Q&A: Femi Okanla, founder and CEO, Nitestay.com

Q&A: Femi Okanla, founder and CEO, Nitestay.com

Nitestay.com is one of the Nigeria’s first online hotel booking services, which since its launch has grown both in the number of listed hotels and bookings. Femi Okanla, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of the platform, told HumanIPO how the platform came into being, what is unique about it, e-commerce in Nigeria and his plans for 2014.

HumanIPO: How did the platform come into existence?

Femi Okanla: The concept of Nitestay came into existence during a visit to Nigeria. The need to pre-book hotel rooms and general travel guidance was evident as such service did not exist in Nigeria. As a result of this problem, a solution was designed by creating Nitestay.com.

Setting up e-commerce platforms in Nigeria is often associated with difficulties. Was it the case when you were setting up your platform?

Setting up an e-commerce site or online business in Nigeria is not as difficult as many people might think. In setting up Nitestay we ensured the site was developed with all the needed functionality at launch allowing us to run with little or minor changes in design or having to change our site in totality. We were also well funded, as we had three shareholders’ funds that covered most of our immediate costs. Two major issues in being the first hotel booking site are understanding how to ensure your room inventory is accurate in real time and also marketing a new service such as Nitestay to hotels. But by thinking outside the box, we have been able to create a system that gives continuous growth in hotel partners while ensuring accurate inventory online.

How do customers use your platform?

Individuals use our service by visiting Nitestay.com, calling our call centre or tweeting at us via @nitestay. Hotel rooms are pre-paid for online, or paid for on arrival at hotel. Our online platform is user friendly and easy to use. While our corporate customers that are signed up to our Nitestay corporate service (NCS) are assigned a dedicated account manager that caters to their specific hotel needs via email or telephone providing flexible, cost effective and timely solutions and advice.

What stands you out from your competitors?

What stands Nitestay out is our extraordinary service and leading initiatives in the online hotel booking business in Nigeria such as the “Pay at Hotel” for customers that choose to make payment at check-in. Other leading initiatives include receiving booking confirmation as SMS, customer reviews as well as unbelievable hotel discounts and deals. We continuously work on a travellers’ needs in such a way that a one-stop travel shop is created and most importantly keeping customer satisfaction as our primary goal.

What is your average daily number of bookings?

Our sales in the last year have seen a significant jump. As of last year, we were able to have the number of bookings in a week of 2012 done in a day of 2013. A lot of this can be attributed to a significant increase in our followers on social media in 2013.

How do you drive traffic and inform more people about your platform?

Our strategy has been to make use of the pull and push strategy. The easiest way for service-based online businesses is having an optimal SEO allowing potential customers find the service online. In addition we continue to increase our hotel deals, discount for referrals, advertising banners. Understanding the uniqueness of our environment also requires including offline strategies in growing awareness of our platform. Social media has been a great impact to our growth and we intend to continue making use of this tool as well.

What is the vision for the new year?

Our vision for the year is to improve on creating a one stop travel site by increasing partnership with complimentary travel businesses. For example, from January 1 book a three-night stay and be eligible for a free Lagos airport pickup via metro taxi. We look forward to more of such partnerships this year to improve customer experience.

What is the key to a successful online business in Nigeria?

The key to a successful online business is having a clear understanding of your target market, creating incentives to move the target market from brick and mortar structures to a reliable online platform, and wowing with each moment of truth by exceeding customers’ expectations.

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