The dilemma of tourism startups as they scale up

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Most people create startups out of frustration or disappointment in their current lines of work or from being unemployed. If the basis of starting a business is wrong, you are equally creating an added level of frustration. A wrong start equally impedes scaling. I have penned down my thoughts on some of the setbacks to scaling amongst startups.

As a child, if you are told a story many times as you grow up, it becomes your truth. Over time, it becomes your reality. If enough people are told that story, it becomes part of the culture. If that story passes onto a generation, it becomes a tradition. Our worldview defines our value systems and informs how we think and make decisions. Our worldview can negatively impact our ability to innovate. As a startup in tourism, your goal is to create and sell an experience and therefore innovation that is customer centric and customer led is pivotal in achieving that goal. In order to achieve innovation, you may have been told many a time to always think outside the box but perhaps, you need not to. Sometimes thinking within the box but pushing the boundaries of the box may well be your best approach to scaling. Innovation is not a measure of the magnitude of the change. It is a measure of value created no matter how minute that value is perceived to be.

Akwasi Obeng Adjei- Director of Absa Group Internal Audit:

The methodology for startups is trial and error. Given that a startup is an emerging business, it is very possible that some of the approaches may fail. But when they do, they offer an opportunity to take stock. Change can sometimes become a single point of success.

My mantra for a startup has always been “Fail fast, fail often but fail forward”.

I often remind myself of the story of the bridge over the Choluteca river in Honduras, Central America. This region is known for storms and hurricanes. A bridge was therefore constructed over this river to withstand these storms and hurricanes. This bridge withstood the 75 inches of rain that fell in 1998. The rain caused so much devastation to the extent that 7000 people lost their lives. Although the bridge remained, there was a problem, the flooding forced the river Choluteca to change course. It created a new channel, and the river now flowed beside the bridge. Not under, but besides the bridge. This story is a terrific metaphor of what can happen to our businesses if we are not agile and adaptable. The challenge for us is that we get focused on creating the best solution to a given problem.

We forget that the problem itself might change. The need for that product or service might vanish. The customer preference may change. As a startup, as you contemplate on scaling, equally think about adaptability and business agility whilst thinking of the bridge in a way that does not result you in building a superb bridge over nothing.

Whenever I have presented at a tourism conference, the vast majority of questions posed by delegates are centered around investment options. The notion of investment can be broken down into many spheres but critically for a startup it can range from capital investment to mentoring. Startups often forego the possibility that an investment does not always translate into cash. For those wanting to consider other forms of investment, there is the venture capitalist, crowdfunding, grants from NGO’s, loans from financial institutions to mention but a few. However, before exploring any of the options above, determine how much scale you want to achieve, identify all the resources you need and then critically examine best source of investment required.

Akwasi Obeng-Adjei is the Director of Absa Group Internal Audit: Investment Management and Insurance and an academic with a vested interest in Future and Digital Transformation. A mentor and a coach for Tourism startups and an established speaker on tourism. PhD Candidate (Univ of Witwatersrand), MBA (Univ of Stellenbosch), MCOM (Univ of Witwatersrand), BSc Hons: Management (University of Johannesburg), BSc IT & Mathematics qualifications.

This article was first published in the October 2022 Issue of VoyagesAfriq Travel Magazine

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