Prime Royal Limited boss and founder of HotelMoney online service, Nweke Okechukwu is not resting on his oars when it comes to making a mark in the hospitality and online booking space. Following the platform’s partnership with Google, he opens up on the benefits, risks and challenges in the sector. Excerpts…
How and when did you venture into the hospitality sector?
I will say Prime Royal Limited was started by accident. I had always known that I wanted to run a business but was mostly uncomfortable with being limited by other peoples’ opinions or ideas on how something should run. So, when I got into the labour market initially, I disagreed a lot some of my bosses.
When I got into the hospitality space around 2002, the banks in Nigeria were trying to get their online payments acts together. My boss, at the time, told me to ensure that I rebuild the hotel’s website so that people could make payments easily. That was when I saw a massive vacuum in both the payment space and the online booking space. That was when I decided to build my company to fill this gap. In 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, we finally got a partnership with Google. We then built a new product called HotelMoney, so our partner hotels can receive bookings seamlessly.
Most of your bookings are done online. Why is that so?
Online is the easiest way to reach a large audience. It’s probably the best way to scale any business globally. There is an explosive opportunity in building a business online.
What is the difference and success rate of online bookings as against physical?
Booking online is easier, simpler and a whole lot more convenient for the end user. Imagine you want to stay in a hotel in a country you have never visited before. If you have to do physical bookings, you may need to find someone in that country, beg or pay him to go to the hotel and book, and then worry about how to pay. But over the internet, you pick the room, see the pictures, book and pay. If there are changes or problems, the hotel will give you feedback before you even leave your home country. That’s what HotelMoney is all about.
Where do you see the future of your business, especially as more Nigerians have accepted doing most things online?
There is hope for an increase in penetration. But this will be encouraged by an improvement in the judiciary system in Nigeria. One very good thing that has happened in this country is the BVN system. You can no longer take anybody’s money and run away easily. If someone collects your money and fails to deliver, there are so many ways, systems and processes to reach him, unless he leaves this country with a different passport. But as the judiciary continues to improve, and the ease of doing business in Nigeria continues to improve, online businesses will continue to grow.
No business is without challenges, which do you currently face?
One of our biggest challenges is payments across Africa. Every African country runs a different monetary policy, and payment companies will have to comply with all of them. One of our current payment partners is have problems in an African country, which means that we cannot process payments until that is settled. There is also the difficulty in the aviation industry that affects us as well. You know that if less people travel, you get less people staying in our hotels from that channel.
Any plans for expansion, seeing that Nigerian entertainment and enterprise are now enjoying world appeal?
Yes. We have hotel partners in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Mauritius, Seychelles, and a few other countries. We are definitely looking globally, but every country has a different process. We’ve studied the dynamics, and concluded that global is the way to grow.
What influences shaped you?
My major influence was my strict father. I am probably the person I am today mostly because of him. Of course, during my early years, I disagreed with some of his policies at the time, but I have come to appreciate them now. My mother was always the peace maker. She would usually negotiate a truce between my father and me. I had a couple of role models growing up. I have imbibed the philosophy that anything you want to do, nobody can stop you, unless you stop yourself.