Plunging into business world may take some guts, but even more experience. From multi-tasking as an employee, Florence Wairimu learnt the ropes of the trade and set out to steer her own ship
By Caroline Mwendwa
Most people are practicing in a field they least expected would be their source of bread. Sometimes the future is not that easy to determine and even when one is sure about their favourite occupation, this may not always turn out to be their destination. But with the modern day tutorials about career choice and the constant reminders of the potential of entrepreneurship as an employment option, people can now steer their ships beyond the constraints of the job market even turning the hands of unemployment to become creators of employment.
Florence Wairimu’s career journey is one that spells out this scenario. Aware of her disposition and penchant for serving people, making friends and travelling, Wairimu knew exactly what job she wanted but had no idea how to pass muster for it. “Whenever I saw the flight attendants in their uniform, I could imagine the enjoyable work they get paid for and long to be in their place one day.” That was the dream she haboured until after high school she learnt of Air Travel and Related Studies Centre from a friend, an alumni of the school. With the little exposure Wairimu had, she was not aware of the course to enroll for but her choice of school was God sent. “The orientation I got and guidance to the right course for my aspired job was a campus. It gave me a bearing and I finally registered for a course in Travel and Tourism,” she enthuses.
The skills she acquired from this institution have propelled her further and further to her career goals. “My course entailed ticketing and tours and lessons on the world map including trips within and outside the country which exposes the learner to a first-hand experience of various destinations.” These trips which Wairimu says came free of charge are a privilege not many students enjoy but are a guarantee at Air Travel and Related Studies Centre. Other perks that come with being a student in this institution include lessons on customer service, computers and languages.
Armed with these skills, Wairimu hit the job market in the year 2009 and was lucky to be hired by one of the most prestigious travel agents in the country before moving on to start her own ticketing and tours company; Fauna Safaris.
The entrepreneurial journey
“When I first got employed, I got so much inspiration from my employers, their stories of small beginnings and passionate journey into a fully-fledged company was an eye opener, I felt a strong urge to take after them and that is how I started my own travel and tourism company.” The decision to quit employment was also informed by the values inculcated during her college days. “Air Travel and Related Studies Centre encourages students to be confident and aggressive. We were in very many occasions motivated to think like entrepreneurs and that advice has gone a long way in molding me into the person I am today.” Her experience at work was also a plus in her endeavor to establish her own company. “I was tasked with so many duties including managerial tasks, accounting and customer service and this served as a springboard in founding Fauna Safaris. I was very confident having juggled all the necessary roles before.”
While starting up, Wairimu did not have much capital but this did not derail her dreams. Most people fail to put their business ideas to action on the excuse that they don’t have sufficient funds. Her advice to entrepreneurs is that the business idea is the most valuable capital. Make it a critical plan, focus and work hard, there will definitely be a financial recourse somewhere.” Her plan was to look for a few clients to begin with and from what she gained she would expand her business further. “To start up all I needed was a room and a desk, and this was available at the time so I didn’t find it hard.” Wairimu started off with two clients and through word of mouth, referrals and social media marketing she has been able to multiply the numbers.
Her clientele consists offamilies, businesses, individuals, corporates, institutions, honeymooners among others. As Wairimu explains, this business has peak seasons and low seasons. “We enjoy peak season between the months of July to October and during the festive seasons.”
Fauna Safaris has been in operation for two years now and as the proprietor points out, so far so good and there is a positive outlook as the industry is coming of age. Packages on offer at Fauna Safaris range from high, medium and low, depending on the preference and financial disposition of the client. “We have tailor made services for all and this works out so well for us.”
Kenyans are gradually adopting the local tourism culture and as Wairimu points out, most of her clients are local but she also gets international clients often. There are two kinds of clients: those who know what they want the places to visit and the hotels to use, and those who have no idea about the trip they want to make. “Depending on the type of preference the client gives, we explain to them the various sites and facilities that fit the profile, the charges for each and what standards of service and utilities they are to expect,” explains Wairimu.
How to succeed
This being the hospitality industry, there has to be caution on how the clients are treated at the facilities booked for them. “I do follow up on my clients to find out if their expectations were met and incase of complaints, it is my responsibility to seek explanation so that my future clients don’t suffer the same.” She also adds that having knowledge of the emerging trends in the industry works to the advantage.
To cut a fine niche, it is critical for an entrepreneur to understand the product he/she is offering and the market. Without the knowledge of various destinations and facilities, it is impossible to satisfy the client as they depend on the company’s expertise to plan their itinerary. Therefore, exposure of the industry is key among other qualities that keep the entrepreneur focused. “With the diverse markets available ranging from leisure trips to business trips, entrepreneurs in this industry have opportunities but must be hardworking, optimistic and persistent in going for their goals,” advises Wairimu.
Trends in the industry
With the coming of the Standard Gauge Railway, business is looking up especially since people want to travel and experience the new technology. This has no doubt boosted travel and tourism industry. Wairimu is positive that things can only get better as people are slowly realizing the need for tourism even within the country, not necessarily abroad. Kenya has one of the biggest and most diverse tourism industries in East Africa, with offerings in a range of niches including the meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE) segment and safari ecotourism. These are fertile grounds that are advancing by day and so are entrepreneurs eyeing this market.
Having set off, Fauna Safaris is on the ladder to the heights. “We hope to grow even further, employ more youths and improve the packages we offer,” says an optimistic Wairimu. Right now most clients book local destinations even though there are a few international ones, in the next few years Fauna Safaris hopes to be taking clients all over the world.