supporting women entrepreneurs through covid19

How the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) is helping women entrepreneurs outlast the pandemic

How the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) is helping women entrepreneurs outlast the pandemicThis is a custom heading element.

ConsumerCentriX works closely with Stanbic Bank Uganda on both the COVID-19 Business Info Hub and the Stanbic Business Incubator. This article originally appeared on the COVID-19 Business Info Hub.

supporting women entrepreneurs through covid19

The Covid-19 Business Info Hub spoke with Winnie Lawoko-Olwe, Director of SMEs at the Uganda Investment Authority to learn how the Uganda Investment Authority is helping women entrepreneurs through the pandemic.

Ernest Wasake: Would you kindly introduce yourself and what you do at the Uganda Investment Authority?

Winnie Lawoko-Olwe:  My name is Winnie Lawoko-Olwe and I am the Director of SMEs at the Uganda Investment Authority.

Ernest Wasake: The COVID-19 Business Info Hub is looking to focus on how women entrepreneurs have been able not only to survive, but to thrive during the pandemic. Tell us about yourself, and your role at Uganda Investment Authority (UIA). How have you been able to survive and thrive during this pandemic?

Winnie Lawoko-Olwe: COVID-19 came as a major surprise to everybody. And because of the nature of the Standard Operating Procedures and the activities around the pandemic, it required fast thinking and fast adaptation. As UIA, we immediately conducted research that where a total of about 385 businesses were interviewed. And of these interviewed, about 30 percent were SMEs, and of those 30 percent, we were able to interview 32 percent specifically women.

We know very well that the SME economy of Uganda is a very much a cash economy. The pandemic affected most women and challenged how they balanced finances for the businesses and finances for their families.

The assessment found that the businesses are distressed and needed additional money. The assessment also found that a intervention was needed to help businesses change their models from the direct channel of selling off the street to the effective use of mobile money, networks to deliver your business, and developing business products to what clients need the most.

Under the Rising Woman campaign, Investment Authority is looking at how we can take the women’s businesses into a next level of digitization in terms of marketing their products, in terms of effectively using mobile payments as opposed to cash payments. And we are running trainings in six areas for the newly developed digitization product for the campaign. We are going to be able to come up with a clear product rollout in terms of digitizing and e-commerce adaptation

Ernest Wasake: How has the Investment Authority supported the SME sector during the pandemic?

Winnie Lawoko-Olwe: In this period of the pandemic, one of the major challenges is that our Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have limitations on number of people that we can support. During the first part of the pandemic, our programs were supporting about a maximum of 10 people, thereby limiting outreach numbers. Given these limitations, UIA has started delivering capacity building programs that allow a few leaders from women organizations to be taken through the program and to pass on the lessons to other women. The training currently has narrowed down from entrepreneurial development to marketing and access to markets training programs. We are looking at digitization of business processes and we are also looking at using ICTs.

Ernest Wasake: Do you have testimonies of businesses that have thrived during the pandemic and what lessons can be learned from them?

Winnie Lawoko-Olwe: Yes, we have had businesses that have thrived so far.  Businesses that have thrived have been able to place themselves into the e-commerce platform. We have a number of ladies who are doing sanitizers and foodstuffs that are currently registered on the Zimba Mart (an online e-commerce platform created by ZimbaWomen) I must say that Zimba  Women is one of those women-in-tech initiatives that we think will help and support to take women to the next level, because it is owned by women that can easily understand the dynamics of women and the challenges that women are having. The second group that we work closely with is the Business and Professional Women of Kampala branch who actually access the women groups, identified which is the most appropriate time to be able to help them to sell their products online.

Ernest Wasake: What can be done to increase the level of women entrepreneurship in Uganda?

 Winnie Lawoko-Olwe: To increase the participation and the overall input from women entrepreneurs in Uganda means that we need to be able to identify the supporters or service providers in specific areas so that women activities and growth activities are not duplicated. I want to talk about the three key things that women face: The first is access to effective networks that allow them to grow within different areas of growth.  The second is linkage for growth in terms of the value chain. The third is affordable financing that looks at one’s internal competitiveness.

I know that the Stanbic Bank Incubator Platform is doing quite a bit in terms of getting those value chains together. But I think that if I’m a woman entrepreneur sitting in Busia, where do I go to get that information? And that’s where I think the most important opportunity is – to have a national portal, where every woman can access information where she is able to click networks and be able to access networks that she can work with. And last but not least, is the mentorship for growth – that means that we are looking at women who have excelled within those specific areas, to inspire and lead other women.

