IFEDAYO ANDREW-OGUNBAYO: How I Turned Free Travel Advisory Into Money-making Venture

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SUPER SATURDAY 

Astute Ifedayo Andrew-Ogunbayo is a trained estate surveyor by profession. She studied Estate Management at the Federal University of Technology, Minna in Niger. After years of experience in real estate and facilities management, driven by the passionate to provide professional support to people on travels and tourism, she decided to set up an outfit to cater for that purpose. In 2014, she took the plunge, pursued the passion — set up her a company, Fidol Trip and Travel Services, which provides customer-centric and tailored holiday and travel packages. Now living her passion, Andrew-Ogunbayo speaks with Adedayo Adejobi about the pleasures, adventures and challenges of travels and tourism

Tell us about your travel services.
Fidol Trip and Travel Services is a Nigeria-based Ttravel management company that is in the business of managing and customizing travel arrangements for all would-be travellers with a dual purpose of ensuring they get value for money and their travels, excellently planned. It was borne out of a passion for organizing travel events and conferences. The company was created to fill the gap created by travelers, doing so with a touch of excellent customer service and top-notch responsiveness to inquiries.
There are many travel houses where travel-related issues are resolved however, I set out to apply knowledge from the paid-employment over the years to delight guests’ travel experience, while as much as possible, achieving clients request working with the client’s budget. I have taken advantage of the frequently organised travel industry training and fora, as well as a personal overseas partnership to improve the responsiveness and client advisory services which have translated to improved customer base and transactions.

What are the specific services Fidol Trips provides?
At Fidol Trips, our services include but are not limited to: worldwide flight and reservations, visa assistance, meetings incentives conferences exhibition, educational tours, worldwide tours and sightseeing, local and international holiday package, travel insurance, airport transfers around the world, honeymoon packages, destination weddings, event planning and management, medical tourism to India, Dubai and Turkey.

How do you go about targeting your market and communicating with the clients?
We no doubt cater for high net worth individuals. We, however, have strategically included the ones below that ladder-level, as we not only do foreign travels; we also encourage and sell local travels to those who can’t afford to travel abroad. Talking about how we communicate with our clients that is where profiling is very important in the business. Based on the clients’ profiles, we identify how best to communicate with them- via emails, phone calls, text messages, social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google Plus. We are active on all these platforms so whichever suits the client is what we engage to make it effective as well as efficient.
There is a client information form that a new walk-in or prospective customer is made to fill out where basic questions are asked to dig into the person’s peculiarities, aside from the questions about where they intend to go to, the family size and budget. The responses to these questions that have been technically and tactically put together will help us know the clients and their expectations as well as help us to decide how to wow them.

How do you carve a niche for Fidol Trips in the travels market?
There is space for every bird to fly freely in the sky. Having said that, the luxury travel market is huge as on a daily basis, while some are having their umpteenth travel experience, someone somewhere is starting out on the journey to experiencing what luxury travel is all about. One of our major destinations known and appreciated over the years is Dubai and the entire UAE – to the extent that there is a wrong notion in some quarters that we only sell and promote Dubai. We sell every great destination, however; Dubai comes to mind first because of the ease of selling it and the availability of various accommodation and sightseeing options. There is always something new to experience in Dubai even for those who have visited severally before.
Aside from Dubai, we sell various other destinations and to be able to sell them effectively, one thing we do is to try and experience it ourselves. It can be quite hard-biting on the pocket, but by the time a Client comes and you explain the city and the various activities, it is much easier to get the Client’s buy-in than not knowing what it entails at all. We also get some familiarisation trips paid for by some tourism boards and owners of facilities. This also helps us to remain on top of our game.

With political unrests in some countries, how have that affected planning travels for clients?
Destinations where there is unrest are more difficult to sell because as a rational human being, ‘safety-first’ comes to mind. Places like Kenya that are even relatively peaceful are still trying to pick up from the bomb blast that happened years ago and the political unrest as a result of power tussle.
Same goes to even use a particular airline to travel. Some will rather pay more than fly in a cheaper option of airline just because they are not sure of what the security situation will be as they transit since there will be a compulsory stop-over in the hub airport. A case in point is Turkish Airlines. Even though they are relatively cheaper than others, people try to avoid flying through Istanbul due to the unrest. To answer your questions straight, the various political unrests around the world has made travel planning more complicated but we try to find a way around it as much as possible as professionals.

What challenges do you foresee in the travels industry?
Although we’ve been able to weather the storm of forex, the exchange rate of the Naira to major currencies of the world is a huge challenge. That has made the cost of airfare and other items more expensive when converted to the Naira. For instance, in 2012, the exchange rate between AED and USD was 3.65 while AED to Naira was about NGN45. Fast forward to 2017, the rate of exchange between AED and USD still remains between 3.6 and 3.65 but AED to the Naira is about 110. This has made travelling more restricted to very high net-worth individuals. In a nutshell, the instability in the economy has to be fixed.
Another issue is the airports in Nigeria. They are in a deplorable state despite the huge sums spent by successive governments. To sell Nigeria as a destination, we need to fix the airports and make them be on the same level with other world-beater hotels.
Also, for us to remain in business, the cost of procuring Nigerian Visas have to be one that is encouraging and not one that kills interest in visiting as we currently have. The Federal Government needs to look into this. There are other challenges. If these are looked into and worked on, the future of luxury travel is bright as we will have an array of local tourism to go with the foreign ones.

