The conventional way of booking buses, especially for long-distance travel in Kenya is characterised by long queues.
For years, online booking has been the preserve of airlines. But with the advancement in technology, the struggle of queuing for bus tickets is slowly becoming a thing of the past.
According to Statista, an online platform specialising in market and consumer data, online bookings for long-distance bus tickets topped travel products in Kenya in 2022 at 40 per cent.
They were followed by hotels (32 per cent), train tickets (24 per cent), flights (18 per cent) and car rentals (12 per cent).
According to the online booking platform Tiketi.com, digitisation of booking services by most bus companies has improved efficiency while saving customers money.
“Most bus services in Kenya firms have offices or agents at vital stops along their routes and online bus ticket booking Kenya partner, where you can book a seat,” explains the ticketing firm on its website about the convenience of online booking.
“For little trips towns, reservations are not usually necessary, but for famous longer routes, particularly Nairobi-Mombasa and Nairobi-Kisumu, buying your ticket at least a day in advance is highly advised.”
The main bus companies that offer online booking services in the country include Dreamline Executive, Busways, Coastline Safaris, Easy Coach, Modern Coast Express and Mash East Africa.
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Others are Taran Coaches under 2NK Sacco, Climax, Greenline, and Prestige Shuttle among others.
Wycliffe Omondi, the co-founder of Buupass, an online booking platform for airlines; buses and the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), says his personal experience in getting a bus ticket to travel to his rural home was the motivation behind the idea for the company.
Booking a ticket meant leaving his workstation for several hours.
“It was a cumbersome affair and you had to spend money to travel to book a ticket. It was also disadvantageous because one is unable to compare prices. I wanted to solve all those challenges,” says Mr Omondi.
Online booking, he says, has the double advantage of saving customers time and money.
Omondi, a graduate of economics, says he and his partner Sonia Kabra initially developed a USSD code for bookings because of the low uptake of smartphones at the time.
“We started with one client, Easy Coach, but now, we have grown to more than 30 clients in Kenya and Uganda,” he says.
Azym Dossa, founder and managing director of Easy Coach, acknowledges the growing popularity of online bookings, which he says have been instrumental in the growth of the business. “The most important thing is to serve the customer, ensuring that it is done to perfection with no double bookings or loss of cash,” says Mr Dossa.
Mr Dossa remembers the buzz when Easy Coach set up its own booking app. “It was the talk of the town,” he says.
Mr Dossa says the growing popularity of online bookings has seen a corresponding drop in the number of physical bookings. “Cash payments are going down, which is a positive thing as security is guaranteed,” he says.
BuuPass boss, Omondi, who claims the company has broken even, says despite the growing popularity of online bookings, there is room for improvement.
“I would say 98 per cent of the bus industry does not have online ticketing. We actually started with user education because the idea was very new. The demand for online bookings is organic. Bus operators refer others to us, which tells us there is a need there,” he says.
“From our interaction with the website, we realised that most people tend to book two days before travel or during the day of travel,” Mr Omondi adds, noting that people do this to avoid long queues, especially during the holiday season.
He says many of their clients use the USSD code to make bookings, especially those travelling upcountry.
“During peak season, some people book up to two months earlier to avoid the rush. The advance booking is also because of seat selection. People also use the app to compare bus prices and time of departure,” Mr Omondi explains.
BuuPass now operates across the East African region. “The growth across borders has been possible because when bus companies come to buy buses in Kenya and see what we have done, they encourage us to expand to their countries. We now have three clients in Uganda, and there is interest in Tanzania,” says Mr Omondi.
BuuPass, which started with only five unique customers booking through their website, has now successfully processed more than three million bookings since 2016.
According to the Kenya Railways Corporation, bookings on the SGR train more than doubled in 2021.
This was on the back of increased movement between Nairobi and Mombasa after the easing of Covid-19 containment measures.
Passenger ticket sales in 2021 rose 146 per cent to nearly two million compared with 811,552 bookings in 2020.
Omondi says what differentiates Buupass from the competition is its quality of service.
“We do marketing for our clients. For instance, 30 to 40 per cent of Easy Coach sales come through Buupass.”
According to Easy Coach boss, Mr Dossa, BuuPass complements the firm’s online booking platform.
He says the convenience of online booking cannot be gainsaid. “You can book from wherever you are,” says Mr Dossa, adding that it also allows for prior planning with customers allowed to book up to three months in advance.
Caroline, who travelled to Maseno on Easy Coach recently, says she always books online for long-distance travel.
“It is so easy booking a bus ticket digitally. There is no need to queue for long hours. You can book from the comfort of your home,” she told this writer.
“I only come to the bus stage to confirm my ticket on the day of travel before boarding. I prefer online booking. We are in the digital age and everyone should embrace it,” Caroline advises.