The Fidelity SME Forum is a weekly radio programme run by Fidelity Bank Plc. to educate, inform, advise and inspire budding entrepreneurs in Nigeria with knowledge and expertise that will enable them build sustainable and successful businesses. In this episode of the Fidelity SME Forum, Travel Expert and Chief Executive Officer of Avienti Travels & Tours, Shade Ladipo, shares her insights on the Value Chain Opportunities for Micro Small Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in the Travel Industry.
Question 1: Tell us briefly about your entrepreneurial background and the journey so far.
Shade: I don’t think I can even summarize this journey. I have been doing business since I was 18. I started it formally and properly in 2009. Ive been running my travel agency now for 7 years. In between that I have done any and everything. I’m a learner; I love to learn, so any opportunity I get to learn, I do. Ive done a lot of things in-between such as co-founding Enough is Enough Nigeria with my good friend, Chude Jideonwo.
I am also the Country Director for We-Connect Nigeria, another NGO for women in business. I also do TV and radio as well as acting. They say the way to the market is in different ways. So everything Ive always wanted to do in my life, I just as myself if I want it bad enough. If the answer is yes, then I find a way to do it.
Question 2: What influenced your decision to start up a business in the travel industry?
Shade: I wanted to travel a lot. However, I was looking for a way to travel that would not cost me so much money. The first time I wanted to travel and I didn’t have money, I decided to get creative. I was working with the United Nations Volunteer Organization (UNVO) and they put me in charge of handling travel for a group of us going to Dubai. This was way back in 2006 when travel wasn’t as popular as it is now. So at that point, the only thing that we had was someone who was ready to do the visas.
We were supposed to do the tickets directly with the airline, but there was just so much in the package which was later handed to me to do. Then I thought I could simply add about N10, 000 extra on each package and handle everything. That way, I wont have to look for money to travel. I added N10, 000 on each persons package and I bought my own ticket and paid for my visa, but then I had to also book the hotels, sort out the airport transfers and the tours. It made me realize all the gaps at that time in the industry and realized that this was actually a business. I started thinking of it as a business.
Question 3: Did you acquire any formal education or training in the course of all these?
Shade: I have no travel training nor business training. I have no formal training in anything I do in my life. I’m a passionate person; I’m a learner, I never feel like I know it all, but I’m always going online to research. The only training I have gotten was when I attended the Pan African University through a scholarship that I got in 2012. It was a certificate in Entrepreneurial Management. I also get picked to go for leadership forums a lot. So far, those are the only training I have gotten.
Question 4: Why do you think of travel and tourism as a business opportunity to delve into fully?
Shade: Being a business-minded person I wanted to do business properly. Its a real journey; I don’t think there’s a destination until you retire. Even then at a point in time you have to make sure your business is working for you. I have been on that journey and I cant tell you that it was amazing. No. The first few years were tough. I gave up so many times in my head. I would even cry at times. I failed so many times at the beginning, but as I kept on going I started to learn and re-learn.
That’s something I’m doing every day in my business; finding ways to renew my business plan and my business model. Right now I have a 5-year plan which I’m not sharing with the world yet. However, there is a constant plan every year. I set a target for myself and for my businesses so we are not stagnant. I don’t think I chose it as a business. I love to travel, its who I am; that’s my world. I wanted to make sure that I would wake up every morning and I would not feel like I was going to go, that’s why I do what I do.
Question 5: Take us through some steps you had to go through to get to where you are, in terms of your travel business.
Shade: First of all I had to learn about the different parts; the moving part of the travel industry. In Nigeria the most popular part was ticketing; everybody became ticketing agents; everybody wanted to get IATA certified. It became somehow like the most saturated part of the travel industry. Immediately I entered I said I was not going to focus on that because I don’t follow the crowd. No matter how lucrative its looking, if I see too many people there, I wont go into it. When I got into travel there were not as many people as there are now.
I focused on visa assistance which is something a lot of travel agencies don’t like to touch because it come with a lot of complexities and people who do businesses are usually distraught. Eventually, I found out that a lot of travel agencies wanted to partner with me because they didn’t want to touch that area. This was good for me. My company has a huge track record in visa assistance. I also realized when recession hit Nigeria two years ago it helped me.
We were kind of aware before the recession really hit Nigeria. At that moment, we had opened a US account and funded it with USD so that by the time the recession hit and there was no USD in the system we had no issues paying for anything. People had to come and book with us for hotels and everything outside the country because they couldn’t use their cards and they didn’t have accounts outside the country.
So those are the little parts and parcels about the travel industry. I usually tell people don’t follow the crowd; find your own niche, stick with your own niche and be great at it. Like I said, travel agencies do partner with us, some of our biggest partners are other travel agencies.