Also, I think there’s a missing gap, in terms of specific funds for SME women. If you talk today about the Emyooga(poverty eradication program) which is easily accessible, it requires one to be in a group to access the funds and yet, as an SME you’re not going to join a group. As an SME you need to be identified as a specific business that can walk into any place and is assessed based on your internal competitiveness, the ready market that you have for your product and the support systems that you need to be able to effectively utilize them. So I think those are the key things that we as Uganda Investment Authority are strongly pushing to address through interventions.

Ernest Wasake: What advise have you given to a woman entrepreneur on a personal level to help them grow.

Winnie Lawoko-Olwe: OK. On a personal level, I have supported Vantage Communication and Zimba Women. And this is specifically in terms of growing their business and looking at the environment. Both companies have fantastic products and they met the challenges in terms of setting up processes and procedures to manage the internal environment. And the advice here is: you are the entrepreneur, you know the business, you know what you want out of it. But take yourself back and think of growing this business scalability. Can you scale the business to the level you want working as an individual? And if you can, then it’s going to remain a niche product for a few people. And yet the demand for the product is great. The concept that we went through was one, assess your strengths and concentrate on this strength.

Secondly, look at the operatives. If you are taking this unique project out, you have any unique selling proposition. But in order for this proposition to be delivered, what are the steps you need? Do you need a marketing person? Do you need somebody to actually install, you know the uptake? And do you need somebody to do your finances? If you’re able to look at those critical business steps within the business, then it will help you to identify who internally would be the best person to manage it. If you do not have somebody internally, how would you then be able to take that? And that means you are recruiting. Are you able to price the product? Once you price the product, is it right for the market to be able to take it to the market?

I think from this learning perspective, there are two things that entrepreneurs need to know. As an entrepreneur, you do have a drive. You’ve seen the gap. You know that the market needs it. And that’s very important. But in terms of scalability of your product, in terms of taking your business to the market, you then need to look at those critical procedures, internal procedures that will allow you to take the product to the market. And the product will be the same today, tomorrow and the next day. That means there’s a standard of procedure. It’s a unique selling proposition and it’s a unique product that is going out to the market.


Thriving during Covid

Cleaning up after COVID-19: An Interview with Lydia Syson Naiga of NLS Services Limited

ConsumerCentriX works closely with Stanbic Bank Uganda on both the COVID-19 Business Info Hub and the Stanbic Business Incubator. This article originally appeared on the COVID-19 Business Info Hub.

COVID-19 Business Info Hub spoke with Lydia Syson Naiga, Business Development Manager at NLS Services Limited to understand how her business has weathered through the pandemic and to hear her advice for other women entrepreneurs.

Ernest Wasake: Thank you for joining us today. Can you introduce yourself and describe your business?

Lydia Syson Naiga: My name is Lydia Syson Naiga and NLS Services Limited is our business. We deal with medical waste disposal, hazardous waste disposal, and industrial waste. We pick up medical waste from different hospitals, around Kampala and the rest of the country, Kampala mainly, and take it to our incineration plant for disposal.  As of April, we have been in business for 11 years and currently, we’re employing 52 staff members.

Ernest Wasake: Can you tell us about how much of the market you control and what your business means in terms of its significance in the market.

Lydia Syson Naiga:  We have around 80 percent of the market share. Most of the private hospitals, actually almost all private hospitals are our clients. Recently, we managed to penetrate [to work with] the government referral hospitals.

Ernest Wasake: Let us understand a little bit more about your business. How has NLS waste management fared during the pandemic?

Lydia Syson Naiga: As essential workers, we continued to work through the lockdown because we had to pick up medical waste and there is no way medical waste could be left in the hospitals. I would say we didn’t get really affected because we have never stopped working. The only issue we had was making sure some staff members came to work, given the covid-19 travel restrictions. Some of our staff had to work from home, which wasn’t something we were ready for. That was a bit of a struggle.

 Ernest Wasake: Tell us what practical tools or skills you put in place to survive? What worked and what didn’t?

Lydia Syson Naiga: We just had to make sure we had to be very strict on the protective wear policy. We had to do mass testing every month for all staff members. The fact that our staff actually have to go on the ground and interact in these particular places where we have to actually pick up COVID waste meant we had to be very cautious.

