**Capital Business** From Starting Kenya’s First Airbnb To Building Digital Revenue Platform For Hotels

Interview originally published in Capital Business 2022-11-02. Text content below:

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 2 – While working in Lagos, Nigeria, Håvar Bauck often visited his friend Endre Opdal in Kenya to discuss business ideas and opportunities.

Every time they spoke, they agreed on one thing; that Kenya had immense potential.

The duo in 2013, leased and furnished 5 apartments for accommodation in Syokimau, Machakos County.

“We put them on Booking.com, Expedia and other booking sites as an airport apartment hotel, targeting passengers who were connecting, or stopping over briefly in Nairobi,” Bauck tells Capital Business.

“We were the first in Nairobi to do this, and it was an instant success.  Only the big international 5-star hotels in Nairobi were online at the time, so we had a whole market segment to ourselves,” the Master’s degree holder from BI Norwegian Business School says.

When the facility became the most-booked hotel in Nairobi on Booking.com in 2014, they realized online marketing was a competitive advantage in an immature market, and so they decided to sell the knowledge.

In 2014, they incorporated a company called Savanna Sunrise (a metaphor for “Africa Rising”) in Dubai as a vehicle for their then increasingly ambitious project.  They later rebranded to HotelOnline in 2017.

The firm comprises a holding company based in Singapore with subsidiaries in Kenya and Norway, covering Africa and the Nordic countries respectively.

“HotelOnline is a digital revenue partner for hotels.  We offer a turnkey bundle of technology and services to help hotels streamline their operations, and significantly increase their revenue by boosting their digital distribution,” the former

“We work with hotels across Africa, with our main markets in East Africa,” the 45-years tells.

One of their main services is revenue management that helps hotels and accommodation providers increase their revenue from all online sources, including Booking.com.

Others are Expedia, Google Hotel Ads, and also from their own hotel websites.

“To enable hotels to fully tap into this potential, we also provide a technology suite that helps hotels manage their bookings, check-ins, departures and housekeeping, streamlining the guest experience, and operations in general.”

The two partners invested Sh3 million ($25,000) into the platform initially from their own savings.

“When the business started growing, we never took out any dividends, instead reinvesting everything to keep accelerating.”

They have also received an investment from Yanolja, a global South Korea-based traveltech SaaS company in April.

They are working with more than 5,000 hotels in 27 African countries. They have processed more than 500,000 bookings so far.

“Charges depends on the solutions used. Clients who use technology only, pay a fixed monthly fee,” he says.

“Those on revenue management, pay a percentage of the booking amounts. How much they pay, depends on the agreement, and on the total booking volumes.” adds Bauck.

Popular destinations in Kenya include Nairobi and Mombasa.

“International travel is recovering from Covid now, so the number of international visitors is rising,” Bauck who first came to Kenya as an intern in the tail end of former President Daniel Moi narrates.

“Europe and the Middle East are the main source markets.  Domestic tourism in Kenya is however also a strong trend.”

However, he says building a startup is all about endurance, dedication and sacrifice.

“It’s about staying on course, controlling the costs, and building the business step by step, never giving up, despite all the seemingly endless setbacks,” the former Norwegian tech company Africa Sales Director says.

Lessons learnt: “First and foremost, a business is all about people. You achieve success through the people you build, and your company will only get as great as the talent you nurture.” He adds.

Recently, the company acquired HotelPlus that was built by Eric Muliro.

“HotelPlus is an established, well recognized brand in the travel and hospitality industry.”

“Getting him on board as our Chief Technology Officer, along with his high-performance team, is an obvious win-win. The teams are already working together as one.”

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