Kushal Dutta is the Managing Director of Jovago, Africa’s largest hotel booking portal. In this interview with EBERE CHIBUZOR, Kushal, who served as Head of Revenue Management before his new appointment says Jovago, is proud of the acceptance it is getting from its customers in Nigeria.
From our observation, Jovago seems to have made in-roads into the Nigerian market within a short period of time. Everybody seems to be talking about Jovago. How did you do it?
We are glad that everybody is talking about Jovago. From our end, we focus on two things. First is that we make sure that when our customers come to us, they say they had a good experience, so that they can come back once again. We do everything to bring the workers to be number one. Secondly, we ensure that we focus on our clients. We always ensure that our clients find this medium a valuable option in terms of hotel booking online. If we focus on these two, every other one will definitely be taken care of.
Could you please explain to us what Jovago operations look like?
We are more aligned to booking things offline rather than doing it online. We take multiple measures in Jovago. For example, we always tell customers that they can go online on our website and make a hotel booking. At the same time, we have a customers’ service centre where we have trained travel advisers and we work 24/7 to give them the best of service. So, even when a client calls at the middle of the night, he or she will have someone picking up the call. So, in case you don’t have internet access, you just call us and we do the booking for you. We also try to reach out to people to know this medium. Like, if somebody is coming to the airport, we have travel representatives there; if you are travelling through the airport, they will walk up to you and will tell you the different offers we have and how you can book on them. If you don’t have internet, the representative will make a booking for you as they are equipped with all the devices. We are actually investing in multiple offline modes to get more integrated in the buying back of the people we already have right now. It is encouraging signs for us if we see Nigerians, almost 70 per cent people have mobile. Most of the people access internet through mobile. Therefore, we invest a lot on the mobile platform to reach to people and tell them how to hook up Jovago and things like that.
Which types of bookings do you do actually?
We do hotel bookings. We do take additional requests at the booking stage. We also, always ask you if you want us to book a car for you as well. We have not started flight bookings for individual customers for now. However, we do it for the corporate. You know the corporate always give us more assistance and a whole package and make it a one-stop shop. We do that for the corporate. It is coming up; just wait and watch.
You assumed office recently, how can you describe the Nigerian business environment?
You know, we are a Nigerian company. If you take a walk in the company, you will see that 99.9 per cent of the workers are Nigerians. We are Nigerian company doing business in Nigeria. With respect to assuming office; I was like taken into this role. I have always been in Jovago. So it is not like I joined overnight. It is just that I was taking care of other departments. I just took over some months back. Even beyond that; I have been in Nigeria for more than 4 years now in different industries and sectors. So Nigeria is my home and when you are at home, you don’t have any apprehensions of not understanding the people. I think in a way, I completely, feel at home in Nigeria.
Can tell us more in technical terms, about the way these bookings work out perfectly for your customers?
Technically, I will give you a simplified version. Jovago is in the middle and we connect two segments; one is the hotels and the other is the customers. As a customer, you want to reach a maximum number of hotels and find out what is the best value you can get. Just imagine you are staying in Onitsha and you are coming into Lagos and you know you are coming to spend certain amount of Naira per night. WithJovago, such person gets things easier. Ordinarily what that person does is to come to the airport, ask a taxi driver to take him to the hotel, gets there, check the charges and know whether he likes it or not. But that is a whole lot of hassles. So what Jovago does is to provide all the required information needed, Itdoes this by sitting in his office in Onitsha. You just go to our site as we have over 8,000 hotels within Nigeria with all their pictures taken by ourselves. You can go see the hotels from outside, inside. You go there and see how the hotels look like, the rooms, bedrooms, toilet and everything. That means you see everything before you check into the hotel. What we also do is that we can work out discount packages. You don’t have to work it out yourself; it is also on us. We have 24/7 customers’ care services so that customers can always refer to it in case they need special services like those who have a baby and things like that. We have everything packaged in the hotel to welcome you and it is not your headache. You just go online and pay online.
Most Nigerians prefer offline transactions to online for now. How do you cope with this in what Jovago is doing?
You are very correct. But you will be surprised to know that 30 per cent of our customers pay online using the phones and different cards. 70 per cent of people still prefer to go offline. That is the reason Jovago has provided both options. If you are comfortable; you can just make a booking online. If you are not comfortable; you can just make a booking and you will not pay a single kobo. You pay only when you get to the hotel and you like it. We have an understanding and contract signed with the hotels. If you don’t have internet access or the mechanism to pay online, you can pay offline. So, that is not a deterrent at all.