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Simon and Sarah Kabu: How we built Bonfire from scratch to an empire

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Simon and Sarah Kabu: Sarah Njoki Kabu has always loved group activities and adventure. While still single, she attended every young professionals’ forum. “I went to nearly all events, not necessarily to look for someone, but for the sheer joy of networking and having fun,” she says.

It was at one of these outings that Sarah met her husband Simon Kabu at the Lukenya Getaway.

“I noticed that he kept stealing glances at me during the team-building games. Simon was different. He always called and checked up on me. He always made an effort to get me nice, thoughtful gifts. They were very creative and not necessarily expensive. He introduced me to his friends, wasn’t afraid to be seen with me.”

Within a month of their meeting, they decided to start dating with the aim of getting married. And their dream came true when they had their wedding on Cresent Island on the shores of Lake Naivasha. “I’m glad I didn’t get married at 24, I have always wanted a fairytale wedding. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it then,” says Kabu.

Their shared love for adventure blossomed into a tour company, Bonfire Adventures, which they established during their courtship. “Our passion for travelling enabled us get a lot of fans, many of whom opted to pay for our services and I remember sitting down with my wife and asking ourselves, why not? This seems to be a good business venture,” says the former marketing executive.

A few months before starting Bonfire, Simon Kabu and his wife Sarah had taken up sightseeing to quench their desire for adventure. The couple’s travels got even more exciting in 2008 when they started inviting friends to join them on their excursions. “Every time we organised something, it would turn out so well that our friends decided to leave the planning to us whenever there was an event or getaway,” Mr Kabu says.

Mr Kabu says the team is committed to ensuring personalised and impeccable services to customers.

“We used social media to market ourselves and our pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, where we had our first (virtual) office before getting space at a friend’s premises. Our startup capital was less than Sh20,000,” says Mr Kabu.

Sarah and Simon Kabu

The initial capital was used to buy a desk, a chair, and a telephone which was used for marketing on social media platforms.

“The advantage we had was that we went into an untapped market and were dealing with locals. Many people were surprised that they could actually enjoy sceneries in the country at an affordable rate.”

The couple’s aim at the time was to change the perception that only foreign tourists can tour the country and enjoy its beauty.

Sarah and Simon Kabu

“But before we set up Bonfire, we had to experience every hotel and all the major tourist attraction sites in Kenya before selling them to our clients. We also visit at least five countries in one year to discover and experience new holiday destinations for our clients.

“Being strong believers of happy marriages, we are passionate about romantic getaways, honeymoon packages, wedding anniversaries, unique engagement proposals, and glamorous wedding destinations. We usually go out of our way to ensure that couples get experiences that are out of this world to spice up their marriages,” he says.

Mr Kabu says marriage packages are the most popular because of their uniqueness. “What also helped us gain popularity were our clients’ referrals. They would tell their friends about their experiences and people came in droves. It is amazing that we have now grown to become a big corporate.”

He adds that it is rewarding to offer good services, especially when building a new business.

“We like bringing people from different cultures and backgrounds together because travel has the power to unite and improve people’s understanding of each other. It also has great potential to improve the economic welfare of the world’s poorest populations by providing new sources of income.”

The company ensures that Kenyans are on the move touring different areas and during low season, it gets an average of 550 clients a month. During high season, the numbers soar.

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Bonfire employs a large staff and its monthly turnover ranges between Sh5 million and Sh10 million, depending on the season.

The company’s short-term goal, Mr Kabu says, is to ensure that it is the most preferred travel company.

“Making Kenyans appreciate Kenya as a tourism destination proved to be a challenge, but we won’t stop until domestic tourism has been appreciated.

“My long-term goal is that Bonfire opens office across the globe. I know my dream will come true because before we set up Bonfire, little was known about domestic tourism apart from the traditional destinations of Mombasa and Malindi,” he says.

The company, he says, strives to create a positive impact through the trips it organises.

“We try to meet this goal by creating itineraries that allow clients to experience the local culture through sampling their food, festivals, activities, and cultural sites.”

The firm also facilitates tourists who want to help local communities.

Bonfire owns five tour vans and two Landcruisers. “When demand is high, we hire more vehicles, especially during the August and December holidays and also when people are getting married and the number of couples seeking honeymoon services is high.”

All the Bonfire Adventures employees are experienced travel professionals and ensure that customers get the best travel package at competitive rates.

“We check on our clients even when they are on holiday to ensure that everything is working out fine. This way, we are able to offer them a splendid service,” he says.

Sarah and Simon Kabu

“Social media has helped a lot since most clients come back and upload photos of their adventure, share their experiences, and talk about our services. We want to retain this culture and improve to offer the best service,” says Mr Kabu.

SourceAgencies

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