Rental tents turn Nyeko’s fortunes

By Edgar R. Batte

“I specialise in camping solutions as a side business. I love to travel, party and meeting new people. We are travelling with Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), travelling around the country to show that it is possible for nationals to travel and enjoy fine things. There is a lot to see in our own country,” Steven Nyeko, a travel enthusiast, says.
He provided tents for a camping experience during the stay in Murchison Falls National Park by some 50 bloggers, journalists and social media influencers.

Building business
He runs Bloom Technologies Limited which he co-runs with Michael Opio, his cousin.
The company has been running since 2011 but primary as a provider of Information Technology (IT) services. However during times of low business, the duo decided to look outside the business walls.
“We saw an opportunity in camping, specifically through Nyege Nyege Festival, which had a good market. We decided to invest a big chunk of money into bringing camping tents to the country,” Nyeko explains.

The decision was informed by the fact that accommodation to many of the tourist destinations is expensive and discourages would-be travellers. Of the total cost, a traveller will spend 70 to 80 per cent on accommodation.
So, there was a problem and they sought to provide a solution. And beyond the festival, they stretched their reach to providing the tents to those on expeditions to national parks.

They rent a tent to an individual or company, with a sleeping solution, for a camping experience. So far, a few people have bought into the idea but there are many more who are yet to open their minds to the experience.
“Many have biased perceptions that camping is a white man’s thing but I always want to challenge people to come out of their comfort zones. From this (Murchison) trip, there were many people who had never camped but after the experience, they are open to it,” Nyeko adds.

But, like he adds, camping comes with its share of challenges, especially during the rainy season when mattresses or sleeping materials get wet and the feet get muddy.
On a hot day, it is comfortable sleeping in a tent. With planning, it makes a better opportunity cost than spending an arm and leg on most of the lodging facilities at travel destinations in Uganda, some of which charge accommodation fees in dollars, telling of who they are targeting to cater for.

The IT specialists-cum travel entrepreneurs invested in acquiring 600 tents that enable them handle both small and large scale events. “We bought them from China, each at $100 (Shs360,000), and came with a sleeping bag, hammock and a fan. In China, we contacted a factory to get the quantity we wanted. Of course, they gave us a significant discount. However, we had to factor in shipping and paying taxes so we spend about Shs100m to get those tents in Uganda,” he explains.

So far, it has proved to be a lucrative business. The business duo rent out tents at Shs50,000 per day, which will guarantee them a full return on investment in a year’s time.
During Nyege Nyege, they rented out each tent at Shs100,000, and all were rented out, fetching them Shs60m. “If you have a good service, and a product which is scarce, people will look for you in referrals. That is what has happened in our case.” Nyeko keeps getting calls from strangers who have been referred by previous clients they provided a camping experience service.
As such, many of the clients become permanent clients and part of his business network.

Juggling IT and tent business
And with the IT arm of the business, Nyeko says he has not been practicing much. “We have a very efficient team. I have never believed in doing the hardest things. I am smart about it. We built a good profile for the company and have a strong team of hungry people. We recruited young people, fresh from school, energetic and enthusiastic about the IT world so we get the contracts and supervise to see to it that good work is done to the level the clients want,” he explains.

But IT is not entirely far flung from the travel arm of the business. It has been effective in marketing and publicising the business. Three quarters of the business is done on the mobile phone from which he shares photographs with clients who would like to see set-ups of the tents mounted and experiences of camping.
“I only have face to face meetings when I am delivering and mounting tents. People never come to office. People make all arrangement on phone. That is the bit where IT has been efficient in networking,” Nyeko says.

Future plans
On his wish list is growing the business to become his only source of livelihood.
Last year, Nyeko travelled to Swaziland, in preparation for Nyege Nyege. There, he found the camping at an enormous level.
Companies had tents with toilets and bathrooms going for $2,500 (Shs9m). For the festival, people turned up with cooking equipment.

“The festival had an airfield for landing and the festival sold out three months to its start, so I was inspired.” My target is to get to a level to introduce a lifestyle to people and provide a solution that was long time so that they can travel more to the places they love to explore.”

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