Tourism Update is profiling the top three 2023 finalists announced for the Africa Youth in Tourism Innovation Challenge (AYTIC) held in Swakopmund, Namibia, in May this year.
The winner will be announced at the Africa Tourism Leadership Forum and Awards in Botswana in October. This is the first profile.
Kardinal, headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria, is a business travel and experience management technology platform.
“We make it easier for businesses to plan, control and finance their travel, saving them time and money on their business trips. Our platform generates all the travel cost requirements for their flights, grand logistics and accommodation,” said Cornelius Ugwunwa, CEO and Co-Founder of Kardinal.
Kardinal started operations in January last year, but is already planning to expand to new markets such as Kenya and South Africa by Q1 next year.
How it started
One of the criteria of the AYTIC is to identify a gap in the tourism industry, and Ugwunwa discovered a significant one in Nigeria.
“I was walking around in a travel company here in Nigeria with the business development officer. One thing I noticed was that most of the clients I interacted with had one complaint, and it had to do with managing and tracking their business travel expenses.
“Most companies receive the budget for their travel expenses at the start of the year. Some of them have, within the first six months, exhausted the budget. Then they ask themselves: ‘How did we get to this point? What happened?’ And then ultimately have to limit their travels because of the expensive costs associated with travel. I noticed this situation happened quite a lot in Nigeria and throughout Africa,” Ugwunwa told Tourism Update.
He pointed out that African businesses had needed to sort out this type of situation before as it hampered their growth – and this is where Kardinal comes in.
Experiences for employees
Aside from managing travel for businesses, Kardinal also helps businesses plan experiences for their employees.
“Experiences like wellness programmes and team-bonding activities can happen onsite or offsite, depending on the business’s unique requirements. The platform is an experience marketplace where they can source for different activities, and an automated itinerary is generated thereafter,” said Ugwunwa.
“The idea is for businesses to put their travel projects into our system so that it pushes out different options of how to manage and book all their travel needs. If they can do this early enough for all their trips, they would know when to save, which prevents them from overspending.”
If businesses become unable to finance a trip at a specific time, they can restructure their finances on the app and Kardinal will finance that trip for them, which they can repay at an agreed time.
“Another advantage of Kardinal is that it is an accredited technology platform that will actually help businesses to get quick financing for their trips. The idea of the quick financing is to help them with their cash flow. So when they want to plan a trip for next month, for example, instead of waiting and using a financier, they can use the Kardinal app to book their entire trip.”
When Kardinal launched the first version of its platform, the market responded differently to what Ugwunwa expected.
“Our product was quite complex to understand as we had a lot of features in the first version. And the business travel sector in Nigeria is still mostly manually driven. This made the market hesitant to use it.
“We acknowledged their concerns when we did our research and decided to streamline the features on the platform and allow users to better understand the features before adding new ones. This allowed us to understand what a customer needs at a particular time. Going back and forth trying to understand what the customer wants and needs was very challenging for us,” said Ugwunwa.
He added that it had been difficult to recruit the right people to work for Kardinal.
“We want to get the right team to work on our product – to grow as a team. To get the right talent in the tourism industry is a challenge. We need to teach the people that come in how the market works. This training and employment takes time, which we don’t necessarily always have.”
Ugwunwa wants Kardinal to grow in the African market to eventually compete with other business travel platforms around the world.
“We’ve seen a lot of interest from investors in the African market. If there are investors coming into Africa, there is also a need for African businesses to grow rapidly. We want to tap into the market of African businesses who want to ‘up’ their technology game, walk with them and allow them to grow and move into new markets.”