 Ernest Wasake: Is there any other part of your business that you had to change or adjust as a result of COVID, either to increase your business or to protect business?

Lydia Syson Naiga: We have clients that have been struggling because their earning numbers have dropped. This has affected their payments flow, as a result we had to make sure we have money to run the business. You can’t tell a client “because payments are delayed, we can’t pick up your waste.” We had to just work with what resources we had and we made sure we save on every penny because it’s going to be tough ahead. The pandemic has also affected our suppliers, but we managed to get through.

Ernest Wasake: How can businesses position themselves for the times ahead? Now that we’re entering a different phase of the pandemic that will continue to shape the economy?

 Lydia Syson Naiga: The virus isn’t about to end today and It’s not going to end tomorrow. We just have to work with what we have and cut costs if we can. People have to be very careful with their operations and plan because enterprises are closing abruptly due to the effects of the pandemic.

Ernest Wasake: Could also tell us where do you see NLS Waste Management Services going in the next couple of years?

Lydia Syson Naiga: In the next couple of years, I think we will be the next big waste management company in Uganda and in Africa once we have aligned particular products, that we will roll out.

Ernest Wasake: If you had any personal last message that you can give to women entrepreneurs, what lessons would you share?

Lydia Syson Naiga: Be very clear and be consistent. If you think it’s going to be a walk in the park, it’s never a walk in the park, so it’s persistence and consistency. If you tell someone the contract, say this, it says we shall pick up your waste or shall do this – live within the contract. Don’t go beyond.

 

 


Accelerating Financial Inclusion

The Bellagio Working Group: Tackling Digital Financial Inclusion One Zoom Call at a Time

ConsumerCentriX is producing a short blog series on the Bellagio Working Group. This is the first blog in the series. Over the coming weeks and months, stay tuned for new insights into new regulatory laws and technological transformations happening in Nigeria, Indonesia, and Egypt.


By Kavita Bali, Advisor to ConsumerCentriX

In early 2019, ConsumerCentriX thought carefully about how we could make an outsized impact in accelerating financial inclusion. After years of collaborating with regulators around the world through the implementation of various initiatives aimed at increasing access to financial products and services among the un- and under-served, Partner Anna Gincherman kept coming back to the same thought. Innovations in digital financial services happen so fast, yet the same challenges on the ground seem to persist across markets. Many of the solutions to accelerating digital financial inclusion take root in local markets, but there are few fora for policy makers to openly share their challenges and collaborate to jointly problem solve in real time.

With that in mind, in July 2019, ConsumerCentriX convened an intimate group of senior financial sector policymakers and regulators at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center for a week. Senior regulators from three of critical markets—Egypt, Nigeria, and Indonesia—along with digital experts from India, China, and Estonia, joined for a closed-door working session entitled, “Practical Solutions to Accelerating Digital Financial Services for Inclusive Economies.” We chose to include these markets because of their early successes in leveraging technology for financial inclusion and because they represent the greatest potential to enact forward thinking regulations for the greatest number of people.

At the conclusion of the meeting, participants commented that the knowledge-sharing and collaboration fostered throughout the week was distinct from any other forum. The interactive discussions void of external distractions were cited as critical to their ability to think differently about the current challenges they are grappling with within their respective markets and offered access to new resources needed to solve these challenges.

Identifying Practical Solutions for Regulators to Accelerate Financial Inclusion

We convened key regulators from Nigeria, Egypt, and Indonesia to share lessons among peers and draw inspiration from digital and policy innovation in India, China and Estonia – resulting roadmaps gave new momentum to financial inclusion.

LEARN MORE

“I think the brainstorming sessions were the strongest elements of this program. It is more than just having a conversation. You learn how to implement what you’ve learned, and you begin leveraging these new relationships to make an impact in your country,” said Aishah Ahmad, Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria

Despite their incredibly busy agendas, participants expressed a desire to reconvene periodically and asked the ConsumerCentriX team to continue to facilitate the group’s collaboration and progress. With generous support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Bellagio Working Group on Digital Financial Inclusion was continued in the spring of 2020 and planned for additional in-person meetings to facilitate continued group problem-solving around issues in digital financial inclusion.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bellagio Working Group has had to shift to fully remote operations. However,  that hasn’t stopped members from collaborating, sharing important lessons and continuing to work together to find viable solutions. From discussions on how to ensure vulnerable communities aren’t further marginalized during the pandemic to sharing recent regulatory changes to improve banking laws to strategizing on how to leverage technologies such as QR codes for improved customer transactions, the Bellagio Working Group is tackling the challenges of advancing financial inclusion in dynamic markets one Zoom call at a time.


