Flying with RwandAir wings

An astute marketer, an aviation professional, a travel management expert and a strategist is how Timothy Njihia, Country Manager – UAE, RwandAir, describes himself. He is driven by his sense of responsibility and has also imbibed an attitude of confronting challenges head-on and providing solutions.

Timothy Njihia comes with a vast experience in his portfolio that comes from airline commercial management, general management, travel operations management, and jobs related to sales, marketing and strategising in the airline industry and the world’s leading global travel management companies (TMCs). Owing to his superior intellect, numerous achievements and rich experience, he is also a member of various premier associations, including Chartered Institute of Marketing – United Kingdom (MCIM), American Academy of Project Management (AAPM), designated as a Fellow of the American Academy of Project Management (FAAPM), and Marketing Society of Kenya (MSK). In addition, he is also the Vice-Chairman, Training and Finance, in the Governance Board of Chartered Institute of Marketing – Kenya.

Travel Management to Aviation

Njihia’s role as the Country Manager of RwandAir for the UAE demands dynamic and effective leadership to ensure that RwandAir is positioned as a professional airline, with the highest levels of customer service, while ensuring that all stakeholders’ (industry, corporate, local, international, legal and governmental) requirements and regulations are met. Prior to this role, Njihia oversaw the Marketing, Sales and Operations divisions of two leading global travel management companies, Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) and FCM Travel Solutions, both with operations in well over 100 countries across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific, etc.

This was quite a good exposure and one that proved to be quite useful in Njihia’s current role, which seems to have taken a 180-degree turn—from a travel professional being served by various airlines to an airline professional, serving travel professionals. His interactions with travel professionals are value-laden and he is able to engage at all levels, be it about the C-suite or the shop-floor, from commercial to technical to operational viewpoints. Njihia has also been instrumental in the start-up of leisure and MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events) divisions, where he has overseen them from their conceptual stage to their growth.

Roots of preparation

Njihia started off at Egerton University to study IT, then joined Kenya Utalii College, Africa’s leading hospitality and tourism training institution at the time, to study Travel Operations Management, and then earned IATA/UFTAA certifications as well. Njihia says, “I have always been ambitious and this led me to venture into marketing and sales locally at the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM) and then internationally at the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), where at one point I emerged as the best student countrywide in Marketing Research and Information. At the time of taking up my current position, I was half way through with my MBA, from the University of Sunderland, Faculty of Business, Law and Tourism.” Achievements under his watchful leadership RwandAir under Njihia has had some tough times as well as some interesting times. Njihia took over his charge during a rather turbulent time for RwandAir and it was quite a challenge turning around the situation and realizing growth. However, under his leadership and with the support from his team in Dubai and the management, Rwanda’s flagship carrier realised some growth in the areas of passenger revenue and uplift, cargo tonnage and revenue. Njihia is now focused on growing RwandAir’s market share, customer share, new market segments and geographical (offline) markets. Njihia quips, “You may recall that in 2016, RwandAir acquired two brand new A330s, equipped with fully flat beds in business class, inflight connectivity and entertainment across the entire cabin. These aircraft were deployed to key markets and Dubai too received one of these, which was a really big boost. Together with my team, we embarked on aggressive marketing and sales within the travel trade and I must appreciate the support from the travel trade within the entire UAE as without them, we would not have achieved any growth. In addition to this, we refocused our efforts on cargo, especially with the new A330s, and this saw us engaging a lot with the market, i.e., cargo agents, freight forwarders, traders etc. With that, and a number of other stakeholder events, our cargo operations picked up steadily, closing at a 300% growth in our last financial year.”

Growth plan for the year

To ensure sustainable growth for RwandAir, Njihia has already charted out some plans which will be put into action during the year. Topping the list is entry into new geographical markets— they have just ventured into the Gulf Co-operation Countries (GCC) and Pakistan (although offline). This will give them the opportunity to tap into at least six new markets in conjunction with other partners, through interline/SPAs with other carriers out of Dubai and/or the GCC countries. Next plan is diversifying his distribution strategies through new-generation distribution channels; RwandAir under Njihia plans to partner strategically with online travel agents (OTAs), B2B online platforms and consolidators as they are the ones currently in maximum demand. Njihia reveals, “The end game is to grow the market share sustainably and profitably, cumulatively increasing stakeholder value.” When asked if he would ever choose a different career path if given an option, his reply was “No way! As a matter of fact, my entry into the aviation industry was long overdue and now all I want is to keep progressing in this line until I become the CEO of a leading airline.”

Among his many hobbies, travelling takes pride of place, whether it is local or international, followed by reading, watching legal drama series, socialising, mentoring and team sports. Njihia is an ambitious and aggressive go-getter who relishes a challenge and often wants to try out new experiences in life but at the same time help as many people as possible, especially through mentorship.

Personal highlights in his career

(a) Transition from a Travel & Tours Consultant into Sales and Marketing

As soon as Njihia graduated from CIM – UK, he desired a change and since he understood the travel industry inside out, it was easy for him to transition from heading the Implant operations of a leading petroleum marketing company to becoming Group Sales and Marketing Manager.

(b) Transition into General Management

Within a year and a half as Group Sales and Marketing Manager, at the age of 31, Njihia was appointed as the General Manager, a position he held for about five years prior to moving on to a different company into a different yet similar role, consequently honing his sales and marketing skills.

(c) Transition from the travel industry to the aviation industry

Owing to his deep interest in the aviation industry, Njihia kept trying to get that big break and in the process, tried his hands at a number of roles, starting from cabin crew to sales, marketing and even Country Manager. Finally, in 2015, when he was appointed as the Country Manager of RwandAir for UAE, he struck the exact chord and here he is learning, mentoring others and growing.

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