Monday, July 8, 2013
By WANGUI MAINA
Charleston Travel chief executive Mohammed Wanyoike. The firm was last year ranked among the Top 100 mid-sized companies in Kenya and is planning to open shop in Somalia by next year in a bid to tap into the potential of the country as it emerges from decades of strife. Photo/Salaton Njau
Kenyan travel company Charleston Travel is in talks with a pan-African private equity firm for investment funds as it looks to expand in East Africa.
The money will support Charleston’s growth into Tanzania, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda over the next three years as it prepares to list at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) in the next few years.
The firm’s chief executive Mohammed Wanyoike would not disclose what stake the equity partner would get in the new deal expected to be concluded in a couple of months, or how much money the firm needed.
“The deal is still under discussion. We hope to conclude in the next couple of months.
The deal and expansion is part of the plans as we prepare to list on the Nairobi Securities Exchange within the next five years,” he said.
Charleston, which made it to the Business Daily Top 100 2012 club, is eyeing to open shop in Somalia by next year in a bid to tap into the potential of the country as it emerges from years of strife.
Mr Wanyoike said its experience starting operations in South Sudan in 2006, when the country was coming out of war, has encouraged it to target similar markets.
“We feel it’s (Somalia) an interesting emerging market. We have seen opportunities in markets that are not as developed as Kenya. We take standards, quality so we are able to attract business,” he said.
“The biggest challenge will be insecurity, infrastructure and man power in the beginning.”
Mr Wanyoike said the company is positioning itself to offer services in the region.
At least 90 per cent of the company’s clients are companies, with a little business coming from leisure retail.
Charleston hopes to open its offices in Kigali and Tanzania this year. It is currently in discussions to buy a travel company in Tanzania.
Recently, the company opened a Meetings Incentives Conference and Exhibition department to tap into the growing conference tourism that is mainly driven by corporate clients. It now wants to offer a one-stop-shop for clients attending conferences or exhibitions.
As part of restructuring business to offer clients better services and in preparing for expansion into the region, the original three shareholders — Mr Wanyoike, his wife Ann and Charles Gikundi — have ceded 10 per cent stake to top firm managers.
Mr Wanyoike and his wife bought the company in 2003 from Mr Gikundi who was running it as a one-man show. Two years later, the company opened shop in Mombasa and later moved its headquarters to Westlands, from 20th Century Plaza in Nairobi’s CBD.
In the ten years since taking over Charleston, Mr Wanyoike says the firm has grown to become one of the top travel agents in Kenya.
For three years it worked in partnership with global travel company Uniglobe leveraging on the firm’s network mainly in the SME sector. But soon enough, it outgrew Uniglobe and started looking for a new partner with a multinational network.
In January it partnered with Australian publicly listed travel company FCm Travel Solution.
This allows Charleston a wider range of seamless solutions in all countries where the Australian company is represented. FCm boasts a global network extending in more than 75 countries.