Thomas Müller, Namibia (ATB Executive Chairman Africa)

With an education in retail and wholesale at the largest retailer in Europe in the late ‘70s, Thomas topped up this education with IT and Software development in the early ‘80s in the IBM mainframe and midrange field. He later went into systems integration and systems migration, consulting of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) customers and continued his journey into sales, marketing and advertising.

In the late ‘80s he moved into the enterprise/corporate network segment and in the early ‘90s became product manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa for the leading enterprise networking solution BANYAN Vines. He was part of the designing team for the first mobile network in Germany in 1992 and formed part of the design and deployment team of the 2nd mobile network in Germany.

In 1993, he went to the USA where he worked in Massachusetts and the Silicon Valley on directory service integration projects and prepared for the next level in his career. As country manager, he moved back to Germany and was responsible for the marketing and distribution of enterprise network deployments in Europe, Middle East, Africa having acquired and deployed projects with more than 30,000 users across countries and continents.

In the late ‘90s Thomas developed an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) integration platform which connected some 55,000 retailers with some 400 wholesalers whereby the entire business process from availability to invoice was automated and integrated electronically. As it was run in a data-center with one of the first Java-based client platforms, he actually invented a cloud computing and subscription business model without even knowing it.

In the early 2000s, he entered the Hospitality and Tourism Industry, almost by accident, when he started a MediaLounge and New Media concept for a Thomas Cook brand. Over a 5-year period, he lived in 8 countries and stayed in all of Thomas Cook’s resorts and became a hotelier by passion. Later, Thomas established the same for one of TUI’s Resort brands.

After a backpacker’s holiday in Kenya and living and working in Senegal for some time, as part of his Thomas Cook experience, Thomas contracted, what he calls, the “Africa Virus”. Subsequently, he chose to move to Namibia, which he learned to love on his first vacation to the country, back in 1994. For the last 10 years, Thomas has been living and working there.

Thomas has been deeply involved in the hospitality and tourism industry of Namibia. During his first years in Namibia, Thomas took over the strategy and business development of a small tourism company in Namibia managing the marketing and revenue for some 20 Lodges and Guesthouses with an annual of 180,000 available bed nights and some N$ 25 million (EUR 1.7 million) room revenue. By changing the brand, business model, offered services and service levels and by converting the company from a rather traditional approach into a digital enterprise, their service revenue was tripled in just two years.

From 2012 until early 2016 he consulted the Ohlthaver & List group, the biggest private employer in Namibia with more than 5,000 employees. In no time at all, Thomas was appointed General Manager of Marketing & IT of the then to-be-founded O&L hotel management company (O&L Leisure Hotels & Lodges). As #2 of the company, he worked closely with the Managing Director, Bruce Hutchison, who is a hospitality veteran with five decades of vast experiences in Europe, the USA, the Middle East and Africa, and who developed and managed Hotels for amongst others, Giorgio Armani, One & Only, Sun International and Hilton.

As such, Thomas was an integral part of starting up and establishing a new professional hotel management company after the former management contract with Kempinski, an international hotel management group, came to an end. The two hotels needed to go through an intensive restructuring and turnaround in terms of quality of service, market reputation, business partner relationship, revenue and profit. Not only that, but they had to recover from serious negative financial results into positive financial results. It was because of the entire re-branding, re-positioning, active reputation management, digital marketing initiatives and strategic sales & marketing activities in the relevant market segments and source markets, that this challenge could be successfully achieved in a niche market, within just three years. Revenue was increased by 85%, ADR by 23%, Occupancy by 44% and EBIT by 343% in a tourism market environment which was simultaneously declining by 12%.

At the same time, Thomas played a major role in the design and project team, made up of hospitality professionals and led by Bruce Hutchison and Mirage Leisure in Johannesburg. The goal was to brand, position, design, develop, build and open the new Strand Hotel Swakopmund (125 Rooms, 5 complex F&B Outlets, Banqueting & Conference Center, SPA with 235 employees) as the single biggest private investment (N$ 360 million, EUR 25 million) into the Namibia tourism and hospitality industry.

A new Hotel which has not simply been built, but sculpted to the smallest detail. The Strand Hotel Swakopmund, opened in October 2015, has since changed and uplifted the hospitality and tourism industry in Namibia and has set a new benchmark. The Strand Hotel Swakopmund has been designed and developed with the inside-out approach and focuses entirely on the changed consumer demand and travel behaviours in many market segments, as well as on the new way of today’s “hosting” approach.

Thomas, as the company’s brand custodian, was on the construction site for more than four months and thus, played a key role in the day to day collaboration with the entire project management team and hotel opening team. He was responsible for the comprehensive IT infrastructure, systems and application design, deployment, integration, operation, training and many other details on the floor to make sure all and everything portrayed the brand to complete perfection. He also created the (so far unrivaled) launch marketing campaign for the new Strand Hotel Swakopmund.

While hospitality and tourism is his first passion, education for the youth and entrepreneurship is his other passion, combined with the will to give back. Thomas is a mentor and coach to several entrepreneurs and startups and assists them with whatever is needed to prosper. It was for this reason that he assisted the Namibia Student Financial Assistant Fund with its entire digitisation and was responsible for the most successful, broadest reach and first total inclusive application period in 2017, enabling the “application to award” process to be optimised from 6 months to 48 hours.

In March 2016, Thomas founded rainmaker digital and established it as a Google and TrustYou partner in Southern Africa. It is rainmaker’s passion to democratise world-class technology to enable small, medium independent hospitality and tourism businesses in a destination to become more efficient and competitive. rainmaker creates competitive advantages and more efficiency for destinations and its hospitality and tourism businesses in Africa, keeping more tourism spend in the destination. This entire process has a ripple effect and can add more to the GDP and assist in the fight against poverty, more and quality education, more employment and drive entrepreneurship in the destination. rainmaker’s goals are therefore aligned to the UNWTO Tourism Sustainability Goals.

The award-winning rainmaker 5 Stages of Success holistic methodology, enabled by the VISTA Destination Network is time-tested and proven. In less than two years, rainmaker created extraordinary results for more than 200 customers in Southern Africa and achieved a visibility for its customers of more than 14 million views.

The VISTA Destination Network Open Platform and ECOSystem for Destinations, its DMO’s, Associations and in-destination hospitality and tourism businesses creates competitive advantages by connecting all stakeholders seamlessly together in terms of rich content and business transactions. It enables the destination to provide instant gratification to the consumer and changes the way destinations control their visibility and distribution, winning back from the global giants.

Out of 1,100 global applications from all over the world, rainmaker and its team have been honoured with the HSMAI Adrian Gold Award in February 2018 in New York for the achieved business impact. In September 2018, rainmaker and the VISTA Destination Network have been awarded with the Tourism Innovators Award from the World Tourism Forum Lucerne.

Appointed as the Executive Chairman of the African Tourism Board, Thomas will invest his passion and profession to drive Brand Africa and its 54 destinations globally and will form part of the UNWTO Digital Transformation Strategy for Destinations, aligned to the Tourism Sustainability Goals.

LinkedIn Profile – https://www.linkedin.com/in/thmnam

Executive Chairman Africa

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