Why have you decided to go into travels business instead of real estate that you studied in school?
First is passion and the other is the desire to turn the first into a portfolio. Travel for me is a hobby. While helping others along the way up on my career path as a real estate practitioner, someone I revered advised me to commercialise the advice I had been giving others for free. That was when it first struck me that I could actually make some money from the professional advice – leading me to double my interest and quest to know more about planning travels. As time went by, I became even more passionate.
Presently, the passion has become a super story as I am beginning to see that my passion is translating to money. It can only get better.

Competition in the travel and tours industry in Nigeria is very keen. What will you say stands Fidol Trips and Travel Services out?
What distinguishes Fidol Trips is our resolve to constantly remain relevant to our clients who we have branded ‘fidol guests’. To do this, we customize our services to each person or family’s specific needs. We don’t just pick any destinations or products to sell, we know our products, we have experienced them before selling to our guests. Any travel destinations not yet visited by any of our team, we try as much as possible not to venture into such to maintain the standard of being the best in what we do. By and large, we pride ourselves to be the number one customer-centric travel advisory services company in Nigeria. Our one-on-one customer relationship also gives us an edge over other competitors.

What kind of holiday one can get with a budget of say N300,000 for two people?
N300,000 before 2016 June could have taken two adults on a four-day holiday internationally. But now, N300,000 can take two adults on a holiday trip to Accra, Ghana, Lome in Togo or Cotonou in the Benin Republic, if the travellers will be willing to travel by road as airfare has skyrocketed since the exchange rate went up last year from less than N200/$1 to today’s rate of N327.5/$1. With this, bus fare, hotel, sightseeing will be provided.

Fidol just opened its second office in Lagos. Any plans for further expansion?
Yes, we just opened a new office in Lekki. The dream of every entrepreneur is to become a household name and for this to be achieved we hope to expand to other parts of Nigeria especially the south-western part of Nigeria where a lot of activities are not taking place. We plan to give opportunities to young people. They will be trained and empowered to start the business as trip planners through our affiliate training platforms.

As a member of NANTA, what is the association doing to make sure Nigerian travellers always get a fair deal?
The Association strives to work with all stakeholders including the government of Nigeria, CBN, Airline country offices etc to ensure Nigerian travellers enjoy travelling. On the part of the government, the ease of doing business has to be made better, the sourcing of forex. With all these done effectively, travellers will have it rosier.

How did you transition from real estate to travel consultancy?
I was the personal assistant to the principal partner in the former firm I worked. Though it was rough at the beginning, I found out that I had taken interest in making a career out of it. As soon as this was obvious, I was moved from core estate services office to be the executive secretary of AfRES because at that time, my boss was the president of the society. Hence, the secretariat had to be in his office. While there, I organized the travels to South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Italy, US, Europe and Ghana with combined delegates of over 400 from all West African countries. That was the beginning of the journey to today. The major challenge faced then was the capital as a lot of clients want you to make their bookings and pay few days or weeks after. This is however still a challenge but with the passage of time, some customers have become family hence the risk becomes smaller and easier to manage.

What advice do you have for young women who have plans to start a venture?
Asides involving God, love what you want to venture into. Identify the need available which your passion can be used to satisfy. As long as your service or goods help to meet a need, people will be willing to pay for it. Remember also that a lot of people are doing the same service you render hence, you have to put perfection and excellence to what you do to command respect and once there is respect, payment will be made and repeat business is a guarantee.

How can the government attract more tourists in the country?
The major issues we have in Nigeria’s inbound tourism market are infrastructures and security. Once the bad roads are fixed, commuting from one place to another is guaranteed. Fixing the rail lines will guarantee people travelling from South to North, vice versa with ease. The cost of a hotel is also very high in Nigeria and this is as a result of low supply and increase in the rate of running costs. Nigerian hotels are about the fourth most expensive in the world. If we have arrangements between government and private investors to invest in Nigerian hotels, the cost of hotel accommodation will drop.

What countries top the list of where you will advise a client to go for a great holiday outside Nigeria?
For ease of securing visas, UAE (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Ras Al Khaimah) tops. Asides that, there are various options for the hotel according to budget and a whole lot of airline options to select from and above all, there are lots of attractive sightseeing activities. Aside from Dubai, the other places that compete with Dubai for relevance where we advise our guests include but not limited to South Africa (Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban options) Zanzibar, Kenya, Mauritius, Egypt, Morocco, Gambia, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, India, etc.