Mark Essien, pictured front, is founder and CEO behind Nigeria's "biggest booking portal" -- Hotels.ng. In a country where social media has become a force to reckon with, the 31-year-old businessman is using Twitter to find new talent to power his workforce.
Africa's hospitality market is a burgeoning sector while Nigeria alone has been projected to grow significantly in the coming five years, according the Pricewaterhouse Coopers. With travel to the nation rising, hotels are constantly looking for new ways to reach potential clients. And following a similar lead from the U.S and European markets, hotel booking portals are emerging online.
Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group
Having completed his studies in Germany, Essien returned to Nigeria to build his own tech company.
Playing to his strengths, Essien began by purchasing the domain name before going directly to hotels asking them to participate. "I went door to door to each of the hotels and told them 'I'm going to bring you online traffic.' All of them looked at me and thought that's crazy. But they also thought, 'there's no harm in it.'"
In the first year, Essien says he signed up 3,000 hotels and attracted around $225,000 in investments. Despite these successes, it wasn't always plain sailing. "We had to deal with the fear that hotel managers had -- the lack of understanding," he explains. "We also had to deal with the customers... they still do not trust online services -- they think a lot can go wrong."
Since launching two years ago, his business has blossomed with the platform hosting nearly 7,000 hotels and recently secured a $1.2 million in financing. The founder says the trick was to focus on retention marketing to his clients. "We did not make any money in the first six months because we just wanted to demonstrate to people that we are actually creating value for them," he says. "If we don't bring you five customers then we won't ask you anything related to money."
While the market focus has remained in Nigeria since launch two years ago, Essien says it's a business model viable beyond the country's borders. "We're very strong in Nigeria. We have built a good brand with hotels and the customers and I think we can replicate the same across the rest of Africa."
Hotels.ng: From small startup to 'largest hotel booking site in Nigeria'