How Uganda’s Tripesa raised funds to power tech-enabled tourism in Africa
The struggle that travel and tourism businesses had with the 2020 COVID pandemic was comparable to a fight between an armoured tank and a knife holder. Perhaps, the most hit group from the travel and tourism business clampdown were the MSMEs operating in the space. Some had to shut down completely and now, in 2022, many are still struggling to recover. This sub-set of the tourism sector is Tripesa’s target market.
Tripesa is a travel tech firm helping these travel and tourism MSMEs optimise their business operations and manage their businesses on a simple internet-enabled platform. With Tripesa’s suite of products, MSMEs’ managers without any technical background can build interactive websites, accept bookings and payments, and access a customer relationship management dashboard. This week, Tripesa closed an undisclosed pre-seed round to penetrate the Ugandan market and scale to Africa’s $35 billion tourism market.
Tripesa has been around since 2013, but they weren’t always a business operations booster for tourism MSMEs. The startup started as one of the SMEs it is trying to help today. It was initially an e-commerce marketplace that aggregated a pool of travel and tourism businesses on its platform, offering a one-stop-shop solution to clients and tourists in the east Africa region. However, when the unprecedented COVID crisis came, Tripesa went out of business and had to shut down.
As the pandemic crises abated, Tripesa’s cofounders, David Gonahasa, Thomas Karugaba, and Raymond Byaruhanga, realised that there was a possible second chance for the startup they had nurtured for years. They identified a market gap, pivoted their business model, and instead of competing with other tourism businesses in the space, they began offering the MSMEs a solution that could help optimise their businesses and keep them profitable.
According to Gonahasa, smaller players in Africa’s tourism market are the market’s critical players and yet they suffer from the inability to package their businesses and market or distribute their services effectively. From having no websites to absent customer-relationship systems, these businesses are unable to optimise their offerings and stay profitable consistently.
“Small business must be able to package tourism and digitally distribute a splendid tourism experience for it to sell, or else they stand to lose the market to the few bigger players ” Gonahasa said on a call with TechCabal. ”What Tripesa is doing is leveling the playing field, enabling small operators to leverage technology to escape the market limitations and scale their businesses.”
The pre-seed funding round had participation from Future Africa, LTNT investments, Consonance Investment Managers, and an individual, Eric Osiakwan, the Managing Partner at Chanzo Capital.
Speaking on the value these investors bring, Gonahosa expressed that they were the right fit for Tripesa’s current stage and were able to offer funds that capped the amount that the firm set out to raise.
Angel investor Osiakwan said: “MSMEs are truly the engine of economic growth in Africa where in some countries like Ghana 85% of enterprises are MSMEs contributing about 70% of the country’s GDP. Our investment in Tripesa supports the development of the continent by unlocking the potential of MSMEs who often struggle with the complexity and cost of managing their business online and accessing source markets.”
Tripesa claims to have over 260 tourism businesses in Uganda and Kenya on its platform. The startup hopes to be a one-stop shop for small African businesses across multiple sectors like tour operators, travel agencies, vents, small hotels, museums, tour guides, car hire companies, curio shops, and restaurants.
Gonahasa notably mentioned on the call that Tripesa is a first mover in the sub-niche it is operating in. While other startups like Bokun (acquired by Trip Advisor) have built tech products for tourism purposes, no one has been able to build products that support the full automation of business processes—including payments and other integrations— for micro businesses in Africa, where it is in high demand.
Tripesa offers robust onboarding, first-build support, and customer service support to its users. Through a partnership with Makerere University Business School, the travel tech firm mobilises interns from the school’s tourism department to help MSMEs ease into the new business processes and facilitate their growth. Other value offerings in Tripesa’s pipeline include an API product and a dashboard offering for other tourism tech firms.
The startup has also been working with development agencies trying to digitise MSMEs players in the African tourism sector. More recently, they were part of Ukarimu, a GIZ-funded project where they helped provide the technology for product development learners to build and test their products. They have also done a similar program with Stanbic Business Incubator, which was in collaboration with the French government.
Tripesa will use the undisclosed seed round to test the product in the Ugandan market and find an optimal product-market fit that will enable its expansion to other African countries. With the value of the African tourism and hospitality market projected to surpass $261 billion by 2030, Gonahasa believes that Tripesa is on track to dominate the market and unlock a lot of potential in the underfunded tourism market.