[Balancing Act Africa] Savanna Sunrise opens up global online hotel booking in East Africa

Savanna Sunrise opens up global online hotel booking in East Africa – B2C processes drive digital take-up and data use

Article published in Balacing Act Africa on 2016-04-08

Set up by two Norwegians, SavannaSunrise aims to put locally owned, mid-range hotels in Africa on the online map. These types of online B2C processes are probably going to be a spearhead of both digital take-up and data use. Russell Southwood spoke to one of the co-founders Havar Bauck about what it’s been doing,

SavannaSunrise started with bricks and mortar:”My co-founder Endre Opdal and I set up a budget apartment hotel in 2013 next to Nairobi International Airport. There were no budget hotels and it was a simple idea. Neither of us were hoteliers”.

“We’re marketeers and we both went to the same business college in Norway. We decided to market it online. We started getting bookings from day 1 and by April 2014 we had 100% occupancy. We expanded to 10 apartments and we’re now one of the most reviewed hotels on Bookings.com for Kenya, surpassing even the Hilton.” Reviews are a useful proxy for bookings, data that Bookings.com does not make available.

It decided from this experience to franchise its marketing experience and start marketing other hotels:”The business model is to build an A-Z online identity for mid-range, locally-owned hotels. We set up a professional looking website for them for free.”

It then connects them to 50+ online booking channels including: Booking.com, Expedia, lastminute.com, LateRooms.com and Orbitz. It also connects them to Trip Advisor and the large travel infrastructure networks like Amadeus, Travelport and Sabre:”This means our hotels can be found by 350,000 travel agents worldwide.”

Thus far it has signed up 300 hotels in 12 countries, the most recent being DRC. I spoke to Bauck who was in Goma this week signing up new clients:”It’s virgin territory for online. There’s not a single hotel with connected online marketing so far, although some have a tentative web presence.”

It also runs a 24/7 call centre from Nairobi so that when someone contacts the hotel through their online offer, they get through to travel professionals at the call centre who take and confirm the booking:”We act on behalf of the hotel and give a very good first impression.”

In January 2016, Savanna Sunrise entered a strategic partnership agreement with the Indian company eZee Technosys to provide Reservations Express that will allow its hotels to put online their room inventory:”It helps them manage booking availability and connects them with the channel manager. You can see exact availability on the dates you’re looking for. We take a commission on bookings, We get the best rate from the hotel and simply mark up the rate (with our commission) from there.” Last month it had 1,200 room nights.

It wants to expand all over Africa. Currently it is Dubai-based with a Nairobi operational hub. The aim is to open “sub-offices” this year in Lagos and Abidjan and to open in a Lusophone and North African country next year.

This kind of online company focused on B2C processes within established global online channels is only one of several African industry verticals that will quickly become open for business online.