Nalwoga quit a bank job and now owns a multi-million tourism business
Irene Nalwoga is the Managing Director of Women Tour Uganda, which runs safaris for women-only travellers. Each month, she schedules dates for international female travelers to make reservations.
A former banker, Nalwoga chose to leave a paid job to start an entrepreneurial adventure in 2011. Her decision was inspired by her travels through which she met many people who wanted to go to Uganda but did not know who to guide them and offer affordable prices. .
Since then, she has brought together female travelers from different parts of the world to go on excursions together and then return to their respective home countries.
Many have become his good friends. Because tourism is all about referrals, satisfied customers have referred friends and become returning travelers.
To give a commercial meaning to her establishment, the former banker is keen to offer affordable but competitive prices for safaris. “We take at least 14 women on any trip to minimize mass tourism, but we are still able to make a profit. I can earn around $20,000 (70 million shillings) on a good trip if it takes several days,” she explains.
His advice for success in the travel and tourism industry is for an entrepreneur to stay focused on their motivation to build the business and then love the business.
Otherwise, without interest, it will naturally collapse. She practices what she preaches because, while businesses closed shop during Covid-19, hers kept its door open.
“We kept the faith alive knowing that either way Covid-19 was going to diminish, or people would be traveling again. This would mean Women Tour Uganda would be in business again,” she says.
“We suffered losses during this period, but we continued because I honestly like what I do. I have suffered losses for example when I evaluated for four people and only one shows up I’ve made losses but I’ve met amazing people who are optimistic and will refer me clients so I’m giving them an experience to remember Profit is good but you have to look beyond that , find a way to impact others and inspire them to do what you do,” says Nalwoga.
His biggest loss on safari was $2,000 (about 7.2 million shillings). She priced a 10-day safari for four women, but only one showed up. To provide a good experience for the client who showed up, Nalwoga decided to travel with her.
The two had a memorable trip. She printed a photo of their experience on a banner in her office.
The two smile happily in the lush jungle of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park with a mountain gorilla in the background. As she adds the two became and still are friends.
Nalwoga employs 10 people. His business background taught him never to compete. “Appreciate what you have and work to achieve what you dream of achieving. The moment you start to compete with others, you are digging your grave. I have learned to always appreciate the clients who come to me, to serve with whatever I can to market my business more and not compare myself to my competitor,” she says. She chose to befriend and learn from her competitors. “I make it my friends. They teach me and I teach them,” says Nalwoga.
She says Women Tour Uganda would not have reached the milestones she has reached without the mentorship she received from Morgan Kisitu, the founder of 1000 Shades of Green.
The idea for his safari company came about during a conversation with him on a flight to Nairobi. He told her to enjoy getting along and having many friends in her professional and personal circles.
“I will never forget his kindness. He is a competitor, but he held my hand. At that time, I had not gone to international traveling exhibitions abroad. He taught me how to market in such exhibitions. They say never forget someone who held your hand when you didn’t know which way to go. Kisitu encouraged and pushed me into the female (niche) tours. said I had a personality that got along well with women, so I had to use that to make money,” Nalwoga recounts.
She has known the setbacks of business. When Covid-19 broke out, her business was hit. Its marketing efforts between 2016 and 2020 had yielded nothing but returns with tourists confirming reservations.
And boom, the pandemic brought everything to a halt as the world went into lockdown as a precaution to stop its spread. This largely deterred socialization and movement. Sad and blue, she was perplexed. Then she met Aisha Ali from the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE).
“That day was a miracle in my life. Aisha liked my idea and my energy and told me that I was a woman who could impact many women. She told me they were closing soon but they had a slot. I was happy to take it because I needed mentorship and guidance. I had never had any formal business training.
Nalwoga adds that as part of AWE’s “Dream Build-Up Programme”, she was able to pick herself up, count and come to terms with the losses she had suffered during the pandemic and begin a new phase of activity. The U.S. Embassy’s Office of Education and Cultural Affairs has launched the Women’s Entrepreneur Academy, an initiative supporting women entrepreneurs around the world. “Through the program I realized the business mistakes I had made and learned the things I needed to know, like boot strapping. I appreciated not looking at my finances from the perspective of profits but interpreting them. We used to make money and we wanted to invest it in something (immediately) and not keep money in the bank, but I learned to organize myself in case of an emergency,” she explains.
Most payments for his business are made through the bank. “We write our receipts and then have someone take care of our accounts. We have kept our files from 2011, when the company was founded. Any outgoing payment from the company must be signed. This is something I learned from my banking background. We do financial statements at the end of each month and year,” she adds.
For a woman who would like to join and make business sense of being part of the travel and tourism industry, her advice is the belief that small steps in building a business do work.
“Sometimes all you need is a leap of faith. Please don’t be afraid to get started. The world is looking for women entrepreneurs. have been, also help other women around you,” she urges.
She also advises; “For my brothers, invest as much as you can. Tourism is scary and risky, but it’s also a well-paying business that can sustain you for a lifetime if you handle it well. If a client paid you for a trip a year in advance, be faithful enough to their payment. Don’t eat people’s money and close your business. Think long term,” she says.
On her wish list is the anticipation of seeing more women join the business and excel in it. She would also like to see more tourists from the United States as a big source market.
With more tourists, there are job opportunities created and ultimately more money spent in the country. As a tour operator who has participated in international tourism and trade shows, Nalwoga would like to see the government and the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) do better in marketing Uganda as a destination. She says she has visited countries where people have never heard of Uganda’s tourism potential, apart from its dark political past and the stories of ousted President Idi Amin. “We have a lot to show the world,” she adds. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is her favorite local tourist destination due to the direct contact she has had with mountain gorillas.
She adds; “It’s so personal. Putting the wildlife aside, Bwindi gives me a great experience because being in the forest gives me a meal like nothing else matters. I also love being in the mountains .
Before becoming an entrepreneur, Irene Nalwoga was a banker; a fact she says is hidden from most people because most are unable to understand why someone will “throw away” an honorable career like banking and enter the uncertain world of entrepreneurship. Such things are only normal in movies, where the damage can be controlled.
While Nalwoga likes the idea of following her passion, she explains that to start her own business in tourism, passion is not enough. “Really highly skilled people and people with a high level of expertise can charge premium rates,” she says. “Master your skills,” she advises. “Be good at something, because you need something to bring to the table.”