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Losing our airline jobs plunged us into business

In 2009, the aviation industry was going through a stormy ride leading to mass job losses. Constantine Mwanga teamed up with Joseph Chacha, who had also lost his job at the airline, to form their company which they named Mangrove Travels and Tours.

Losing our airline jobs plunged us into business

Constantine Mwanga, managing director of Mangrove Travels and Tours, in his office at Zion Mall, Eldoret. PHOTO | COURTESY

In 2009, Kenya’s airline industry was going through turbulent skies which resulted in mass job losses. Constantine Mwanga, who had worked as a commercial manager at Aero Kenya Limited before the firm went under, found himself without a source of income. Mr Mwanga, who started as a junior clerk in 1990 and rose to be a commercial manager, recounts how he picked up pieces after he lost his job to start a business. “The ( airline) industry is dicey and you’ll be lucky if you hold your job for more than five years. When the airline closed shop, we had to look for something to remain financially afloat,” says Mr Mwanga.

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“We decided to venture into travel and tours since we had past experience.” He teamed up with Joseph Chacha, who had also lost his job at the airline, to form their company which they named Mangrove Travels and Tours.“We were determined to work hard to ensure their company becomes strong like a mangrove tree,” he says. In 2010, the duo saw a big gap in the ticketing for air travels and tours in the North Rift and Western region and decided to strive and carve their niche in the business. According to Mr Chacha, who is also the company’s operations director, they started with one saloon car. However, they were soon overwhelmed by demands from various clients.He says that they received an overwhelming number of inquiries from banks, non-governmental organisations and other corporate clients.  All these pointed to good business ahead. Nonetheless, it it was not a walk in the park since they did not have adequate capital. To start such an enterprise, he says, one requires a capital of Sh2 million to put up an office, buy the equipment and the vehicles.READ: My journey to Sh80m real estate enterprise started at universityOne of the ways they circumvented these challenges was to partner with a motor vehicles dealer who allowed them to acquire their cars on hire purchase.  “We had an arrangement where we paid 35 per cent deposit for two vehicles. We paid the remaining amount on installment, which was spread for a period of two years,” says Mr Mwanga, the firm’s managing director. The experience they had obtained in the industry worked to their advantage. They approached the clients whom they used to serve in their previous respective jobs and introduced them to their new products.“We also introduced other related services such as airport transport, car hire and tours and excursions (short trips which take a day). With time we were able to build trust,” says Mr Mwanga.  He adds that they had to partner with some other agencies based in Mombasa and Nairobi to link them to clients travelling to the region.“We approached them and requested that we handle their clients and they didn’t have to bring their vehicles to this region. This has really been a major source of business for us since we were able to handle the clients touring the North Rift and Western circuit on their behalf,” says Mwanga, who has worked for 20 years in four different local domestic carriers.Their business has now grown to record on average a monthly turn-over of Sh4 million. The enterprise which began with two employees now has 15 employees. It also has a fleet of 17 vehicles. In 2016, they opened a branch in Nakuru town. Their plans for accelerated expansion have been, however, adversely affected by the interests rate cap law which was passed last year. They have found it difficult to borrow from financial institutions.  “Last year was really challenging since we encountered serious cash flow hitches. The number of domestic tourists dropped while the corporate clients who used to pay within 30 days delayed payments 60 to 90 days,” he explains.This affected the firm’s payment of salaries and settling of bills as well as maintenance of the vehicles. Mr Chacha says that they rely on the domestic tourists with the demand for their services, especially family trips, going up during the school and national holidays. The region, he says, doesn’t get many international tourists despite being endowed with rich cultures, wildlife and other beautiful sceneries. The firm’s future plans is to also tap medical and sports tourism in the region to expand their business.“We also hope to partner with tour consolidators like those from Europe who package Kenya and Africa as one tourist destination. They will be able to partner with us,” adds Mr Chacha.Mr Mwanga says that having a great team of staff with good inter-personal skills is crucial for any business to run smoothly. However, he laments that the region lacks adequate professionals with practical know-how in the aviation sector, saying those who have gone through institution of higher learning possess only theoretical knowledge of the business.

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