In today’s tech-savvy world, starting a business is not a herculean task as it was a few decades ago. The universal shift toward digitization and technology adoption has created a plethora of opportunities for entrepreneurs to start on their own.
“Advances in technology have made it a lot easier for people to start businesses; however, the rate of success is not necessarily much greater. To succeed, one has to put in the hard work necessary,” says Nelly O Gedeon (Founder and CEO at Wayaj). Likewise, running the hard yards, Nelly founded Wayaj—a sustainable travel platform.
Nelly grew up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and immigrated to the United States in 1982—where she completed her secondary education. She later attended the City College of New York to pursue a Bachelor of Engineering (BE) in Electrical Engineering. Thereafter, she pursued a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in Finance from Hofstra University.
After completing her education, Nelly initially worked in the private sector. However, soon she realized the challenges and limitations she was facing as a female engineer as well as being a black woman. Being an independent person, she decided to create her own career opportunities while making a difference. Consequently, she established Wayaj in the fall of 2019.
A Bouquet of Sustainable Products
Wayaj caters to the needs of both B2B and B2C companies. While the global pandemic brought the travel industry to a grinding halt, it presented an opportunity for companies like Wayaj to create products and identify services that will help the industry move forward more sustainably. The company created the Carbon Footprint Calculating Engine (CFC Engine™) which allows travelers to offset the carbon generated by their hotel stay and transportation, through international and local projects. The patent-pending CFC Engine™ is unique in that it calculates one’s carbon footprint instantaneously.
The engine seamlessly integrates with Wayaj’s hotel members’ websites and is part of the property’s reservation booking process. Additionally, it automatically calculates the guest’s carbon footprint based on room type and length of stay. “Our CFC Engine™ is a source of new incremental revenue for our members,” adds Nelly.
The company also refined its Hotel Sustainability Rating (HSR) product—the gateway for a hotel to be listed on Wayaj’s travel platform. Last year, it introduced the Wayaj certification program which offers three categories—Verified by Wayaj, Verified by Wayaj & Travelers, and Audited & Approved by Wayaj. Furthermore, to assist hotels in their sustainability journey and help them tell their story more effectively, Wayaj has introduced sustainability marketing and support services. The company is all set to launch its new and unique B2C website and booking platform, “ALIGHT” which will be launched at the end of the second quarter.
A Cooperative Culture
In the past 18 months, Wayaj’s team has grown considerably with experts from different disciplines within the travel and sustainability industries who have joined the company in its quest to make tourism and travel more sustainable in every regard. Nelly handles the overall management including monitoring the implementation of the company’s vision, as well as its business development and finance strategies.
In addition, she guides the team of talented and passionate professionals to ensure that sustainability and the health of the planet remain front and center in every decision made by the company. She has created a cooperative company culture, based on respect, diversity, inclusion, and compassion—where every team member has a voice and all opinions and ideas are valued.
Rising above the Hurdles
Alike many newly-established companies, Wayaj also faces challenges. Considering how complex and encompassing sustainability is, developing a clear long-term vision with a practical agenda is a major challenge for the company. Its focus has been to create innovative products with a singular goal of providing travelers and travel operators with the tools and resources to adapt to the new realities.
Nelly mentions that balancing growth and quality to ensure the development of superior products while scaling is also a challenge for Wayaj. “Achieving that balance has influenced our business development and marketing strategies,” she adds. Moreover, as a startup that has been bootstrapped, the lack of funding has made it difficult for the company to move at a faster pace.
Sustainability-A Growing Travel Trend
The unforeseen outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the travel industry in many ways. It accelerated the adoption of technology in many areas of travel which otherwise might have been coming a bit later. Concerns about the pandemic have compelled several hotel brands to move away from in-person check-ins, for example.
While the pandemic increased awareness of tourism’s negative impacts on the environment and local communities, it reinforced the need for travelers and the industry to become more sustainably-minded as it brought sustainability to the forefront as a growing travel trend in 2021. “We took advantage of this slowdown to refine our technology, products, and services, and as such will be launching a new and unique B2C website at the end of the second quarter, which will be unlike any other in that space,” affirms Nelly.
Return to ‘Normalcy’
As vaccination against COVID-19 is underway around the world coupled with the pent-up demand, Nelly expects that travel will see a comeback and the world will return to some level of normalcy. “However, normalcy as we know it is no longer viable,” asserts Nelly. “In the last 20 years, we have had to adapt to changes from 9/11 to the financial crisis of 2008/09 and now the pandemic of 2020. It makes us stronger,” she continues.
In her journey of becoming a successful entrepreneur, Nelly has learned that the road to success is full of challenges and impediments. She also believes that sustainable travel is here to stay and will define the travel industry in the future. Additionally, observing others’ journeys, Nelly has realized the importance for businesses to adapt to stay relevant and have buy-in from their team for success.
Nelly’s Favorite Book: “Making Ideas Happen” by Scott Belsky
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