This is the story of Abdirizaq Abdullahi. He is an entrepreneur from Somaliland who started his tourism business in 2013. Today, 4 years later, SPARK catches up with him to ask about his business, improvements and challenges.
“I’m competitive and ambitious, I care about quality”
Abdirizaq, 31, starts with talking about his day to day business. For him, the beauty of his business lies in diversity. “No day is the same simply because I am dealing with new people every day.” He and his team usually wake up to several booking requests and try to answer each e-mail as precise as possible: “Before I started my business in Somaliland I knew that there were one or two businesses like mine. But they did not provide exact and adequate information to tourists. We at Somaliland Travel try to provide as much information as possible, both on our website and in answering e-mails.”
Then Abdirizaq checks on his three employees in Somaliland office to see if everything is running smoothly. Tourists, going to Somaliland, need travel permits, visas and police escort. Somaliland Travel offers tour guides and drivers to accompany tourists throughout their journey. “I constantly monitor the tours to ensure quality. Guides and drivers must be briefed about new arrivals and the paper work has to be arranged at the Ministry of Tourism and the Department of Immigration. In addition I have to constantly be in touch with our local and international partners.”
“Don’t do it for money, do it for passion”
In 2013, Abdirizaq went to Somaliland to tell his friends and family that he was going to start a tourism business. “They laughed and said: Who would travel to Somaliland?” Despite everyone’s disbelief, Abdirizaq trusted his passion for travelling and finally managed to establish Somaliland Travel with an initial investment of about € 25,000. “I started for something bigger than me. Travelling is something I love and am passionate about. My passion is bigger than me. I didn’t do it for money, but for love.”
“After a while, I came to know of SPARK via Dutchsom. SPARK programmes are mainly designed for aspiring entrepreneurs. In my case, I already had a business when I attended SPARK’s assessments sessions. They assigned a coach to give me guidance and help me do market research. The programmes helped me grow my business based on the market needs. However, they would have been more helpful if they also included some example business cases to support the theories.”
Today Abdirizaq estimates his annual growth to be around % 30. “Somaliland Travel has grown so much in the last 2 years. We teamed up with international agencies and this brought us so many clients.” Recently Somaliland Travel introduced its new packages to Djibouti, a small country to the northwest of Somalia.
“You just have to accept that nothing is perfect”
However, to keep the business running and ensure quality of services, Abdirizaq needs to expand his team in Somaliland. But this is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, Abdirizaq sees it as the biggest challenge on his way: “In the beginning I tried to do everything alone. Then I brought in employees, educated them and gave them space to learn. But it is not easy to find locals with knowledge of tourism and English language in an isolated country. Somaliland is not the most popular tourist destination and therefore locals are not educated enough about tourism and services.”
On the bright side Somaliland Travel has improved the local community’s knowledge of the world. “Most people in Somaliland can’t easily travel, because their passport is not recognized by other countries. My business brings the international experience to them. Locals interact with tourists and this benefits both sides. In addition, many hotels and restaurants have been opened in response to the need for infrastructures.”
For Abdirizaq to see both his clients and his community happy is satisfying. “I have had some moments of disappointment in my business and a number of unhappy clients. But I always focus on the positive points and try to learn from my mistakes. You can’t always be perfect. You just have to accept that and improve yourself.”
“Networking and Partnership are essential to my business”
We asked Abdirizaq what he would do different looking back at the past four years: “Part of entrepreneurship is trial and error. It is about learning from your mistakes. I have made changes to my business based on the lessons I have learned along the way.
“The trick” Abdirizaq explains is to team up with as many partners as possible: “I visit tourism exhibitions to find more international partners for Somaliland Travel. It is all about partnering and networking. Looking back I would have started my business by doing more networking and reaching out to the international community. ”
“I want to develop tourism and preserve archaeological sites”
After all the effort and 4 years of an exciting journey full of ups and downs, Abdirizaq is now ready to take his business to the next level. “Together with our partners, we want to take the lead to empower women by using female tour leaders and drivers. You don’t see women doing those in Somaliland. We hope that this will inspire the rest of the world and improve gender equality in Somaliland. Currently we are looking for funds to initiate the programme.”
“In five years, I would like to see tourism developing more in my country and important archaeological sites are conserved better. I would be proud if I can contribute to these two causes and make a change. I also hope for Somaliland Travel Agency to become one of the leading agencies in The Horn of Africa.”