Odette Faling is the CEO of SA’s newest online travel agency, Travelcheck – the first in the market to bundle flights and hotels in a complete bookable online platform.
The truth is, anything travel-related excites Odette. She’s passionate about making travel accessible to more people by bringing transparency to travel prices – something we don’t have much of in Africa, unfortunately. She’s also focused on educating customers on how to build their own tailor-made trips.
Here, she chats to GH writer Ondela Mlandu about how to create a virtual business.
Some critical learning curves Odette encountered along the way…
After studying a BCom Marketing and then an Honours in Business Management, Odette embarked on a career in London. “The fact that I was a foreigner and couldn’t articulate myself in the business world as well as my peers, whose first language was English, [made it] pretty tough,” she says.
That was 15 years ago and gender discrimination was rife. “I could never really define it at the time, but thinking back on how hard it was to be heard when you are a woman in business meetings, it was quite apparent that foreign women’s opinions didn’t matter as much,” she says.
But the experience made her stronger and she’s grateful for being given that challenging platform to grow in. “International experience was a great launchpad for my career, followed by great experience in launching and growing many African markets for Travelstart,” she adds.
The 3 boxes you need to tick when starting a business
1/ Employ the right people – they are your greatest asset.
2/ Be creative and bold in your decision-making.
3/ Take the right risks to start and use data on a granular level to make future decisions.
So, how exactly do you set up a travel agency?
“You need great technology to back you up, as well as good relationships with the suppliers, as they will help you launch in the market with the best prices and incentives to gain traction amongst customers,” says Odette.
What you need to get into the industry
1/ Learn how to write code so that you can build online platforms for any business as engineers are probably the most sought-after profession right now. Everything is going digital and those digital functionalities need to be built and engineered.
2/ A business mindset or degree is always useful, and much of that you learn by doing, so start working as soon as you finish school (even if you are studying, start part-time work) – you will learn essential basic skills and be light years ahead of your peers very soon.
What bosses look for when hiring
“We mostly hire on attitude and personality. Anyone can be taught if they have the drive. We do internships, but we prefer to pay people their due and encourage them from day one that with hard work comes reward,” says Odette.
Getting into the travel industry requires a commitment to networking and starting from the bottom. It’s lots of fun and a hugely rewarding industry.
Useful online material to advance your skills…
1/ You can learn pretty much anything on Udemy.
2/ Listen to podcasts. Follow global leaders like Simon Sinek. Podcasts are a great resource to grow your career.
3/ From a travel agent perspective, the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) has an online platform called the ASATA Professional Programme. Here, you can learn about the travel space.
A parting pearl of wisdom
“Vulnerability matters. The more you put yourself out there, the more you will achieve. Executing your idea means you do a little to achieve your goal every day, focusing on the high-impact tasks first,” says Odette.
And how she takes care of her mental health
“The way self-care looks for me these days is to slow down,” says Odette. “I never had the luxury and now suddenly I do and it’s great to feel patience mount again.” And getting eight hours of sleep at night. We’re with you on that one!
Connect with Odette