Reliable online content, excellent customer service and outstanding user experience were what Anil Chandirani was aiming for when he decided to launch TravelWings.com, an online travel agency that focuses on delivering customer-centric offerings.
“Those three elements were the main reasons why I started TravelWings.com,” said Chandirani, the company’s president and CEO. “I’ve been in the travel business for nearly 28 years and my passion for the industry has always motivated me to keep finding innovate solutions to enhance customers’ travel experience.”
TravelWings is part of the Satguru Group of companies, which Chandirani founded in the Rwandan capital of Kigali in 1989. Today his conglomerate has 74 branches in 54 countries, employing more than 1,000 staff.
Passion for travel
“I started TravelWings purely for the passion for and love of travel. In my previous business, I personally used to travel a lot and found it difficult to get my travel arrangements done,” Chandirani narrated. Such passion and the perceived gap in the market have led him to the idea of developing a business, with the aim of making information on flights, hotels and destinations accessible to potential travelers.
Prior to setting up TravelWings.com, he said he did not have any experience in the travel industry, but through Satguru Group, which is involved in imports and exports, he was able to acquire the necessary entrepreneurial skills and translate that into creating a new business model.
“I have been fortunate to learn my way around and I haven’t stopped learning. I want to keep abreast of best practices.”
Funding a start-up
As an entrepreneur, Chandirani said, he is excited about starting a new business, but is mindful of the challenges that come with it, especially in terms of financing. “I had to be careful and make sure that my fund flow was intact during the initial days, based on the business projection and cost of operations.”
With a new business, he also had to contend with issues such as electricity supply, office space availability and the political conditions in Rwanda. “We’ve persevered through it all and today, we’re ready for any challenge.”
Through his import-export business, he was able to self-fund the launch and growth of Satguru Travels and TravelWings. “During the initial days, getting funding from banks weren’t an easy approach so we funded everything from our own pocket.”
The travel industry has attracted several players, both within the Middle East and Africa, and overseas. But Chandirani is unfazed by competition. Instead, he sees this as an opportunity to grow and continue improving their offerings.
“I love competition as we all work hand in hand with a similar objective. Of course, it is about making a business succeed, but on the other hand, we are also educating the market and transforming their mindset,” he said. “We need like-minded entrepreneurs and companies to work towards achieveing this goal, especially in emerging markets.”
As a company, he believes in staying up to speed with the market, technology and customer in order to meet the needs of an evolving client base.
He is also unflappable in the midst of current market conditions. “Some of the things that happened in recent years had a positive impact on businesses, others were negative. But my mantra is to look at the negative as an opportunity and use that to move forward,” he said.
Customer is king
Success, to Chandirani, can be achieved by focusing on customers. “All your strategies should be based on that and you will succeed,” he said.
He advises young entrepreneurs to be passionate about what they do, but to remain open to the realities of the market and the industry.
“Be very passionate, but don’t let that passion prevent you from seeing what goes around you. Have a planned approach, believe in yourself and believe in your team because you cannot do everthing on your own.”