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mark-essienHotels.ng was founded by Mark Essien 2012. It is the s the biggest local hotel booking website in Nigeria hosting over 4,000 hotels on its platform. The company lists local hotels that are not travel aggregator distributed and allows users book them. Payments are made electronically or on arrival at the hotel. It has raised $1.2m (about N250m at current exchange rate) from Omidyar Network, a venture capital firm launched by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. and EchoVC Pan-Africa Fund to double down on Hotels.ng vision to expand across Africa.

The site will launch new operations in Ghana first and then move on to all of West Africa before tackling the rest of the continent. It also plans to focus on its mobile platform, since many consumers in Africa access the Internet exclusively through their smartphones.

Users performed more than a million hotel searches on the site last year, while 70,000 new customers signed up. Hotels.ng’s growth in its home market hinges on two factors: Nigeria’s Internet penetration rate, which is the highest in Africa and still increasing rapidly, and the government’s investment in its tourism industry, which is expected to contribute 5.8 percent of its gross domestic product by 2024.

This means that other hotel booking companies have set their sights on the country, including Jovago, which was launched by Rocket Internet in 2013, as well as international platforms Agoda and Bookings.com.

Essien says that by focusing exclusively on Africa, Hotels.ng is able to offer more inventory than its competitors. The site is also able to adapt to the needs of consumers in regions where there are few stable Internet or phone connections, with phone-based and messaging-based reservations accounting for more than 30 percent of Hotels.ng’s entire bookings.

“The hotel booking space in particular—even though it was a big market abroad—did not exist in the entire Sub-Saharan African market. After looking into the market, I understood the operational challenges that prevented it from existing, and then set about to solve them,” says Essien.

“We were able to solve them, and the day the site went live, we were dealing with a 100 calls a day. Since then, the business has kept growing—down to us raising one of the biggest Nigerian tech rounds in recent times.”

When asked how he started , Essien says “first of all, it was just me coding the site, then after that I hired a friend called Charles Bassey – and we were working together getting our inventory in calabar. That was before I moved to Lagos”

He was also asked about his view on competition, his response was “Competition is neccessary for you to have a baseline on which you want to improve from. Otherwise you can have a really crappy product, and you don’t know because there is nothing to compare it with”

When talking about customer service, he saidWe recorded almost no customer complaints in last two months, while booking tens of thousands of people.” and he also “customer service in my opinion, is about empowering customer service to do the best they can to help people, no matter what it costs”

When starting up, Mark Essien claimed his biggest fear was “We would not make enough money in time to be able to survive, in case we did not raise money in time. Luckily, with focus and a bit of lucky, we crossed that bridge.”

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