Jovago Puts A Stake In The Ground As Kenya’s & East Africa’s Largest Online Travel Agency

2014-11-05 14.47.26
Jovago East Africa’s Lillian Gaitho (Head of Public Relations) and Estelle Verdier – Watine (Managing Director)

Jovago is what is referred to in Internet parlance as an Online Travel Agency or OTA for short. The Rocket Internet via Africa Internet Group (AIG) backed business has extensive operations throughout Asia and Africa. In Africa, Jovago operates in Algeria, Bostwana, Congo – Brazzaville, Djibouti, Gambia, Malawi, Namibia, Niger, South Sudan, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

I had the opportunity to meet Estelle Verdier – Watine and Lillian Gaitho who are the Managing Director and Head of Public Relations respectively for Jovago East Africa not too long ago (yes, yet another long overdue blog post!) to discuss Jovago’s progress in this region since they officially launched in September 2013. Based on what we discussed, it would appear that Jovago like its AIG siblings in Kenya has made a significant dent in its designated focus area – travel and tourism.

As of this writing, according to Lillian, Jovago has over 1,400 hotels in Kenya who are listed on their website. In addition, they have over 500 hotels each from Tanzania and Uganda as well and expect to have over 20,000 hotels in Africa by June 2015. Its a well-known fact that Kenya’s tourism industry is hurting big time thanks to security concerns and especially in beach tourism where destinations like Mombasa, Diani and Lamu have been affected severely. The good news is that the likes of Jovago recently partnered with the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) to drive more bookings online for tourism to and within Kenya via the Magical Kenya destination website.

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 9.06.40 AMAt this juncture, Jovago has a team of approximately 40, many of whom are tasked with securing firm and competitive rates from various hotels throughout Kenya and East Africa. This approach is impressive since the kind of hotels listed on Jovago in East Africa cover the whole gamut – from hotels that charge as little as Kes. 500.00 per night (yes, you read that right!) all the way up to ‘ultra luxe’ hotels that would make you cry when you see how much they charge! Another thing Estelle mentioned to me is that they do all sorts of special offers and promotions to drive bookings to the hotels that are within their extensive portfolio.

The bottom-line is that Jovago’s business model is designed to do a few of things other than the obvious of selling hotel accommodation with a margin on discounted rack rates. The first is that Jovago helps essentially unknown and poorly marketed hotels ‘get found’ in more or less the same way Google helps us all find stuff as a search engine. There are many entry-level hotels for instance that have zero marketing budgets so Jovago helps them get discovered and get booked. This in itself is a game changer and leads to much more business than they could have hoped for.

The second thing is that since Jovago negotiates competitive rates for their customers at all their listed hotels. The hotels get more bookings ensuring that they have higher occupancies even if their margins may be less than they would ideally want. A case in point is the Pride Inn Hotel chain in Kenya where according to Estelle to move a considerable number of bookings for them every month which they would otherwise not get. In addition, customers who may never have even known they existed ‘find’ them and actually book with them so its a win-win for hotel and customer.

The third interesting aspect of Jovago’s business is model is that they have a myriad of payment methods available for their hotels. You can obviously pay online using credit card as could be expected but you can also pay on arrival at the hotel in person. One really cool payment aspect Estelle shared with me is that you can also pay for bookings using mobile money a la MPesa and not only in Kenya – you can pay for a hotel in Nigeria or Pakistan as well in the same manner on their website. This I found to be mind bending! It does make sense though since Jovago is one platform deployed on global basis.

At this juncture, Jovago does NOT yet have a mobile app which I found to be quite surprising given that travel and tourism as an e-commerce segment has numerous mobile apps out there. However, they do expect to roll-out a mobile app in 2015 to tap into this trend. In addition, an interesting insight Lillian shared is that 80% of their travel bookings are for business travel and 20% is for leisure travel. In addition, 50% of travel bookings are intra-Africa whilst 50% is inter-Africa. There is also a strong seasonal element to the travel bookings on their website in that leisure travel bookings for instance peak around the usual holiday periods. The average Jovago ‘booker’ also travels once every 6 months.

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 9.04.24 AM
Jovago’s redesigned website launched in November 2014

Estelle emphasised to me that they have invested a lot to ensure that customers have good travel experiences via their website. This means that just like a traditional travel agency, they help plan travel logistics to and from their destinations using third-party partners to execute, if required. This works to the extent that they will follow-up to ensure customers arrive safely and they are on call 24*7 to assist them should the need arise. This according to Estelle is one of their key differentiators in a market where there are many global and local OTAs angling for the same marketshare.

Going forward, Jovago wants to establish themselves as the first place you think of when you want to travel anywhere in Africa for business or leisure given their extensive portfolio of hotels that runs well into the tens of thousands. The fact that Jovago is also integrated with TripAdvisor for bookings in Africa means that customers can see detailed reviews on hotels so that they can make informed booking decisions on this basis. Jovago will also be introducing flight bookings soon according to Estelle so this will ensure they can offer a more seamless travel booking experience for all their customers. It does not hurt that they redesigned their website and relaunched it in November 2014 so its now more user-friendly, can be accessed in both English and French, and has pricing in a good number of currencies.


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