- Resilient. Jenifer Bamuturaki has found success in the upper tiers of marketing and administration.
- Starting out her career as a guest relations officer at Sheraton Kampala Hotel, the executive has over the years been at the helm of billion-dollar companies with massive responsibility, writes Edgar R. Batte.
Jenifer Bamuturaki is the woman major international hotel brands look for when they think of expanding into Uganda or East Africa. For more than 20 years, Bamuturaki has proved her superior technical expertise and a proven track record in delivering on the organisations key objectives. Her roles included setting up of airlines and international brand hotels.
“Through all these projects I have had active and forefront involvement in research and development, recruitment processes, budget implementation, strategic planning and numerous deliverables in the sales and marketing department,” Bamuturaki explains.
The high flying executive attributes her stellar career to God first and her ability to work with teams. A marketing career is dependent on many variables including effective communication, industry knowledge and charisma. “I am told by a former colleagues that I have a lot of wisdom and an electric personality that brightens my team’s day. I am a motivator with lots of inspiration and experience drawn from my own personal challenges which give me the confidence to go after results,” she talks about the qualities that make her outstanding.
Bamuturaki says marketing is a highly demanding career because it lies at the core of the business. Business owners trust their marketing department to come up with effective ways of generating revenues, managing and developing efficient sales teams to drive the business and to achieve sales objectives, analysing the industry trends and positioning the hotel strategically to benefit from these changes. It involves increasing and expanding the customer revenue by developing and implementing sales and business strategies, maximising profits through developing sales strategies that match customer requirements and by promoting products, services or ideas.
“To better achieve all these expectations I also recruit, coach and develop the team to understand diverse business trends, both simple and complex, and be able to develop efficient business strategies, analyse customers’ needs and to stimulate business growth potential,” Bamuturaki shares.
Bamuturaki learned early on that for one to achieve great success, a single qualification would not do. So, in addition to her core qualification in Social Work and Social Administration, she acquired IATA sales training for airlines, secondary qualifications in hotel sales and marketing as well as revenue management. “These different qualifications gave me competencies that facilitated my skills in various capacities and job. For instance in social work you are trained about change and how to manage it. This came in handy while managing teams and driving change initiatives in the workplace,” she adds.
Beyond educating herself, Bamuturaki says she has benefited greatly from being exposed to both travel and hospitality industries that have horned her selling and marketing skills through the years. “For example, a few years ago, the only big international hotel chain was Sheraton, then in came Kampala Serena, Protea by Marriot and many others. Now, there is Golden Tulip and Hilton Garden among others. This means as a marketer, I have had to be dynamic in my selling and marketing strategies and not hold onto a static strategy that probably worked when there was only one big brand hotel in the country and no minimal competition,” She says.
“So my part has been simple, to evolve with the global trends meaning, I should have the ability to notice these changing market trends and adopt strategies that position my product to remain relevant to the customer and still be profitable to the owner,” she advises.
She has had the unique advantage of working in two different yet interrelated industries which has further enabled her to understand customer psychological behaviour and purchasing trends from two angles.
“For instance, over the years, the dynamics in the markets have changed. With the Internet at our disposal, distribution of our products through digital platforms compliments the traditional face to face selling to enable us to reach a wider and global customer base,” Bamuturaki notes.
The executive has spent all her career working in two sectors; travel and hospitality. She notes that while both sectors meet the needs of travellers, maximise revenues through yield management practices, both lose revenue from empty seats or empty rooms, the differences are mutually exclusive.
The seasoned administrator observes that the travel industry is very sensitive and has very strict regulations, involves different stakeholders across air spaces and governments.
“Negotiations and agreements signed are at two levels, government and airlines. Meaning the stakes are higher. This makes it a very dynamic industry with unique challenges and more likely to attract government attention at a very high level,” she explains.
She further observes that unlike hotels, airlines are at the mercy of weather, crew, mechanical issues or airports, while hotels will be affected by the same, though on a minimal scale.
