Woman defies tradition to build career in hospitality industry. Going from a side job to build a profitable travel business.
Had Shirley Nailantei stuck to her community’s culture, she would have been married off at 14. Traditionally, Maasai girls are circumcised between the ages of 11 and 13 and soon are married to men chosen by their fathers in exchange for cattle and cash.
But tradition could not derail her ambitions. “My parents were keen on education. They never tied themselves to punitive traditions and wanted to see me go to school and become successful,” says Ms Nailantei who is a trained marketer.
Now sitting in her office located in one of Nairobi’s leafy suburbs, she oozes confidence and optimism, with her love for books clearly evident in her neat well-furnished office.
“I am an avid reader,’’ she says, glancing at a Cindy Trimm book Commanding Your Morning that is lying on a table.
Ms Nailantei boasts 3,000 clients under her travel company, Convette Group, which she founded in 2007.
“I established this firm while working for a flower firm, Preesman Company. It was a side job to supplement my earnings and none of my employers knew about its existence,’’ Ms Nailantei, 32, told Business Daily in an interview last week in her office at the plush Riverside area.
“At Convette Group, we provide both local and international clients with the best leisure and business travel arrangements across the world. We merge industry and leisure destinations to give it a complete package. We also provide visa procurement and consultancy services, local and international hotel reservations, customised holiday packages, flight reservations and ticketing among other services.”
Convette Group was started with a capital of Sh10, 000 as registration fees. She started operating from her house because she could not then afford office rent.
As her business grew she started marketing it online, backed by referrals from the initial clients she had managed to bring on board.
“This taught me the value of patience and the importance of offering quality service no matter how small your business is. If people discover the uniqueness of what you selling them, they will always come to you no matter the cost or even the location of your business,’’ says Ms Nailantei.
In 2008, she resigned from her job and left for South Africa to look for business. She wanted to give her newly found enterprise a global outlook.
“I wanted to create linkages and give my company both local and international touch,’’ she says.
But it has not been an easy ride. The challenges have been inevitable if not insurmountable.
“When I started, we used to make hotel bookings for our clients through our own savings. Initially, they could pay on time but the trend changed and the bills could accumulate for months without a single penny coming in.’’
She says those were the lowest moments in business that almost saw her close down. “I had taken a huge loan from a bank to sustain both the business and my employees with the hope of quick profit but that was not forthcoming,’’ she says.
Ms Nailantei recalls how the banks were making visits everyday with threats of legal action yet the payments were late. She was then dealing with retail shop directors travelling abroad to look for business.
“I first dropped the corporate clients and started dealing with individual customers who were not very demanding, ’’ says Ms Nailantei. The trick worked and led to a remarkable change of fortune that enabled her to secure an office in Nairobi’s Westlands suburb and employ five people mainly in marketing. She sent the marketing team to various parts of the country.
“Today, we have marketing agents in South Africa, Ghana, the United Kingdom and Dubai,’’Ms Nailantei says she has set her sights on bigger markets abroad to tap rising demand by tourists and business travellers seeking quality but affordable travel and accommodation.
Convette Group also handles families and groups who require quality hotel accommodation in major world cities for leisure or business trips. Locally, they deal with Sarova Hotels, Tribe, and Diani among others and boasts a budget for all travellers.
“We normally charge the client a service fee that is determined by the standard of the hotel. Apart from getting a commission from the hotels, we source for the clients on their behalf,’’ said Ms Nailantei.
Most of her customers come from Nigeria, South Africa, USA and the United Kingdom.
Pressed to say how much the company makes per month as a profit, Ms Nailantei was rather guarded on the figures.
“We are doing well in terms of profit and customer base given our office rent alone is Sh160,000. I am running a sustainable business,’’ she said.
“Healthy competition shapes the industry and increases quality service. We are also abreast of emerging trends in the sector,’’ says the young whose steely determination has seen her rise to the top in the competitive hospitality industry.