A village boy at heart, Mr Nicanor Sabula, CEO of the Kenya Association of Travel Agents (KATA) told us his first experience with travel was seeing the airplanes flying over the village where he was raised by his grandparents.
“I used to wonder what people were doing up in the sky and how they could be seated so high up in the air. It sparked my interest in travel and I thought: one day I will be up there,” he tells Amadeus.
When Nicanor eventually travelled on a plane, he was lucky to travel immediately in Business Class. “Of course, I didn’t know what that was,” he laughs. “For me, it was amazing – I was awe-struck. So, I thought: Finally I know now what it’s like to be up in the sky.”
The return flight was an eye-opener for Nicanor. “I flew Economy Class. I thought: how can you be on the same plane and have such a very different experience,” he remembers, adding that this trip not only taught him about the airline experience but also about expectations in life. “I realised that you could be travelling the journey of life on the same vessel but people are enjoying it very differently.”
Today, Nicanor travels regularly for his job as he drives KATA’s agenda on travel and tourism. He explains KATA’s vision is to be THE authority on all travel matters in Kenya. “We want to be the go-to body for tourism and travel in Kenya,” he says.
Nicanor is passionate about preparing KATA members for the travel industry of tomorrow. “There is a lot of disruption in the travel industry and people wonder whether their business is going to exist tomorrow. At KATA, we tell them that if they get ready and anticipate what the travel trade looks like tomorrow, they’ll win big time. The rapid evolution of the travel industry demands steadfastness and focus. We want to be ahead of the game in all spheres of the trade.”
Currently, Africa only has 5% of the global travel market, Nicanor explains. Although this is only a small piece of the travel pie, he says this also means that we’ll see the fastest growth in travel happening on the continent. He tells travel agents: “Let’s not look at the current disruptions as the death bells of our businesses, but let’s look at it as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and to grow our business.”
Travel agents have a lot to look forward to in Kenya. Says Nicanor: “Kenya is well-known for being a technology hub on the continent. We can expect a lot of technological innovation happening in our country in the near future.”
Another exciting trend, according to Nicanor, is the emergence of young Kenyans who are starting to travel around the country and the world. This is partly due to the rise of low-cost carriers, he says. “Thanks to low-cost carriers, more and more people can get to destinations faster and cheaper than they ever could previously.”
For young travel agents keen to find a travel career, Nicanor’s advice is to take time, learn about the market and create a niche for themselves. “Young travel agents need to remember to enjoy what they’re doing and provide exemplary service. Clients today can make bookings on their own. So, it’s important to stand out and offer them something more. Put passion in what you do and money will follow later.”
What does Nicanor love most about the travel industry in Kenya?
“I love the ability of the Kenyan travel and tourism industry to be resilient in a complex and unpredictable world,” he tells Amadeus. “A few years’ ago we were faced with a spate of terror attacks. Three years down the line, people are still coming and tourism has rebounded. God-given beauty cannot be hidden. We’ve got a beautiful country, so people keep on coming and are defying the fears.”
“Wangari Maathai. She stood for something she strongly believed in and even though she was never recognized in her home country, the world did. I am inspired by her quote that says: It is the little things that we do that will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.”
What is the one thing Nicanor never travels without?
“My handkerchief – I don’t go anywhere without that. Without my handkerchief, I feel naked.”
And finally, his thoughts on Amadeus?
The versatility of Amadeus is interesting. Amadeus is always ahead of the game, staying abreast of a very tumultuous industry.