Techie sees value in an online portal dedicated to people in diaspora

By Victor Adar

The service industry is big business, which covers a wide swathe of the market. The service sector has seen massive changes in recent history, many being attributed to outsourcing, automation and digital based business that have altered traditional business models.

In 2019, Abbas Hirei Gassem left France and went back to Somalia to set up Somstay, an online booking platform that helps users to book apartments and hotels.

The year he started, there were new apartments and hotels being built in Somalia, and his platform came in handy in connecting customers with investors. Leveraging on in-depth descriptions, photos, videos and reviews on his website (www.somstay.com), visitors are able to make a clear decision on which property to book.

“Hotels need an online booking platform, which is the gap I fill,” Abbas said in an interview with The Somalia Investor magazine. “Somstay is for those Somalis coming back as well as local travellers who are looking for short stays. It is solely for Somalia. It’s ‘Somstay’, or ‘stay in Somalia’ if you like.”

When he left Somalia in the 90’s, Abbas went to the United Kingdom where he earned degrees in Bsc Economics and Social Policy as well as postgraduate in Computing. It was the culmination of a childhood dream of becoming an entrepreneur — inspired by adoptive father Hirei Gassem, one of the most successful industrialists in Somaliland — his inclination towards technology.

Abbas was first employed by Kelokoo.com (a French online price comparison platform that’d acquired by Internet giant Yahoo! for $650mn in 2004), before he joined Ledger.com, a company that provides security and management of digital currencies. His time in formal employment gave him the experience he needed to start Somstay.

“Giving users a wide variety of options of places to stay and providing new clientele to hoteliers will help Somstay get repeat business and build trust.” Somstay employs 10 people at the moment.

In spite of the presence of online booking companies such as Airbnb, Jumia Travel, Expedia, Agoda, Travel Start, Kayak and KejaHunt, Abbas says there is enough market to go around for everyone. Interestingly, Somstay is the first Somalia focused firm to vie for a piece of the pie.

Somstay distinguishes itself from its competition by targeting a unique market; Somalis returning from overseas and domestic travelers. It primarily generates income from homestays.

As well, Abbas has leveraged his understanding of Somali cultures, economic and social issues. Most of his customers can’t speak and write in Somali language. He has managed to solve the issue of language breakdown because he is multilingual and can speak English, French and Somali.

“I am convinced that technology can drive it in almost every major industry. I know it is not going to be sunny every day, but that’s the  entrepreneur’s life. One of the most important things I have learned is that every day is a new opportunity to get up and do things better than yesterday,” Abbas says.

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