, NAIROBI, Kenya, May 8 – Estelle Verdier-Wadine’s first time to Kenya was in 2006.
“Immediately after graduating with a degree in Economics and Development from France, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization offered me a job. I came here and loved the country,” Jovago’s East Africa Managing Director says at the commencement of our enterprise interview.
A slender woman with a fancy pixie hair cut, Verdier-Wadine is as impressive as can be. At 28 years old, her Curriculum Vitae speaks volume for her. She has worked in high profile jobs such as that of Product Manger of Telkom, a position she held until her departure to Jovago.
“Around that time, Africa Internet Group, which also owns Jumia, approached me to co-found Jovago. I loved the idea and have never looked back,” she explains.
The company maximized on one of the continent’s highest selling points; tourism. “We have tourists coming into Africa and within the continent who do not have an idea on where to stay. That was the biggest driver for starting the company,” she says.
The company chose to take the road that had been less travelled; establish a website that would bring together as many hotels on the continent as possible. From there, customers visiting the continent would go the website to search for a hotel. Upon finding one that they were comfortable with, they would make reservations at a fee.
The website also offered a huge opportunity to the listed hotels. “There are tonnes of hotels on the continent. Narrowing the search to settle for a particular hotel can be strenuous. That is where we as Jovago come in. We give hotels the kind of visibility that they would possibly not have had,” Verdier-Wadine says.
Today, Jovago is one of the region’s fastest growing and biggest hotel booking sites on the continent. And it is getting bigger.
“Since the company opened its doors three years ago, we have listed at least 20,000 hotels around Africa on our website. From these, 7,000 are in the East African region,” she says.
The website has gone on to establish itself firmly, spreading its wings beyond Africa and into the Middle East. For instance, the company has posted at least 2,000 Pakistani hotels.
Verdier-Wadine has however grappled with different challenges to get Jovago to where it is today.
“I worked from my car for sometime before finally getting an office. I would drive far and wide in pursuit of clients before finally filing the information I had gathered,” she laments.
Verdier-Wadine’s second major challenge was convincing hotels why they needed Jovago’s services. According to her, many hotels were comfortable with their social media outlets and websites. “Some did not have some at all, and they did not understand why they needed to be listed on another website. Other thought Jovago was a scam!”