AMI

AMI Online Bootcamp: Tools for Managing Risk and Learning from Others - Mathew Rwahigi

The SME Response Clinic is a digital platform powered by ConsumerCentriX, Access to Finance Rwanda, and Rwanda Private Sector Federation to support small and medium enterprises in Rwanda struggling to adjust to the economic realities of COVID-19. To provide much-needed training opportunities for the entrepreneurs, the SME Response Clinic joined forces with the African Management Institute.

Testimonial: Matthew Rwahigi, Owner, Thella Café – Saturday May 30, 2020

Matthew Rwahigi, a small business owner in Gisozi, was hit hard when the COVID-19 lockdowns began in Kigali. Luckily, as a participant in AMI’s trainings for small businesses, he learned the skills to negotiate with suppliers and his landlords and to make the tough decisions needed to help his business survive.

“The conversations and hearing from other colleagues through the AMI workshops, you feel like you’re not alone. At first I thought maybe I was in the wrong business, this was a bad idea, I just burnt my savings for no good reasons. But then you hear other people and you feel that you are in this with so many others. It gives you the strength to stay the course and find the resources to manage.”

What was most valuable for you about the AMI trainings?

First, I learned to focus on learning how to manage a business. I got to focus a bit on my business. Since I Getting to focus a bit – I hadn’t done business in the past, I did not have the tools and skills to plan and make tough decisions, like having to lay off staff.

Second, I benefited from networking and finding out what other people are going through. I learned a lot from this. I really value the community of business people and their input, because if my business is going to survive, I need these relationships. Now at least I have some knowledge, and if my business doesn’t survive, and if I started another business I would be better informed, and more empowered.

How has AMI supported you?

AMI is there when you need to ask a question, to give you tips and ideas. There is an online business portal with tools and courses, and these are important in continuing to build skills.

“The AMI group really helped us in empowering us to feel that this is not the end of the road, to have a feeling that yes, there is a pandemic but you can still try to tune your business up a bit to survive the pandemic, and even have an opportunity to continue after the pandemic.”


African Management Institute

AMI Online Bootcamp: Tools for Managing Risk and Learning from Others - Yannick

The SME Response Clinic is a digital platform powered by ConsumerCentriX, Access to Finance Rwanda, and Rwanda Private Sector Federation to support small and medium enterprises in Rwanda struggling to adjust to the economic realities of COVID-19. To provide much-needed training opportunities for the entrepreneurs, the SME Response Clinic joined forces with the African Management Institute.

Testimonial: Yannick Tuyishime, CEO and co-founder of Tsapal Company Ltd

Yannick Tuyishime is the CEO and co-founder of Tsapal Company Ltd, a footwear and apparel manufacturing company since late 2019.  The company was brand new when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but participating in the AMI Bootcamphelped to keep business afloat during crisis.

“When we came up with the idea for our company, we saw that there are many problems in the community that we can do something about. The first is that there are high rates of unemployment in Rwanda and in Africa. The other is that we see that we can do something that can do boost Made in Rwanda products. Import taxes are high in Rwanda, and so by increasing Made in Rwanda products we can fill the gap by bringing prices down and manufacturing locally.”

With the AMI Bootcamp, Yannick learned how to better manage cashflow, negotiate with his landlord, improve communications between staff and with customers, and assess and plan for risks. This allowed him to receive a reduction on rent during the worst part of the lockdown, as well as to keep all staff employed by making some salary reductions as well as cutting down on unnecessary costs. The company even reduced some of the product prices so as to keep customers on board and not lose them during the pandemic.

Yannick encourages other Rwandan entrepreneurs to attend AMI’s courses and upcoming Bootcamps so that they too can benefit from the toolkit and learn to manage risks, negotiate with customers and suppliers, and bring larger visions to fruition while dealing with today’s challenges.

“I appreciate the AMI Bootcamp because now I record weekly all of our expenses in the business and use the project management plan. The other thing is that I’ve learned how to assess some risks – like in this time, what I’ve learned from AMI bootcamp is that I can sit down and see what is not going well, what is going well, in cash management. I can make an action plan to meet the risks that I’ve assessed. Wholeheartedly, I can’t thank AMI enough and I encourage everyone to attend AMI Bootcamps and for those who have already attended to take some of the other courses that they provide. When someone wants to grow a business sustainably the AMI bootcamp will really help.”


