a person sitting at a desk with a laptop and smiling at the camera: #NextStopZero: When his travel firm crumbled, cakes helped this UAE expat survive

© Provided by Khaleej Times
#NextStopZero: When his travel firm crumbled, cakes helped this UAE expat survive

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all of us in one way or another. Some of us are mourning the loss of a loved one, while others are trying to make ends meet after losing their jobs or taking a pay cut. The UAE is gradually restoring normalcy even as it reminds residents that the threat is far from over. Through this two-week series, Khaleej Times will feature residents who have endured a loss due to the virus, to remind you that the alarming surge in daily cases is more than just a number. #NextStopZero is a rallying call to get the community to adopt safe practices so as to bring down the infection rate.

Ugandan businessman Albert Gafayo runs a travel company in Abu Dhabi and, when Covid-19 hit, they had zero income for more than four months. Almost all of his working capital went down the drain – but like several other entrepreneurs in the UAE, he kept going and found hope.

Gafayo, managing director of Speed Express Tours and Travel in Abu Dhabi, said that just before international flights and issuance of entry permits were suspended on March 17, he had applied visit and tourist visas for more than 120 customers who wanted to visit the UAE.

“My company had paid for their customers’ visa requirements and most of the entry permits were issued a day before the closure of the airports,” he said.

“Unfortunately, 90 per cent of our clients were yet to pay for their visas, as we usually charge them the full travel package after the visas have been issued.”

With customers backing out because they were no longer sure when they could travel, the company lost tens of thousands of dirhams in a snap. Gafayo thought the situation would last for only a few weeks – never did he imagine that countries around the world would have had to shut its borders for months, he said.

“I have never thought about the UAE suspending all flights for such a long period. I was shocked when it took months as authorities fought the pandemic before re-opening airports in July.”

Months without revenues

Gafayo said his company spent more than four months without any income. No one was booking air tickets and hotels, and no visa was being processed – but the bills kept piling up.

“I employ 15 people at my firm, and it has been very difficult for me. When business came to a halt in March, we continued to go to the office until early April, when we decided to close,” he said.

He wasn’t able to pay his staff in April and had to either place them on unpaid leave or let them go so they could look for other jobs.

It was a difficult time, the businessman admitted, but he didn’t give up. He looked for ways to survive and, one day, he and his wife came up with an idea.

Cakes kept them afloat

To make ends meet, the couple started baking cakes and Mandazi (African donuts) at home and sold them to African families and bachelors in Abu Dhabi.

“My wife baked the cakes at home as I looked for customers. I used social media to promote this new business and delivered the products to customers using my car,” said Gafayo.

“The little money from this new small business has helped us survive the pandemic challenges until business resumed in August.”

Now, even with the travel and tour company slowly recovering, they are planning to continue baking for a second business.

“We have many customers now. Currently, we get five to 10 orders of cakes every day.”

The impact of the pandemic is still being felt around the world, but Gafayo remains optimistic. All’s well that ends well, he thought.

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