platform, which uses tools such as application tracking, data science for skills and personality assessment, connects over 1 million job seekers to employers. With over a decade of experience in the recruitment industry, the company has built a reputation of trust and strong partnerships with the country’s most coveted employers; matching talented candidates with jobs according to their skillset.

Rolake joins Jobberman with a decade of global experience in strategic leadership and operational excellence. Most recently, she led the technology and sales operations for credit financed smartphones and solar power sets as Country Manager of M-KOPA Nigeria; a connected asset financing company that makes financing for everyday essentials accessible to everyone. Prior to that, she was Head of Strategy & Business Development for Arla Foods Africa, where she developed distribution and joint venture partnerships across West Africa to rapidly scale up sales and worked in Corporate Strategy roles in Denmark and the USA. Her proven track record of business expansion projects, digital and technical transformation and executing strategic partnerships will be key to her implementation for growth and development of the brand.

Commenting on her new role as CEO, Rolake Rosiji said “This is a very exciting chapter in my career and I am delighted to be joining such a passionate and innovative team. Jobberman has built a brand of excellence by using technology to revolutionise the recruitment sector. I look forward to steering the company vision to build a market of greater technology adoption, democratic access and transparency that will tackle dominant challenges, notably youth unemployment and underemployment.  It is a privilege for me to be at the helm of this dynamic team as we set out to empower job seekers with key skills and improve workplace productivity for employers in Nigeria.”

Hilda Kragha, Managing Director of ROAM Africa Jobs added “I am delighted that Rolake has taken on this position. Rolake’s expertise, understanding of different markets and high performance is what makes her the perfect person to anchor the next phase for Jobberman. I look forward to working with her to take Jobberman to even greater heights.”

Rolake took on her role as CEO on February 1st 2021. Her focus will be to broaden the impact beyond the white-collar space and continue to work closely with Jobberman’s impact partners in tackling youth unemployment in Nigeria.

ROAM

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AVCA Board appoints Abi Mustapha-Maduakor as CEO

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AVCA CEO, Abi Mustapha-Maduakor (Source: AVCA)

AVCA: The Board of Directors of the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (AVCA) is delighted to announce the appointment of Abi Mustapha-Maduakor as Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Ms Mustapha-Maduakor joins AVCA from MedAccess, a subsidiary of CDC Group, where she was Head of Business Operations and Finance, overseeing financial and risk management, strategy implementation, and organisational development.

During her tenure as AVCA’s Chief Operating Officer from 2016 to 2019, Abi played an integral role in driving the Association’s strategy, prioritising knowledge exchange and digitisation. Under her leadership, the Association strengthened focus on data and pioneering research, professional development support for private equity stakeholders, and strategic regional partnerships, all of which grew the membership to around 150 investors collectively managing US$1.5trn in assets.

The appointment follows an extensive global search led by the Board.

Abi will take up the position on 1 February 2021, and there will be a transition period with interim CEO, Dara Owoyemi, until her departure.

‘Tokunboh Ishmael, Chair of the Board, said: “After a rigorous process, it was clear to the selection committee that Abi is the right leader for this chapter in AVCA’s life. Her knowledge of the African investment landscape, advocacy, business strategy and risk management will be instrumental in her role leading the Association through its next phase and transformation, as investors and portfolio companies navigate various social, economic, political and institutional challenges. On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank Dara Owoyemi for her immense support and guidance as we searched for a permanent CEO.”

Abi brings several years of finance and banking experience to the role. Previously, she was Special Adviser on private sector development to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment in Nigeria. She also held leadership positions at Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group and EY.

Commenting on her appointment, Ms Mustapha-Maduakor said: “It is an honour to be appointed as CEO during this time of tremendous change in the global economy. As the Association’s new leader, my priority will be to build on the success of the past 20 years and transform AVCA into a conduit for diverse and varied sources of private investment in Africa. I look forward to working with the Board and team to deliver first-class member services, putting digital transformation, smart data and collaboration at the heart of our work.”A

AVCA

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talabat, MENA leading food and grocery delivery app appoints Hadeer Shalaby as Managing Director

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Hadeer Shalaby, new Managing Director talabat Egypt (Source: talabat)

talabat, the region’s leading food and grocery delivery app, has appointed Hadeer Shalaby as the new Managing Director of talabat Egypt. She will be replacing Sofiène Marzouki, who has been in the role of interim Managing Director since January 2020, who will be returning to talabat’s Dubai headquarters to take on a challenging new role at regional level. 

Shalaby will continue to drive talabat in the Egypt market, placing key emphasis on customer experience, supporting our restaurant partners, q-commerce, as well as working hand-in-hand with the government on many initiatives, including rider safety and the continued digitisation of the food and beverage sector.

Sofiène Marzouki, talabat Egypt’s outgoing MD said, “I’d like to take a moment to appreciate our whole ecosystem; our customers, restaurant partners, riders, our employees, and the Egyptian government. This past year has been challenging for everyone, with the COVID-19 pandemic, and I have been very privileged to steer an organisation which has helped to keep many families safe, who rely on talabat to make a living.” 

Shalaby brings a phenomenal record of leading tech companies in Egypt, founding Taxi El Sa7el, the first ride-hailing startup in Egypt back in 2014. In the same year, she then moved on to join Careem as the Founder & GM of Careem Egypt, when they acquired Taxi El Sa7el. Most recently, she had been leading Careem Bus regionally, leading teams in Egypt, UAE and Pakistan. 

Speaking about her appointment, Shalaby said, “Firstly, I would like to thank Sofiène for successfully steering the organisation through the COVID-19 pandemic, rebranding Otlob to talabat as well as collaborations with the government around digitisation of the F&B sector, and creating employment opportunities for Egyptian youth.

These are exciting times for talabat, and moving forward, I want to continue to focus on growth particularly with grocery and pharmacy essentials, as well as continue to create an overall seamless experience for our ecosystem – for our customers, riders, government, restaurant partners as well as the communities in which we operate.’

Toon Gyssels, talabat’s Chief Operating Officer is looking forward to seeing how the organisation will further evolve under Shalaby’s stewardship, and how she will continue to be a role model to aspiring female tech entrepreneurs.

‘We are very excited to continue to attract local top talent to talabat, and we’re proud to say that now, three out of our eight country heads are female. As part of the up-and-coming generation of amazingly talented female entrepreneurs in the private sector in Egypt, we’re looking forward to seeing Hadeer inspire not only our organisation, but continue to provide a guiding light to aspiring young women right throughout the country, and region.’

‘I would also like to thank Sofiène for his great work in Egypt in a year like no other, where he has worked with the team to develop a strong, stable presence for talabat, and we look forward to Hadeer continuing to grow our position in the market.’

Source: talabat

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