Online Business Bootcamp

AMI Online Bootcamp: Tools for Managing Risk and Learning from Others - Justine Ntaganda

The SME Response Clinic is a digital platform powered by ConsumerCentriX, Access to Finance Rwanda, and Rwanda Private Sector Federation to support small and medium enterprises in Rwanda struggling to adjust to the economic realities of COVID-19. To provide much-needed training opportunities for the entrepreneurs, the SME Response Clinic joined forces with the African Management Institute.

Testimonial: Justine Ntaganda, Owner, La Corniche Hotel in Rubavu and Nyabihu, and Salma Nkusi, Manager (it is a family business)

Justine Ntaganda and Salma Nkusi operate the “La Corniche” hotels in two locations in Rwanda, Rubavu and Nyabihu. The hospitality and tourism industry has been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and the mother-daughter team has found that the AMI trainings have provided an opportunity to take a step back, learn new business skills, and make decisions that will help the hotels to thrive in the future.

What was most valuable for you about the AMI trainings?

“My daughter Salma and I have benefited enormously from the tools shared by AMI. For me personally, the advice shared on tools for better collaboration helped us to choose to use “One Drive” to share information. The tool for analyzing clients’ needs was also an interesting exercise during this time because demand has changed a lot. It is important that we adapt and continue to do our business.” ~ Justine Ntaganda

With the AMI tools, we are now able to check our books on a weekly basis, track cashflow and be accountable. Now, we even have a meeting on a weekly basis with our staff using the data and make decisions about where we stand. Where do we need to cut, for example?

These tools are helping with day-to-day management and the trainings have provided content in an understandable way. What’s more, the session on goal setting has been very great. Now as a team we talk and think together about our long-term goals and put them in writing as well. This helps us to prioritize and to decide how we will track our progress together.

“AMI is pushing me towards the implementation of all of these new ideas that I had but weren’t written down, and didn’t have a timeline –the tools are great, and looking at budgeting of the organization is something that we need to have in place for banks in terms of funding, too.” ~ Salma Nkusi

How has AMI supported you?

For us, it has been like going back to school, only for our personal growth and for the benefit of our business. AMI has helped us create a budget, and not only that, but to learn how to communicate with our staff so that they clearly see that there are reasons that we make the financial decisions we need to make.

One other interesting area of support from AMI is their “A New Rise” daily meditation. It’s another way to start your day by clearing your mind, breathing, and planning instead of waking up and feeling as if you are just facing emergencies.


VIDEO | Introducing the COVID-19 Business Information Hub

To provide the much-needed information and solutions for Ugandan entrepreneurs struggling with the financial consequences of the pandemic, Stanbic Bank has partnered with ConsumerCentriX on the Covid-19 Business Info Hub.


VIDEO | Introducing the SME Response Clinic

To support entrepreneurs in Rwanda struggling to adjust to the economic realities of Covid-19, the Rwanda Private Sector Federation has partnered with Access to Finance Rwanda (AFR) and ConsumerCentriX on the SME Response Clinic.


Key Takeaways from the SME Response Clinic

By Anna Gincherman, Partner at ConsumerCentrix, and Jean Bosco Iyacu, Director of Programs at Access to Finance Rwanda (AFR)

With 148,092 registered Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in Rwanda representing 99.7 percent of the businesses according to the Integrated Business Enterprise Survey (2017) by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR), this sector plays a pivotal role in the country’s socio-economic development. However, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, this key driver of growth for Rwanda became imperiled as MSMEs across the country faced disruptions in the supply chain, demand and economic uncertainty.

To support entrepreneurs in Rwanda struggling in their time of need,  Access to Finance Rwanda (AFR) partnered with ConsumerCentriX and Rwanda Private Sector Federation on the SME Response Clinic. The platform was launched on May 3rd, a little over a month after Rwanda entered lockdown.

The goal of the digital platform is to address information asymmetry through the establishment of a centralized location for MSMEs to learn about the new policies, regulations, support structures and product innovations developing in response to the crisis and essential financial advice and business training. For all articles, simple language and a straightforward tone is used, and content is made available in both English and Kinyarwanda (the only local language that is used by all Rwandans).