“Additionally, in the hotel sector, the guest stays for a number of nights, and certain issues come into play that are unique to the sector. The guest has many hours at his disposal to check in, and the hotel will not be out of location if he delays. Put simply, arrive 10 minutes after the check-in time at a hotel, no problem. Arrive 10 minutes after the check-in for a flight, big problem,” she notes.
To excel in both sectors, Bamuturaki says she grasped early on that the end user of your product is the same, the difference is in the approach.
“While in the airline it is the travel agent who has access to the actual consumer, in the hotel setting, you interact with the consumer directly. Also interestingly, in the hotel, I am able to relate my decline or increase in guest figures to many reasons including airline flights. Increases in flights will also have an effect either positively or negatively,” she adds.
She achieved most of her career highlights while working with Air Uganda where she was directly responsible for route research (this is where you determine the commercial viability of the route).
“On Juba route, we suggested in the feasibility study to start with five flights a week. Later we grew the route to daily flights. By the time the Airline closed we were flying three times a day, tripling the passenger figures and revenues on that route,” she recounts.
The other highlight was launching flights to Mogadishu.
“Mogadishu was not an easy place to fly into with restrictions on flight times in and out of Aden Adde Airport and chaotic airport check-ins. The security detail was nervewracking too. I recall that some of the pilots were not amused when I first muted the idea to start these flights but it soon paid off. The flights were popular in the NGO and defence sectors around East Africa,” she recollects.
Secrets to success
Bamuturaki believes she managed to succeed mostly because of her faith in God.
“I am a believer that God rewards patience, persistence and perseverance. And I keep my head down. I also maintain good communication, manage conflict well to avoid negative work environment and nurture good working relations among the team members.
But mostly, I lead by example. Your teams will look to you for guidance and inspiration, so it is essential that you set a good example to gain their respect. If you expect them to behave professionally and commit to their work, it is vital that you do so yourself,” she urges.
Another secret to her success is getting the best out of every member of her team. She says the key is to show them that you trust them.
Bamuturaki stresses that it is important to clarify the ends instead of the means, and let your staff go about projects in their own way.
Much as they might not accomplish everything exactly as you would have, but they will get the job done with their own flair but of course without taking liberties that would affect the organisation.
Secondly, it is important that you are all singing from the same hymn sheet. People that do not know what they are supposed to be doing will not be able to accomplish their jobs at all. “Clearly define the roles of your staff so they know their duties and don’t step on each other’s toes. And give them breathing space to do the job. Of course I expect them to be accountable and this is managed through daily meetings and one-on-ones,” Bamuturaki stresses.
Then you must be ready to make your hands dirty. You should be able to dig in and work with the team on whatever project they are handling. That way they know you are part of them and not just delegating for the sake of it.
For the marketing guru, her biggest challenge is how to balance customer satisfaction in a highly competitive environment rife with price wars, while maintaining quality, service delivery without compromising revenues.
“How do you maintain standards without cutting prices and continue to keep the customer satisfied and the owner happy? Hospitality has evolved and we have seen an emergence of alternative online accommodation offers such as Airbnb and VacyHero among others. Meaning, guests now have a cheaper alternative in homely environments and professionally run rentals making it tomorrows challenge in some markets; very much like the low cost carriers in aviation. I mean look at Uber, it has just revolutionised cab business and taken it to another level making it a cheaper and more comfortable option for most travellers,” she frets.
Another challenge is the fluctuation of the shilling to the dollar.
“Most of our prices are in dollars, especially for rooms. As the rate of exchange fluctuates, the consumer is affected as the product becomes pricy since some purchase in shillings. So the purchasing behaviour of the customer is disrupted,” Bamuturaki reveals.
To counter these challenges, Bamuturaki, relying on her understanding of the industry trends, tries to devise strategies that will make profit without devaluing the service and quality.
Another strategy is the introduction of value additions that stimulate the customer to buy her product.