Musinguzi built a Uganda tour company from a 500 Euro loan
FELIX Musinguzi traces his roots back in Rubondo Kabale where he was born into a peasant family with his mother having to till other people’s land in order to provide meals for them.
So tough was his life growing up that at one time he had to drop out of school due to lack of fees after his senior one.
In 1996 Musinguzi took a step that was to change his fortunes forever. Tired of the poverty and suffering in his village he decided to stealthily leave home in the wee hours of the night with only a mat which he sold off on his way to Kabale town.
On reaching Kabale town his first stop was at a family of a retired Captain where he went to ask for any available job, he was given a job following a prompt interview on the Captain’s return and his limited English won him the job.
He started the next day at a tourist campsite on the shores of Lake Bunyonyi owned by the retired Captain and this is where Felix Musinguzi’s love for tourism and hospitality started.
“For three months there, I did all casual jobs including being a night watchman on the promise of being paid 20,000 a month which I was only paid at the end of the 3 months when I was leaving” says Felix Musinguzi.
It is while interacting with tourists at this camp site that Musinguzi got into contact with a couple that sponsored him to continue with his studies at Bunyonyi SS on Bwana Island where he continued to work as a tour guide to cater for his basic needs until he got through secondary school.
Starting his first company
Having been a tourist guide before and enjoyed it, when Musinguzi went to Nkumba University in 2001, he studied tourism and while there started a briefcase firm called Lake Bunyonyi Cray Fish Company through which he sold Cray fish from Lake Bunyonyi to mainly expatriates in parts of Nakasero and Muyenga through the contacts he made as a tour guide.
When he left school, Musinguzi got his first job in Kabale as a publicity manager with an organisation called Ediirisa that run a local museum.
Between 2004 and 2005 Musinguzi left and linked up with a one Jason Gerber who owned a restaurant called Amagara still in Kabale which mainly catered for tourists, it also boasted an internet café and he was soon appointed the manager of this business helping it grow using the contacts he had built in the tourism circles.
It was while working as the Manager of Amagara that he started a web based tour company called Felix the Cat Africa Safaris which targeted budget travelers, volunteers and students.
In 2006 Felex was invited by the owner of Matooke tours to come and work for him as he gets experience he was to use in building his new company. This was almost sabotaged by Felex’s friends in Kabale who told hisnext employer that he had been involved in a motor accident because he wasn’t a good driver.
This did not stop him from being hired,consequently working for Matooke tours till 2007 and it was while at this job that he met his current business partners Vincent and Denise Vanthof. While taking them around a tour of queen Elizabeth National Park, they had a look at his company’s website which was later rebuilt by Denise Vanthof.
Alongside the website change, the Vanthofs also advised Felix Musinguzi to change the firm’s name to a more botanical one and they all soon agreed on Kazinga tours.
Taking a brave step
When the Vanthofs departed from Uganda, Musinguzi realised he could actually enter into a joint venture with them that would make his tour company grow much faster since he would be taking care of business in Uganda as they help him take care of the marketing in Netherlands where they are from and around the rest of Europe.
“As a result I agreed with Vincent Vanthof to establish Kazinga tours as equal partners which enabled him to advance me a loan of 500 euros which is about sh1.7m now. I used this money to buy a computer and a UTL desk phone to use for the internet connection and started business in my one roomed house in Kabale,” says Musinguzi.
Factors helping him succeed
Apart from loving this trade, Musinguzi had almost made 10 years dealing with tourists from his days as a casual labourer at a camp site on lake Bunyonyi through out his school days until he started working so he knew so much about the tourism business starting out.
The tour business doesn’t require a lot of capital so with his computer and internet connection he could actually outsource everything else ranging from cars to accommodation as long as his clients booked and paid up.
On top of the two awards; one for having the best travel website in East Africa according to visitors of travel advisor.com and the tourism and hospitality category winner for the Young achievers awards 2010, Musinguzi has taken a number of great strides in the tourism sector.
He handled 350 guests in his maiden full time year of operation which jumped to 402 and 500 in 2009 and 2010 respectively and expects this number to grow in 2011.
Musinguzi now employs over 30 people, has acquired a fleet of tour wagons and vans, set up a campsite named Sharps Island in Lake Bunyonyi, acquired a stake in Chimps nest lodge located in Kibaale National park and is carrying out training of youth to work as tour guides in Kabaale.
Musinguzi started a unique form of partnership with the communities, his clients visited which he calls ‘the home stay programme.’ Under this system, tourists stay in the homes of the families in the communitites they visit and pay for the food and accommodation they offer them.
Setting up in Kampala
In January this year, Musinguzi decided to move his offices from Kabale town to Kampala so that he could serve his clients better.
He set up city sanctuary lodge in Mengo where tourists can rest for a day before they go to their intended destinations and this doubles as his office allowing him to meet and create a personal relationship with his clients before they go on tour. Being in the city centre, Musinguzi also has better access to key services like finance, telecommunications among others.
In appreciation of the lady Gale Schutz the lady who sponsored who sponsored his education to completion, Musinguzi set up the Gale Education Fund to help cater for other students fees who were in a situation similar to his around his home area in Kabale.
In conjunction with some friends from Holland, they have opened a sports academy and plan to set up a sports complex later in Kabale to promote and groom sports talent in the district on top of some recently acquired land they intend to set up a technical school and hospital on.
In the beginning Musinguzi had no capital to implement some of the things he wanted to implement but as his business has taken root, he has been able to implement some of those plans.
Being located in Kabale was a disadvantage because he would not get the chance to meet his clients when they have just arrived in town and he found it hard to carry out other transactions like buying gorilla permits for his clients.
Initially the company had no structures and Musinguzi was involved in almost everything which was wearing him down so he decided to bring in a travel consultant from Europe who is helping him set up company structures.
Musinguzi has embarked on an expansion plan to set up lodges in all the parks in the country and extend the ‘home stay programme’ he started in Kabale to Kampala
By Michael Kanaabi: The New Vision Newspaper
Wednesday, 15th June, 2011