Wonuola Olatunde-Lamidi is a tour operator and the co-founder of Diamonds and Pearls Travels with her husband, Mr. David Lamidi. She sheds more light on the tourism industry, especially as it relates to finances.
By Wonuola Olatunde-Lamidi
What She Does
Basically, what we do is create holiday experiences for people. We don’t just sell travel products like tours, hotels, flight tickets and assisting customers with visas. We provide an end to end travel product and holiday experience for our customers. Another thing we do is to demystify travel and make travel accessible to all. Most people believe you have to have a lot of money to travel but travelling entails saving and planning ahead. Unfortunately, Nigerians do not have savings culture, so we also try to reorient people that it is possible to plan ahead. We desire to help people who never thought they could travel. One of the ways we do this is through travel ajo that enables you to save towards your travel. We also have my travel buddy, where you can travel with another person and share some of the costs. We also help other travel companies learn how to sell travel packages.
Her Journey into the Industry
I used to work for a company called, Unique Trade and Concept Ventures. Basically, what we do is market Nigerian products and services to international market. While there, there was an exhibition expo themed, “The Best of Nigeria Expo,” run by a sister company owned by Mr. Afolabi Andu. We worked with him to get Nigerian business owners to come showcase their products and services. I was the head of trade missions and because of the nature of my job, I had to assist customers to register for the events, get visas and accommodation. That was how I got into travel and I got a flair for it. And when I left the company, because I was doing a lot of travel arrangement, I just ventured into it. However, my husband and I wanted to stand out because I feel just selling ticket is boring. So we decided to sell more of holiday packages. We were also very particular about processing visas because getting visas in those days was a bit difficult because people didn’t understand how to get a visa. It was widely believed that they needed to present fake documents before they could be issued a visa, whereas some of this people actually have the required documents. So we really wanted to demystify travel and that was how Diamonds and Pearls started in October, 2010.
Financing the Business
I’m a huge believer of starting small; I really don’t believe in borrowing. We started with what we had to get the job done. First of all, we needed to be passionate about our business and we also needed to have a scale. I will say that if you want to quantify the cost of scale, it is very important for any business. Passion is also something that will keep you going even if you are not really making money in the beginning. It pushes you to keep going before it becomes profitable. Basically, what you need for a travel company is reliable internet, a phone where you can be reached on and a laptop; that was what we started with. We didn’t get an office space at the beginning because our work was mainly online. Later on, we got a website and staff. So if I want to quantify the cost, I will say less than N200,000.
Role of Capital in Business
The type of business you want to do will determine the kind of capital needed. If you want to build a resort for example, you will need a lot of capital for it. So it actually depends on the business. But what I tell people who want to start a business of their dream is to start small. Start with what you have, what doesn’t need so much money because really when you don’t have collateral, borrowing can be difficult. You can start a small business but at the end of the day, you know your goal, you know you desire something bigger that would require more capital. You can even start a business that you don’t need any money because there are some businesses that just require skill.
Other Opportunities in the Industry
In the travel and tourism industry, the major businesses are tour operators, hotelier, travel agents but you can key into the industry, providing support services for these key three main professions in the industry. You need a tour operator to put a guest in your hotel and you need a hotel manager to make sure the hotel is up and running but there are still other forms of businesses you can do.
One of them is travel photography. You can take pictures of beautiful destinations and sell them to different websites or tourism boards. You can take pictures of people who travel (either to your destination or you travel out). You can also have a social media handle to showcase your work and through that, you get contracts.
Another thing is by creating entertainment. When you go to countries that have resorts like Morocco, Egypt, Zanzibar in Tanzania, some resorts in Spain, you notice most of them have night entertainment that keep their guest busy; jugglers, broadway shows and all that. So you can create some form of entertainment, content for hotels. Those are things that actually attract people to hotels because it kills boredom.
Gift and souvenirs is another thing you can do. People travel and buy souvenirs. It can be “I love Lagos” t-shirt, just like the “I love New York” t-shirt. The problem is that most times, people make the souvenirs too expensive. It should be affordable and of good quality, something to remind them of their trip. When I went to Greece, I bought a painting of the blue sea and it constantly reminds me of Greece. When you go to Zanzibar, you see a lot of t-shirts on Zanzibar, things you can buy that will make you want to go back. It could be pillows (not too heavy, not too bulky)
Another thing I will like to talk about is being a writer in the travel space. You can work with tourism boards or travel boards. You can even be paid to travel if you are giving them good content. People like something new, something different. If you stand out, people will patronise you.
Mistakes Young Entrepreneurs Make
The good thing is that I have had the privilege of meeting and mentoring some young entrepreneurs in the industry. I was able to meet them through a program called, Travelpreneur. The program was organised to educate people on how to sell travel and become tour operators. We saw it as a form of CSR because we realised that any time we want to employ someone, we receive a lot of CVs from qualified graduates. And I believe if you can’t give someone fish, at least teach them to fish. Since we established that, we have trained about 100 people.
One of the mistake I have seen them making is that a lot of them want to grow quickly. I tell people that as a child grows, he learns. There is nothing wrong in learning from other people’s mistake but you cannot take away the learning clause. If you grow too quickly, you will not be able to handle the pressures that come with being on top because if you had handled mistakes, heartaches and all that, when you get there, it will be easier to deal with the bigger issues that will come your way. They have to learn not to give up when they make mistake and encounter challenges.
Another thing is when people pay you for travelling, don’t see it as your own money because you are simply a middle man, who has to pay the airlines, hotels and for other services. Some young entrepreneurs also have poor financial culture. They make small money and squander it shopping. See your business as a plant and don’t eat your seed, put money back into your business.
And lastly, many young people don’t want to think out of the box again, they just want to copy what another person is doing. Even if you want to copy, copy with class, copy and make it your own, be innovative and strategic; that’s what will make you stand out.
In summary, don’t eat your seed, don’t be in a hurry to hit the jackpot. Invest more in your business than in material things. When you see your business is getting big, pay yourself a salary and pay all your legal fees (taxes and all other legal fees).
Improving Nigerian Tourism
Tourism is not just about travelling to other countries; it is also about getting people to come to our country. One of the reasons why tourism thrives in some countries is because both the government and private bodies have made it a priority for them to be hospitable; for their environment to be calm and secure. Nobody wants to go to a country that is insecure.
In Nigeria, we need to make our country more hospitable and we need to be careful what our media portrays because the truth is that most of the countries that are said to have issues, it is just a section of the country. But when the media blows it out of proportion to the outside world, it is bound to give the wrong image and we know that’s not the case.
If the government can make tourism another key source of income, we would have influx of visitors because we have so much to sell in Nigeria, especially our entertainment. Our entertainment industry is quite popular internationally and we can use that to push tourism. Our fashion industry is also quite unique and can be used to bring people in. We have amazing monuments that we don’t preserve; even Nigerians don’t know about them. Nigerians themselves should be encouraged to travel round Nigeria by making transportation routes easier (working rails and better roads). Naija Travel Days, for instance is a brand encouraging Nigerians to travel Nigeria. That brings us back to resort that is serene with beautiful gardens; that will encourage staycations. And we don’t have to wait for the government, as a private entity looking for something to invest in, you can look into that.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.