The name of the company Bongalo originates from the English word bungalow. Bongalo is a booking platform that allows travelers to book accommodation online and make payments using either mobile money wallets, credit cards or book through agents and pay cash.
According to Nghombombong Epaphrate Minuifuong, co-founder of Bongalo, initially, Bongalo wasn’t a booking platform. It was a real estate platform in Cameroon that started in 2017. It transformed into a booking platform in 2019 after his stay in Rwanda the year before when he saw the need for accommodation intensify. With many guests requesting to stay at his apartment in Rwanda, it dawned on Mr Epaphrate to change the existing platform into the travel and tour platform that it is currently today.
Nghombombong Epaphrate Minuifuong studied Computer Hardware Engineering and attended the African
Leadership University in Kigali, Rwanda where he attained a Bachelor’s degree in International Business and Trade. At the moment, he is not only an entrepreneur but also a marketer, and product manager. In the past, he has also been part of the establishment of other start-ups, for instance, in 2015, Epaphrate joined eFarm as a co-founder. eFarm is an online platform that helps farmers directly sell their products to consumers and this marked the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey.
But how does Bongalo work?
On Bongalo, a user registers an account using their email address and name. They then get to choose to list their properties or book from a listing of available properties for their stay. When reserving, the guest selects a listing, chooses their dates, then proceeds to select a mobile network provider and inputs the mobile wallet number for the supported network. A prompt is sent to their mobile phone in USSD codes, displaying the amount in the local currency. The user inputs their five-digit PIN code and validates the payment. A confirmation SMS is sent to their phone confirming the debited amount. Bongalo supports mobile money payments in Rwanda, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.
Alternatively, less tech-savvy guests can book accommodation through a booking agency office. The agent makes a reservation for the guest and payment can be done with cash or mobile wallet on arrival at the property. Guests can pay with cash on arrival after booking via agents or make payments to agents. The agent receives a commission on each reservation they make. Currently, Bongalo supports mobile wallet payments in six African countries. This allows guests to make payments quickly, even when booking through agents. The cash payment option solves trust issues for users who doubt the trustworthiness of online listings which is a common challenge faced by most African online businesses.
The Bongalo accommodation booking platform has managed to successfully leverage a fintech inclusive solution unique to Africa through mobile money payments. This makes it easy for both guests to pay for bookings and hosts to get paid.
On Bongalo, one can book rooms in apartments, entire apartments, guest homes, and private rooms. All listings are verified before approving them on the platform, to ensure their authenticity and credibility. Once verified, hosts are allowed to list empty furnished rooms and apartments to get bookings from guests. Bongalo primarily operates in the cities of Kigali, Yaounde, Rubavu and Douala. The company mainly operates in Cameroon and Rwanda.
As with all businesses, Bongalo has faced some challenges in its time. One of the hurdles faced by the company is the low technology adoption rate in the African continent. However, as stated above, the cash payment option for booking the accommodation provides an appropriate solution to this challenge.
Another challenge faced by Bongalo just like most online businesses in Africa is the lack of trust between guests and hosts. This distrust may be influenced by prior experiences or lack of knowledge on how the accommodation booking operates. Guests may need more convincing on the validity of the accommodation before booking. However, as seen above, Bongalo has provided a solution to this through the option of making bookings through agents.
As it is with many start-ups on the continent, Bongalo’s expansion is constrained by limited access to startup financing options. More so even more limited access in recent times with the impact of Covid-19 on the tourism industry. However, the company believes that now more than ever, hard work and determination will see them through these trying times.
Content writer at Cue Africa. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org LinkedIn: Selina Liyengwa.