OTA Responsible Travel
Create the Dream, Live The Adventure
Having worked in tourism for a few years Tracey Bell had started to get an inkling that she should like to work for herself. In Kenya she met Francis who had similar thoughts and a wealth of experience in tourism in East Africa. And so they joined forces and established their Kenyan tour company in 2012.
Here is what Tracey shared about running her business:
Q. What did you do before you started this business?
In 2007 I was working for the Defence Department in Canberra, Australia, and had just finished a Masters degree. I was ready to leave Canberra and in my job search stumbled across a job as a tour leader on Trans-Mongolian Railway journeys. After completing a two-year contract leading Trans-Mongolian, Trans-Siberian and Silk Road tours, I set my sights on Africa and headed to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. After the football I started backpacking and soon found myself working on an overland truck leading tours between Johannesburg and Nairobi. After a few months on the truck, I started working for a Kenya-based tour company where I met Francis, a Kenyan tour driver. He and I shared a common goal of starting our own tour company and so we joined forces and in 2012 we did just that
Q. Did you have any business training before you started?
I had completed a Bachelor of Business, majoring in Marketing in 2001. Having never really used that learning in any of my subsequent jobs however, I feel like most knowledge was lost by the time I started this business over 10 years later.
Q. Describe your business and products/services you offer
OTA offers tours to travellers of all ages who are interested in interacting with local communities in their travels and who are finding it difficult to identify an ethical and responsible tour operator that will facilitate such interactions. We work closely with our clients to design their ideal itinerary according to their objectives, budget and time, incorporating both sightseeing highlights and visits to local NGOs and community projects.
OTA offers trips throughout East Africa where you can experience the local culture, stay in villages, and engage with community development organisations as well as view the amazing wildlife and spectacular natural scenery in this amazing country. We can cater to groups (large and small) for any budget, offering a range of accommodation from camping to luxury lodges.
Q. How long have you been running your business?
Since August 2012
Q. How many hours a week do you work in your business?
Too many!! But that is more because I don’t have much of a life in Kenya – all my friends and family are in Australia, so I have a lot of time to work on the business.
Q. What kind of online and offline marketing do you do and which is working for you?
We have a website, social media profiles and other internet listings on various travel sites. Trip Advisor is a key lead generator for us.
Q. Do you use social media as part of your marketing?
Yes, we use Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Pinterest, and Flickr. We plan on getting involved with Instagram, as soon as we have figured out how to use it.
Q. What mistakes have you made in running your business and what lessons have you learnt from those?
We have wasted a lot of time and a bit of money on persisting with failing freelancers. There is a saying “Hire slowly, fire fast” and we have done the opposite of that. It was not entirely the incompetence of the freelancer that led to disaster – we also realise that we did not give clear deadlines or expectations of what we needed. So now we know next time we take on a freelancer we need processes in place, we need to be clear on exactly what we want from him/her, and set a deadline with mini-deadlines to ensure the work is progressing as we require.
Q. How has your website helped you run your business?
Many of our enquiries are generated through our website through online enquiry forms being submitted. At the moment we are working with a web developer to improve our website and hopefully help with generating more enquiries.
Q. What obstacles or challenges are you facing at the moment?
Despite stated commitments to growing tourism in Kenya, the government has implemented some policies that seem to go against that commitment and are instead making life a bit tough for tour operators. We also face challenges of getting known in the industry, building relationships with suppliers which would help get costs down, and generating sales in a highly-competitive market. Cashflow has been a problem for us especially as the security situation in Kenya has been discouraging for tourists to visit and so our income is down.
Q. Any other comments / points you would like to share about running your business?
Francis and I have committed to this business and firmly believe that our better-than-expected first season is a direct result of that commitment. Some people start businesses on the side as they continue to work in their day job. While this does seem like a sensible option for those with financial responsibilities, I think I was lucky that I didn’t have those responsibilities and could risk going whole-heartedly for my dream. It’s been very tough financially and it’s still not guaranteed that we will make it if you look at our financial statements. But we will, there’s no other option in my mind. I love doing what I do too much to do anything else.
For more information, visit Overland Travel Adventures website.