However, as we all know, a website alone is not enough to drive traffic. To increase outreach, a Facebook page and Twitter account and campaign were launched the same week as the website. An Instagram profile was created a few weeks later.  Since the launch of these channels, content promoting the website has been viewed on Social Media 4,032,652 times.

Beginning with no followers and an ambitious goal of becoming the go-to site for entrepreneurs in Rwanda during Covid-19 meant investing in advertisements. The promotional strategy differed by channel. For Twitter, the SME Response Clinic originally partnered with influencers on a campaign before switching to a strictly organic promotional strategy. For Facebook, there is a heavy focus on article promotions by directly targeting small and medium business owners. In addition to driving traffic to web articles, the content and advertisement strategy evolved as results proved Facebook to be a popular channel for amassing video and live event views.

As the platform grew so did the list of partners. The SME Response Clinic joined forces with the Association of Microfinance Institutions in Rwanda, New Faces New Voices Rwanda, African Management Institute, Argidius Foundation, Rwanda Bankers’ Association, and Tustawi. These partnerships ensure that the content on the website reflects diverse perspectives. Partners also play a critical role in promoting web content to their external audiences.

Through these partnerships, three Facebook live webinars were organized focusing on the banking and microfinance sectors response to the Covid-19 pandemic and on how the Economic Recovery Fund and other relief measures put in place by the Government of Rwanda would benefit women entrepreneurs during and post Covid-19 pandemic.

 

Key Takeaways

The last ten weeks have been a period of intense testing and optimizing. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Content in Kinyarwanda is critical to reach the target audience. It performs better than content in English for most topics, particularly for articles on government measures and articles on the banking and microfinance sectors’ responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Women need to be explicitly targeted in order to ensure gender parity. At present, 48 percent of visitors are women despite an initial gender gap that heavily skewed toward men visitors. Achieving gender parity with traffic views meant actively creating pieces of content for women entrepreneurs and targeting them specifically on Facebook. Given the additional challenges many women entrepreneurs face in general and how they have been disproportionately affected as a result of Covid-19, this demonstrates the platform’s value by offering much-needed support for women entrepreneurs.
  • Social media channels are effective ways to market the SME Response Clinic, with Facebook yielding the best results by far accounting for 64 percent of all referral traffic and reaches over 170,000 users per month. The SME Response Clinic is active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and uses both organic and paid advertising to promote content. While the Twitter campaign yielded higher levels of impressions, Facebook proved to be significantly more cost-effective when it came to engagements and website clicks.
  • Video is essential for keeping users engaged with the content. Data from Facebook suggests that people are more likely to watch an entire video then click on an article and a recent survey on the SME Clinic conducted also revealed that users are twice as likely to prefer content in a video or animation format than in a written article format.
  • Web traffic and social media performance is very closely correlated to the publication of new content and event promotion. Weekly reviews of visitors and views indicate that it is critical to post new content and promote events as often as possible to drive visits to the portal.  
  • Strong partnerships are key to the platform’s success in that they bring perspectives of their members and constituents to inform content development. Also, they are vital in supporting outreach by sending targeted information via SMS and WhatsApp to their networks.

While the lockdown has slowly been lifted, the economic consequences of the pandemic can still be felt by micro, small, and medium enterprises across Rwanda. These key takeaways will continue to inform the content and promotional strategy for SME Response Clinic as the platform continues to provide information and resources for entrepreneurs in Rwanda coming to terms with the new normal.


Post-COVID

What Post-COVID Survival Could look like for Ugandan Tourism Business

ConsumerCentriX is partnering with Stanbic Bank Uganda on the Covid-19 Business Info to provide to entrepreneurs across Uganda with reliable information to help them overcome the challenges of the pandemic. A version of this article was originally posted on the COVID-19 Business Info Hub.

The COVID-19 Business Info Hub spoke with David Gonahasa, an African tourism enthusiast and CEO of Tripxio, an SME that has built a unique solution to help tourism businesses survive through the serious effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some of the lessons SMEs in the sector can learn from to ensure their survival post-COVID.

What have the effects of COVID-19 been on the tourism sector?

From the onset, 2020 screamed opportunity for Uganda tourism. The year on year growth trend was expected to continue, and operators were looking to drive sales as high as possible in anticipation of a possible slowdown caused by 2021 being an election year.

