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For the Love of Travel

Posted on May 13, 2015

Ever found a place during your travels you loved so much that you wish you could find a way to stay there forever?  Forget going home, and continue with your job in a professional capacity. I believe that this is how my journey began: I found that place in Pemba, Mozambique. I had no idea that I would set up a business outside of my own country, but when I got a call one day from the owner of the lodge that I once called a second home, I realised that I had to buy it. I had to save the guest house from closing down, take a risk, and test my cards in the field of enterprise. A million thoughts crossed my mind, forcing me to sit on the offer for two months without doing anything. It wasn’t a simple decision between yes and no; rather, it was a matter of what could I see myself doing for the next years of my life? Being young and single meant that I had no other obligations. I had saved some money over time. But could I pour all my savings into one business venture that was, at that time, already failing?

I took the emotional route and found myself driving from the borders of South Africa to the coastal shores of Mozambique. The environment was as lavish and welcoming as I remember, but the objective was certainly not the same. I had to find a way to turn an already established player in the hospitality industry, and turn it around to become competitive as a viable first choice offer for tourists with a flexible budget.

 

Getting to know the guests

There is, of course, a big cultural difference. I had to learn to stop experiencing Mozambique from a tourist’s perspective and begin to recognize the location for its culture and people: travellers come to the region to expose themselves to the local flavours of the town. I began to research the place, environment and most importantly the guests that would find themselves at our lodge and those of our closest competitors. I wanted to understand who comes to the Pemba beaches of Mozambique, and for what reason. Then, I used the market information to adapt the culture of the lodge that we might attract more visitors across the seasons.

I talked to everyone: from the staff and guests at the lodge, right through to the common local walking through the town. The information I found from these easy conversations opened up, like a pandora box: knowing the basic characteristics of my potential customer gave me insight into their lifestyle. It wasn’t long until I knew that the region attracted two types of guests, and that all the existing accommodation facilities (including mine) catered to the one, and not the other. An entire market opened up.

 

It has been two years since I took on the biggest risk of my life yet. Overtime I had to turn the lodge around to meet the key interests and lifestyle choices of our customer. This was our unique selling point, and we had to take full advantage of it. We found that, amongst other things, the consumers of our products and services were mostly young, single and had a keen interest in experiencing life from its youthful approach. These were the people who didn’t come to Mozambique with the family or to fall in love, these were the people who came to immerse themselves in the contradicting worlds of relaxation, luxury and hustle and bustle of an energetic town. We were speaking to the young person who wanted to have fun, outside of their everyday world – just like me, when I first came to Pemba.

 

People are more willing to talk than you think. The conversations that you could have always have the potential to give you insight into greater opportunities if you are willing to listen. So listen.

 

Mark Sidwaba