Vinod Kaurani has been in Nigeria for as about as long as I have been alive and I have been around for a fair bit of time. With a primary school education in Ibadan, secondary school and tertiary education in India and the UK respectively, Vinod, the Managing Director of Mayfair Travels Nigeria Ltd has been involved in business in Nigeria for over three decades. We sat with Mr. Kaurani to talk about the beauty, motivation and challenges of running a small business in Nigeria.
Even though the travel and tours company has been in operation for about 31 years, and consider themselves an SME, they have kept with the times, launching Tripberry an online ticketing website in 2016.
We started our talk by delving into their latest development.
“Mayfair travels is 31 years old as a company. I have been involved for the last 12 years. We are predominantly a travel agency and our services include air ticketing, travel insurance, holiday packages and car hires within Nigeria.
We also exist on the online platform as Tripberry. It is an automated platform to buy air tickets and pay online. It is completely Nigeria based, all our prices are in Naira and all Nigerian bank cards are acceptable.
We also offer all these services offline as Mayfair travels, we take online services and deliver offline.”
Apparently, Tripberry had been in the works for a while but the company decided to keep it under wraps for some time.
“It’s an old project, it was brought live last year 2016, and only put it live online on mediums like VConnect in 2017.
So in real terms, we went live January 2016, because the whole 2016 we didn’t discuss it on social media. This was a decision we made, it wasn’t forced upon us.
Since we started on social media this year we have been getting good response, a decent conversion rate.
We have been involved in the transition from the conventional ticketing process, which is hand-written, to e-ticketing which is what we are doing right now.
As a travel agency it is better to use e-ticketing as you can deliver to a wider range of customers and you do not need to send a courier to Abuja, you just send an email and the ticket is there with the client, so it is far better to be on the electronic platform
Perhaps, the only challenge is we get a lot of people asking for what we don’t do. Like a lot of people asking for jobs, or people asking for jobs abroad and want visas. “
I wondered why they kept it quiet for so long.
“We wanted to be sure our platform can deliver fully automated. It was more of word-of-mouth we were using to get people to use it so we are able to identify major problems and hitches. It was more of we wanted to test it without too much of complaints.
We wanted users to give genuine complaints so we could make corrections. Which I think we did quite a bit, our objective for being online is to be automated.
We can see that Nigerians are buying online, they are training online. Facebook is one of the most utilised social media, Instagram is picking up. But we didn’t want to be criticised publicly so much…we were avoiding the mass criticism.
We wanted criticism but we wanted it within a controlled environment. Now that we are automated I think that was one number one objective. You should be able to buy online by paying online and you get it delivered online without making a phone call. Unless there is a technical problem which is inevitable.
Like we see the banking system sometimes does not respond on time and that causes hitches. But that’s acceptable as for now, because that is a challenge everyone faces, even with those hitches we are doing automated delivery
That is what we wanted to do, around August 2016 we got that process completely. Which is why we didn’t go on social media till around the end of 2016 and early 2017
Some people would say we made a delayed decision which is a fair assessment, but it was within our control which is important.”
Considering that Tripberry accepts payments in naira, I asked how they manage with fluctuating exchange rates
“Exchange is not the biggest challenge for us because we are selling at the rate the airlines exchange rate is. So we don’t determine the exchange rate, the airline does. We sell at the price they have put. The only way exchange rate has affected the industry is because of people’s capacity to buy has been affected.
It doesn’t affect the product, it affects the purchase.
Travelling has reduced. So the number of people travelling has dropped. In the last 8 months to one year there has been approximately a drop of say 15-20% in passenger numbers overall”
Mayfair Travels are not letting reduced number of customers deter they, rather they have continued to look for ways to do things better
“We continue doing our marketing, as we are doing for example on VConnect. And we haven’t stopped our subscription, we continue doing that because we believe that there is going to be an upward trend and number of travellers will increase. The reason there have dropped is not because they don’t want to travel it is because they can’t affordability has dropped. People can not afford to go on big family holidays, so if there are five people in the family, they probably can only afford for three to go now so they rather not go.
I think it’s a short-term thing, it won’t be too long.”
I was curious as to where were the preferred destinations most Nigerians like to travel to. He was quick to furnish the answer and why Nigerians like these places
“Currently Nigerians are travelling to Dubai the most. That is the number one destination for most Nigerians, Mauritius is where they go for holidays. Also, a lot of Nigerians are now doing destination weddings and Dubai and Mauritius are the two places they tend to go.
Nigerians love shopping they like to go to a destination where they can shop. If you send them to Seychelles for example which is only beaches mainly, very few people like that.
It is still a popular destination but again it has its own segment of people who like such places but not as large as those who like to go to Dubai for shopping.”
We moved to matters affecting small businesses in Nigeria, Vinod had an interesting take on what is the biggest challenge for small businesses in Nigeria
“People have ideas, people like to execute, small businesses will thrive more in the long run because they are more hardworking.
The challenges for those who have put their money and time into an SME are that after some time, say 2 to 3 years, they lose focus of the fact that that business needs to go on for the next 10 years, that’s the downfall.
So the culture of non-maintenance is the problem, the culture of not looking to the future is the problem. You see SMEs popping up now with so many incentive programs the government is coming up with. SMEs will grow. The question is how many of them will survive after two years.
It’s just a thought process at the moment, obviously not disputing that people can change…and it will change so you find me estimating 50% failure based on the old thought process, I could be wrong and it will be 20% instead of 50% which is a possibility.
But honestly with the way things are changing, people’s thought process is changing, people’s objectives are changing. More and more educated people are picking their profession and doing business based on what they know best.
If that continues more businesses will survive in the long run because they are doing what they understand, unlike in the past you will not know what business you are doing but because you have the money you do and then end up failing.
But with SMEs lately there is a lot more focus from the business ownership point of view and I think that’s positive for the future. But based on the past, survival rate for SMEs is 50%, but with the way people are going it could drop from 50% to 20%”
Moving into specifics, I asked what were Mayfair Travels’ plans for the future.
“We are going to keep growing that. We are a B2B and B2C platform, which means we have a target audience which is corporate clients and other travel agents who are non-IATA so they don’t have access to issuing tickets from their office we give them access to issuing tickets through our website.
Then we have the B2C for every other customer around the country so obviously the scope of expansion is nationwide with this platform and that’s what we are looking at.
We only have an office in Lagos. With electronic ticketing we don’t really need offices, maybe it’s an understatement I shouldn’t say we don’t need to, some people will say we need to, but at the moment it’s not a priority to have multiple offices, we feel we can handle things from one location.”
For someone who has been in business for a long time, I knew something other than making money had to be the motivation for going on, I wasn’t wrong.
“The good thing about this industry is that you learn every day, it is not a monotonous process, apart from the fact that the industry teaches you, people teach you; people working in the company, your clients, your customers teach you.
It’s very dynamic as an industry, because the suppliers in the industry- in this case, the airlines- they come up with new things almost everyday so the beauty there is you have something new every day to learn and to do and that keeps the interest going, and of course you have to be passionate about the industry, if you are passionate you can think further and say yes we can grow and you have a better vision of which area you can grow into.
So it’s not about coming to the office everyday and issuing tickets, it’s interacting with the people you deal with everyday at various levels that makes it interesting, they give you reason to think when they criticise you, be it your client, be it your suppliers, I guess if you take that criticism positively, you find a reason to do something better the next day, because someone has seen a flaw you have to find a way to improve on that”
I left Mayfair travels with new knowledge about the travel business and a sudden urge to travel, maybe start from nearby, a tour of down south Nigeria seems like a good idea.