Wakanow: Mighty Oak Standing Tall
As Wakanow continues to draw local and international recognition for rapidly transforming the face of travel in Sub-Sahara Africa, Abutu Agada examines the brand’s remarkable journey to global significance from its seemingly humble background.
In the beginning
Few years ago, travel booking in Nigeria was like a camel going through the eye of a needle. With low internet penetration estimated at 15.9% of the population and a nation that was yet to fully embrace technology, travel business was left to quacks and incompetent folks behind some counter.
But in 2008, two young men – buoyed more by the benefit of foresight than youthful exuberance – decided to rewrite the story of travel, not just in Nigeria but across Africa. Opening their shop to a public that was seemingly skeptical of anything online travel, the duo of Obinna Ekezie and Ralph Tamuno pulled off what seems like a stunt in a James Bond movie. And about eight years after that bold move, the brand can point to more reasons why it needs to go on and even on.
Following the robust performance of the Wakanow brand within the online travel space, especially in Africa markets where it has made impressive showing, Wakanow has assumed a reference point for travel experts and players in the ecommerce space. In a market that has witnessed the death of many online travel start-ups, the phenomenal rise of Wakanow to a multi-billion travel company reflects a unique blend of ingenious brand strategy carefully garnished with ruthless execution.
Its global expansion drive
Not many start-up brands can weather the storm of a protracted economic gloom, especially one occasioned by a skeptical public battered by years of internet scams. Wakanow belongs to the class of resilient brands who defied the odds in the system to conquer new markets and create vast oceans in the desert, even in the face of extreme challenges and a harsh operating environment.
In March 2016, Wakanow took a major step to refresh its brand in readiness to take on the challenges of its global ambitions. By striking a historic partnership with Zenith Bank, the company made a bold statement about its intention to expand the reach of its innovative products across Africa, with special focus on the Destinations Africa platform.
Most futurists are of the view that Wakanow brand refresh reveals the ingenuity of its handlers to position the brand in response to its global outlook. It is expected that this move would usher in a whole new world of opportunities for the brand, affording it the needed energy to compete in global travel markets within the next few years.
Barely few months after its rebranding campaign that incorporates internal dynamics into its blueprint, the brand has witnessed increased recognition and improved fundamentals quite faster than the handlers had projected.
With over 300% increase in daily bookings on the portal and a growing demand for travel from both within and outside Africa, Wakanow has taken a definitive step to increase its travel centers to the 100-touchpoints threshold before the end of 2016. It has also expanded its physical footprints to the UK, USA, Ghana and UAE, with strategic product offerings that have distinguished the brand from the growing list of travel companies in Africa.
Recent awards and recognition
Industry watchers have not failed to recognize Wakanow’s sterling performance in the African online travel space. Beyond the respect it garners from assessors and experts, Wakanow has gone ahead to win high-profile awards for its commitment to global best practices deeply anchored at the core of its operations.
In 2013, Wakanow was recognized as one of the fastest growing online companies in Nigeria by the Tony Elumelu Foundation in alliance with the AllWorld Networks based in the UK. Later in 2015, its Group Managing Director/CEO, Mr. Obinna Ekezie won the highly prestigious Entrepreneur of the Year award at the All Africa Business Leaders Awards in partnership with the CNBC Africa in a gathering of top African business and political leaders.
Aside a flurry of glittering accolades, including awards from travel partners and key stakeholders in the industry, the company has just been nominated for the Best One-stop Travel Portal in African by Capital Finance International (CFI.co) Awards in the UK, following its contributions to the convergence of economies. CFI.co provides insight into some of the more complex areas of international finance and development issues both in print and online, with strong emphasis on identifying leaders and drivers of economic convergence.
Each year, successful nominees are shortlisted through voting by readers, subscribers and contributors such as the World Bank Group, International Finance Corporation, United Nations organizations, EU bodies and global business groups.
Speaking on the recognition, an elated Group Deputy CEO and Co-Founder of the company, Mr. Ralph Tamuno, said the award nomination is a demonstration of Wakanow’s leadership position as a fast-growing African brand with a global outlook.
“For us as a brand, we are interested in going beyond the African markets to play at the global stage and replicate the same matchless value and rich experiences for which we are known by our customers. This nomination clearly shows the global appeal of our value proposition, and we are very excited about it,” he stated.
Product innovation that delights
“Every new thing creates two new questions and two new opportunities,” says Jeff Bezoz, CEO of Amazon. But for Wakanow, the opportunities thrown up by its innovative products rollout far outweighs what Bezoz would have us believe. Consider its highly successful Pay Small Small initiative, for instance. In a report, global air travel regulator, International Air Transport Association (IATA) said world travel surged to an all-time high in 2015, showing a rise in revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) of 6.5% for the full year compared to 2014.
Elsewhere in Africa, the results were not different despite the economic downturn that faced most economies in the continent. Yet Pay Small Small by Wakanow was a swift and timely intervention that seamlessly empowered travel lovers to enjoy their choice travel deals with a convenient payment system, spanning two weeks to as much six months. The success of the product has been heavily linked to the depth of consumer insight that propelled its introduction into the market.
The brand’s transition from a travel booking portal to a one-shop travel management company equally reflects its extensive grasp of consumer needs in a fast-paced business landscape. While players in the industry are yet to decipher the fast-changing face of today’s traveler, Wakanow continues to shift paradigms, and rewrite the rules of the game. Its addition of a tailor-made prepaid card, travel SIM and a robust loyalty reward program, amongst others, further deepens the brand’s bond with its customers.
How to sell Africa: The Wakanow Example
Wakanow may have its eyes firmly fixated on the global marketspace, but its pan-African outlook clearly mirrors the love of a mother for her child. Among its continent-wide penetration strategies is Destinations Africa, a platform that allows customers book travel packages to any African country of their choice.
The brand is equally at the fore-front of promoting in-bound tourism in a continent that saw only 17 million international tourists in 1990. With the figure currently hovering around 65.3million, there is renewed hope that capital investments in Africa and a focus on developing critical infrastructure would make Africa a destination of choice. In 2015, visitor exports alone raked in a massive $51.5billion for the continent, and it is expected to further grow by 4.7% between 2015 and 2025, according to World Travel and Tourism Council.
More importantly, Wakanow currently spearheads the bigger conversation on a visa-free Africa. It is certainly not hard to imagine how this campaign would open up the continent, especially for the growing army of Africans interested in exploring their own continent. And when you factor in the cross-pollination of cultures and the elimination of capital flight made possible by this arrangement, it is clear why Wakanow has been described as one of the most admired home-grown brands in Africa. The journey just began.