MANAGING Director, Tour Brokers International Limited, Ms. Uloma Egbuna recently spoke to Sunday Sun on how she abandoned a career in the construction industry to float a tour and cruise business.
“I have always been passionate about travelling and seeing places even as a young girl,” said Egbuna. So I think the first thing that drovem e into the travel business is this deep passion that I have to travel.”
Egbuna, an indigene of Imo State, holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Language and Linguistics from the University of Calabar and a Master of Arts (MA) degree also in Linguistics and Languages from the University of Ibadan.
In this interview, she spoke about how she earns a living facilitating tours around the world as well as challenges of the tour and cruise business in Nigeria.
Tell us about your journey into travel and tours business?
When I finished my master’s degree and I started working, it was not in the travel business. I started off working in a construction company and it was while working in the construction sector that an opportunity came for me to do business with a travel agency. When
that came, I just said to myself, here is what I have been looking for. So, I switched and grabbed that opportunity to realize my dream of working in the travel and tour business. That was in 1990 when I joined Abbey Travels and Tours and I think I have been in this business for almost 26 years. I started as their Head
of Tourism Division. It was very tough for me then because as at that time, people were not really doing tourism business in Nigeria. It was something very new in the Nigerian market. For us, it was like being pioneers, but it also offered an opportunity for me to learn and to grow. Later on, I felt I had to go and do my own business. I found out I was more interested in doing tours than selling tickets and that was when I started my own business which was actually a partnership christened Tour Brokers International Nigeria (TBI) in 2002. At TBI,my partner and I are focused on introducing Nigerians to tours and cruises around the world.
Could you tell us about launching cruising business into Nigeria?
The cruising industry actually started many decades ago when there was this wave of people coming from Europe to the new world in America. After the end of that age of immigration, the owners of those vessels started thinking of how well they could put to use those large ships and vessels that they had used to convey hundreds and thousands of immigrants. And that gave birth to the idea of cruises where people had to pay and board these cruise vessels and tour various countries in the world. The vessels were equipped with theatres, casinos, restaurants, wine testing and other recreational facilities for children. It’s usually a lot of fun. You know that a cruise ship is built quite differently from the normal passenger ship. Cruising has now become the holiday of the 21st century. We realized that Nigerians are one of the most hardworking people on earth, but there is also the need to balance hard work with recreation so that one can live longer to enjoy the money one is making.
We did this having realized that a lot of Nigerians are getting tired of the usual holiday of you having to book a flight , go to a destination and you stay in a hotel and then go around the
city visiting places. To some people, that is boring. People want something different and they are looking for other forms of adventure. So, what we have done is to bring that adventure into Nigeria for people.
What are your challenges?
Well, for us the challenges of running a tour company started from 2002. That year when we came on board, we were like a lone voice crying in the wilderness. The people we met were just interested in buying tickets and going on holidays to the United States or Europe and staying with either families or friends. They did not understand what it meant to go on a packaged holiday. They did not understand how easy it could be to go to a country and all your itinerary including the flights, hotels, shuttle buses and taxis and the places you had to visit were all arranged for you by a company. So, it was really very tough for us convincing people to patronize us. But once people began to understand that it was not that expensive to go on a packaged tour and that it served them better not having to go and be sharing rooms with families and friends abroad, we started having improved patronage. But it didn’t come that easy. We worked hard, we had to sell what we had to the people, and we also had to offer people value for their money.
We had to go the extra mile. We had to yield to the call of our passion. And today we have a lot of clients who have enjoyed our services and they keep coming back to us for more and continually we keep having referral business.
In the recent months, we have had challenges as a result of what is happening in the economy. In fact, the current economic situation is impacting badly on tour operators. The scarcity of dollars is not encouraging people to travel and do tours and because you sell tickets and holiday packages in naira and you have to do remittances in foreign currencies abroad, this has remained the major headache that we are facing right now. Otherwise if this is taken care of, we should be saying we are doing pretty well.