Slum girl rises to the top of tours and travel industry

BY LYDIAH WERE

If you said hi to Monica Musungu, you are likely to be rewarded with a smile. Always jovial and on the run, the marketing manager of Scenery Adventures can be very hard to find, but great company when you do. “In the tour and travel business,” she says, “you cannot afford to walk. I am always running. A small hitch can mess a whole day for a client.”

Ms Musungu plans and organises transport for dignitaries and safari tours.  Scenery Adventures offers a range of travel services including among others car hire, hotel booking and furnished apartments. She has handled logistics for a number of dignitaries such as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Akon, the Senegalese-American hip-hop singer.

“I must be there to make sure everything goes according to plan,” says Ms Musungu, whose role model is mercurial British entrepreneur Richard Branson. “I have read most of his books. He is a true entrepreneur and I apply most of his philosophy.”

She quit her hotel job in 2008, where she had risen from waitress to receptionist, to venture into entrepreneurship.  Success did not come easy. Ms Musungu stumbled twice as she started up. She was arrested twice: first when a client sold off a car she had hired and when one of her cars was involved in an accident.  “I did not have cars so I leased two. A female customer sold one in Thika and I was arrested, accused of being part of a theft cartel. I was released after the car was recovered,” she says. 

This did not kill her spirit. During her second brush with the law, a doctor who had hired the second car crashed it and abandoned it at the Central Police Station in Nairobi. She was arrested for exceeding the 24-hour limit of reporting a car accident. This drained her resources and energy. She was forced to close her business. “I could not pay rent and went to stay with a friend. I even used to hang on the train to save on transport costs to town,” she says. 

After sometime she teamed with a friend to restart the business but this, too, was short-lived, as her new partner diverted one car to run private errands. The business collapsed, again.

In 2009, Ms Musungu decided to go it alone. She took a loan of Sh70,000 and opened an office in the city centre. “As I struggled to get a footing, I was tipped off about a major job and got it. They wanted six executive shuttles. I did not know that it was the former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who was coming for the AGOA conference in August 2009 with a delegation. They needed transport to and from the conference. I looked for a shuttle owner who, fortunately, trusted me and gave them to me without a down-payment,” she recalls.

This was the turning point for Ms Musungu, a slum girl who walked to school in Kariobangi. Within three weeks, she had pulled off three big jobs, including, as it were, managing Akon’s transport and accommodation logistics for a week during the MTV Mama Music Awards as well as a Korean embassy delegation. 

These jobs gave her the resources to furnish her office at Nanak House on Kimathi Street, Nairobi and employ staff. In 2012, now a growing startup, Scenery Adventures brought on board a new partner who took up 50% stake, giving the company more muscle to fight in the highly competitive tourism industry.

 

Ms Musungu says she learned great lessons from past failures and started taking well-calculated steps. She opened an office in Norway with an eye on the Scandinavian tourist market. “I had to push my dream. When I fail I rise again and learn. Unless a lion eats me, I will always take risks,” she says. “Ask for a chopper and I will get it for you.”

Another high-profile job came in 2013 when she clinched the deal to handle President Yoweri Museveni’s convoy during the Great Lakes Summit in Nairobi. To date she has handled Mr Museveni six times. Now she plans to open an office in Entebbe, Uganda.

On car hire, she serves only corporate clients and to cut down on capital expenditure she leases most of the vehicles, which include shuttles, executive cars, and powerful machines like Prados and Land Cruisers. 

 

Her highest moment came when she was invited for a meeting at the Ugandan High Commission, where she was officially recognised for good service. “I am a ghetto girl and I never imagined I would get to this level. I cried tears of joy,” she says.  

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