Four months into the year, the entire tourism sector, which contributes 7.5% of GDP, shut down due to COVID-19. The largest hotel chains have laid off staff, some operators are completely bowing out, and according to Uganda Tourism Board, about 460,000 jobs are on the line. The lockdown will soon be over, and people will travel again; however, for some operators, the damage may be irreparable. It could be up to a year before international tourists, who have long been the core backbone of the sector revenue, start to flock Uganda again. Without these visitors, operators that start over will still be in the eye of the storm and will have to be at their most innovative to navigate this period.

What does survival look like?

Sector specialists expect that tourism will restart with domestic and regional market bookings and that eventually international tourists will return. This brings up questions around how to target the domestic market and whether the market is sufficiently large to keep the sector afloat. Targeting domestic and regional tourists may be a viable option for operators to not only create cash flows post-COVID but also start to rebuild destination confidence, particularly since most people (including international tourists) will travel to places where other people go.

Is the market sufficiently large? Yes. The African Development Bank reports Uganda’s middle class makes up 18% of the population, which is about 7.2 million people. The same report places the upper-middle-class number at about 1.5 million individuals. This would indicate that there are over 1 million Ugandans likely to be able to afford to pay for tourism or experience-related products, as well as groups like schools and churches.

What is important is changing the mindset around domestic or regional travel and finding new ways of communicating customer experience. Local tourism operators have long been reluctant to focus on the domestic market with the viewpoint that “Ugandans don’t travel.” This view is now gradually changing to “Ugandans prefer to travel to international destinations as opposed to local National Parks.” Data from Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) that indicates that 49,000 Ugandans traveled to the Emirate in 2018 may confirm this view when taking into account that this is larger than the number of East African Residents who traveled to most Ugandan National Parks in the same year. The value to the potential domestic or regional tourist traveling to a Ugandan National Park needs to be effectively communicated – and that means highlighting things like price, convenience, scenic beauty, and the customer experience that can be expected. Marketing should focus on being empathetic and relatable – it is not the time for “come to my destination” type marketing. The #TravelTomorrow campaign is one to ride on.

How can industry players practically re-invent themselves post-COVID?

In more developed markets, tourism is highly fragmented and specialized. Products are tailored to suit the target audience’s needs and desires. This innovation creates differentiation and relevance for operators. It drives consistent bookings. In Uganda, tourism is still characterized by product homogeneity, Operators sell the same National Park deals, for the same number of days, and in many cases, even for the same price. For competing operators, conversion comes down to how much an agent has to spend on marketing or how well networked they are.

A few recommendations to consider include:

Rethink and redevelop products.

Operators should:

  • Identify their target customers. Who are operators selling to?
  • Understand their motivations to purchase tourism or experience products. Are they looking to relax? To engage with culture and history?
  • Build products around that, ensuring that what are you selling and why they should buy from you are clear.

Rethink distribution & digitalize business operations.

With an effective technology solution, an operator can start distributing packages and promotions for later dates, accept installments, and start to guarantee revenues. Business survival calls for improving efficiency across many areas, primarily product distribution, conversion, and maximizing customer spend. Digitalizing tourism sales and operations is one way to achieve this, enabling front end e-commerce and back end operations capabilities.

Digitalization has for long seemed very expensive and out of reach for many operators; however, there are a number of solutions today that will allow an operator to achieve this at a fraction of the cost. Tripxio (hello@tripxio.com) is one such solution that helps businesses develop, distribute, and sell tourism and experience products online. It allows businesses access to e-commerce websites, itinerary builders, digital marketing, and bookings and payments systems, and generally enables them to manage back-office operations and customer relationships all in one place. This solution is a software as a service model, which implies a limited cost of acquisition to the business with the benefits of running an in-house technology team.

Get creative about marketing and public relations.

Marketing and public relations activities should not stop for agents, even if travel is limited. It is pertinent to remain visible and use this time to build customer expectations. Marketing should focus on being empathetic and relatable – it is not the time for “come to my destination” type marketing. The #TravelTomorrow campaign is one to ride on. Communicate what your business is doing to be better post-COVID and what inclusive tourism strategies are being implemented to ensure sustainability not only for the business but also for nearby communities. Answer questions like “What is the business story? Why does it matter?” As the lockdown is loosened and people start to travel, show that people are coming to your destinations. This will drive confidence, and more visitors will come. If you are unsure of how to craft this kind of messaging yourself, there are numerous communications professionals out there that can support this process.