Five years ago, Gibson Lotan was working as a tour van driver and could only dream of running his own business someday.
But dreams are valid. Now, the 42-year-old whose education ended in class eight at Kianda Primary School, Nakuru County 28 years ago, heads a fully-fledged tour and travel enterprise.
“I was not business oriented from early on as I was with a gospel ministry that used to move around the country preaching the word,” says the founder of Nairobi-based Mastex Tours and Travel.
He had acquired driving skills while spreading the gospel and this would prove essential when the group disintegrated.
Lotan then began looking for work and landed one as a tour van driver.
In the four years that he was a driver, Lotan began positioning himself for the future by establishing connections with various players in the travel industry.
“I started saving with the aim of doing similar business and quit employment,” he said.
With Sh100,000 worth of savings, he registered his tour and travel company and used the rest of the balance to do marketing.
This is despite Lotan not having even a vehicle to ferry clients to various travel destinations when they booked with his firm.
“It may look like I was in a dilemma but I’d already organised the way things would go should I land any bookings,” said Lotan.
When he got clients, he hired tour vans from his former employer and others.
“That was in 2016 when I hit the ground running. Though a friend had started me off with a used tour van, I was in an arrangement to hire vehicles as bookings came. For two years, it is the arrangement I had as I saved to acquire my own vehicles for business,” he says.
The strategy paid off and in two years of this arrangement, he’d acquired two tour vans for his business.
Currently, he has six employees — two drivers, two tour guides and two marketers.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which ravaged the tours and travel industry, didn’t spare Lotan’s business either.
With the restrictions in movement to curb the spread of the virus, tourists stopped booking vehicles.
His target clients have been foreigners, however, he offers domestic packages aimed at families, individuals, schools and the corporate sector.
Even as the pandemic pummeled his sector, Lotan knew the importance of adapting to change and was selling mitumba to bring home the bread.
Foreign tourist market
“I knew not to put all my eggs in one basket. I have invested in mitumba business and when the lockdown measures were announced, I was able to stay afloat,” he says.
Now with the gradual reopening of the economy, the tourism sector is yet to reach pre-pandemic levels.
Lotan notes that Kenya still lags behind in domestic tourism and the industry still feels the impact of a loss of the country’s traditional foreign tourist market.
“That is the hard reality. Many Kenyans would prefer visiting relatives in the countryside when it comes to holidays rather than sampling the rich heritage and diversity of our country.”
“Also, there is this misplaced notion that it is an expensive affair but that is not always the case as there are pocket-friendly tour packages that individuals and groups can choose,” said Lotan.
With proper marketing of the country, Lotan believes that the sector would not have been heavily impacted by the pandemic.
Between June and September, Kenya records its peak tourism numbers. Lotan notes that this hasn’t been the case for the last two years.
“Wildebeest migration is always a key tourist attraction when the visitors peak and this happens from late July to August and for two years now, we have not seen high bookings of foreigners than it was two years back,” he says.
His business journey has taught him a few lessons that he’s eager to share with budding entrepreneurs.
If you need success in business, he says, you must invest in a quality employees and his line of business requires competent drivers, tour guides and marketers.
“Know of ways of retaining your staff even when the going gets tough. This way, you’ll have some loyal employees,” he says.
He also advises on the importance of networking.
Lotan credits his business success to when he was a driver and cultivated good relations with his employer and other investors in the sector. They played a big part when he was starting off in business.
“It would have been hard to begin from scratch had not it been for networking,” he tells Money Maker.
A word of advice: never put all your eggs in one basket. Diversify. If the worst comes and sees one source of income affected, you can subsist on the other.