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.
African Bank Appoints Kennedy Bungane, CEO
African Bank New CEO, Kennedy Bungane (Press Release & Image: African Bank)
African Bank (“Board”) announces the appointment of Mr. Kennedy Bungane as the Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) and as an executive director of the Bank and its holding company, African Bank Holdings Limited (“ABH”) effective 14 April 2021. The Bank confirms that the appointment of Kennedy was done in accordance with African Bank’s policy on the selection and nomination of executive directors, and in order to fill a vacancy as well as add to the skillset on the Board.
Kennedy brings over 20 years of banking experience with him, having started his career at Standard Bank in 1991, holding a number of senior positions, including Head of Global Markets Sales, Head of Institutional and Corporate Banking, CEO Corporate and Investment Banking for Standard Bank South Africa, and a member of the Standard Bank Group Executive Committee. After joining Barclays Africa in 2012 as Chief Executive of Barclays Africa Limited and Head of Absa Group strategy, Kennedy led the sale of Barclays Africa Limited to the ABSA Group. More recently, Kennedy headed up the Phembani Group as its CEO. He also brings investment and strategic experience gained as the founder and chairman of Nokeng Telecoms and chairman of Idwala Capital.
Kennedy holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree, a Master of Business Administration, and completed the advanced management program at the Harvard Business School (USA).
Commenting on Kennedy’s appointment, the Chairman of the Board, Thabo Dloti, stated, “We welcome the appointment of Kennedy as the new permanent CEO. Kennedy has a keen sense for managing complex stakeholder issues. He has a proven track record in identifying and nurturing leadership, which promotes strong teams to deliver successful results. His passion for the role that banking can play in transforming society resonated strongly with the Board.
As an experienced banker, he also critically has a good grasp of the strategic challenges facing the Bank, within a muted South African economy and competitive landscape, as well as the required regulatory and governance framework.
African Visionary Fund (AVFund) Appoints New co-CEO, Atti Worku
African Visionary Fund (AVFund) New co-CEO, Atti Worku (Source: African Visionary Fund Website)
About a year ago, African Visionary Fund launched with a bold mission to tackle the inequities and power imbalances in global philanthropy by driving unrestricted resources to African visionaries. At the heart of all they do their values of equity and solidarity, which compel them to center African voices at every level of the organization. They are thrilled to announce the Fund’s new Africa-based co-CEO, Atti Worku!
Atti brings a wealth of experience in the nonprofit world, is a strong advocate for local founders, and is dedicated to righting the historic funding inequity that can hold them back. Prior to joining the Fund, Atti founded and led Seeds of Africa for over 10 years. Seeds is an Ethiopian grassroots organization dedicated to developing the educational foundation for the next generation of African leaders. Under her leadership, Seeds grew from an after-school program serving 15 kids to becoming a full-time multi-dimensional school educating 250 students from pre-K to middle school, and working with over 150 of their mothers providing small business entrepreneurship micro-loans and resources. In just over a decade Seeds has impacted the lives of over 2,000 people, transforming the trajectories of students, teachers, mothers, and their families and creating a future brimming with possibilities beyond a poverty trap.
“My mission is to advocate for African visionaries to be recognized by funders as experts, equal partners and critical drivers of systems change. I’m excited to learn from incredible African leaders with big dreams and even bigger global potential.” -Atti Worku, AVFund co-CEO
The African Visionary Fund is built on the firm belief that proximity matters. Seeded by a group of foundations and philanthropists who wanted to not only take action on equity but also be intentional about shifting the power over resources to African visionaries, shared leadership has been part of the Fund’s DNA from the beginning.
“Co-leadership is mission critical. We cannot build new models for equity-centered philanthropy without living those values within our own institution.” -Katie Bunten-Wamaru, AVFund co-CEO
The AVFund’s organizational journey started with collective and shared leadership in mind as our Founding Working Group worked with our leadership to inform and design all aspects of our organization and funding model. This majority-African, majority-doer group considered a number of different leadership structures for the Fund but gravitated towards co-leadership because it prioritizes proximity and equity, centers the experience of African visionaries, and ultimately helps us shift power.
Our Founding Working Group proved that we can co-create new models of philanthropy centered on collective leadership that shift power and center equity – our co-leadership model is the natural, values-aligned extension of that founding idea.
Atti’s lived experience as an African founder has given her firsthand experience of the realities and complexities that local innovators face, making her a great partner in executing the Fund’s mission.
“This role is very personal to me. I see myself in the ambitious and innovative entrepreneurs we engage with at the AVFund. I hope to learn from them, and partner with them to redesign funding systems that give African visionaries an equitable chance of success.” -Atti Worku, AVFund co-CEO
The barriers for African visionaries have been well documented with data showing that less than 5.2% of US foundation giving specific to Africa goes to African-led organizations. And in Atti’s experience, sometimes philanthropy’s oversight of African founders translates into a heavy emotional toll, an internal struggle she also had to deal with in her experience fundraising for her organization. She is committed to helping other African visionaries by being “the voice that reassures and validates them in the face of injustices.”
“Raising philanthropic dollars can be a long trauma for African social entrepreneurs and other leaders of color. On one hand, you’re doing innovative, high-impact work, but on the other, you are constantly being asked to prove yourself on a level far beyond your peers, doing so, and somehow still falling short. Aggregate data on racial inequity in philanthropy already speaks volumes, but systemic injustice is deeply personal. It took me years to realize that I wasn’t the problem,” Atti shared.
At the core, the AVFund seeks to create a bridge between global philanthropy and innovative African social changemakers and to do that, it’s critical to have proximity to both our visionary partners and our funding partners. Shared leadership makes this possible.
“There is an inherent tension in the work of the AVFund – we call it the ‘play the game, change the game’ balance. We want to support African social changemakers to play the game to access more sustainable funding now, while also challenging the status quo in ways that build a more equitable philanthropic ecosystem in the long run,” Katie explained. “There will always be a need to balance this tension – having a co-leadership model helps us balance both sides of our work and not lose sight of either goal.”
Having been on both sides of the table, Atti believes a further added benefit of co-leadership lies in the fact that representation matters. “I have been a micro-funder through Seeds and have seen the value of someone like you believing in your vision and empowering it,” she shared.
“At AVFund, we celebrate and choose co-leadership because we recognize the importance of diversity for strong, grounded and authentic leadership.” -Melizsa Mugyenyi, Advisory Board Member.
Atti joins the Fund at a crucial season of our organizational journey as we look to deepen our impact across the continent – we are more than a third of the way towards reaching our goal to raise US$10 million which will enable us to provide 35 nonprofits across Africa with unrestricted, multiyear grants by 2023.
In the near-term, the Fund is also on track to commit atleast another $US1 million later this year and partner with more African social innovators. Atti is particularly excited to work with those at the forefront of leading-edge innovations whose potential for impact is inhibited by lack of resources and buy-in from funders.
“African visionaries aren’t often given the resources they need to validate the new concepts they have which really makes innovation very difficult. A lack of unrestricted funding for the disruptive ideas coming out of Africa limits potential and slows development. I’m ready to help change that in every way we can!” -Atti Worku, AVFund co-CEO
Rolake Rosiji, ex-Country Manager M-KOPA Solar Appointed As The New CEO Of Jobberman Nigeria
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.
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