The future of tour operation is believed to belong to the millennial tour operators, who are daring, technology suave and experimental. In Nigeria that trend is emerging with a number of youths taking to tour business, however, a number of them are not trained and certified tour operators.
To succeed in this new venture, Mrs. Shalom Asuquo –Ankoh, a travel consultant and CEO/MD of Travel Lab Nigeria Limited, gives some valuable tips. One of such tips, she says is to get a mentor. ‘‘Get a mentor or a coach to walk you through the experience.
‘Follow person wey sabi road,’ was an advice from my mentor. Following the immense benefits from her mentor, Asuquo –Ankoh, who has since carved a niche for herself in travel business, has also committed herself to building a new crop of tour operators through her mentoring and coaching, as she says: ‘‘I offer coaching services for newbies seeking to start their businesses and grow in the industry. Based on the interactions with them over the years, I have written two books for tour operators, which will be out in May this year. ‘‘Invest in continuous learning courses to help hone your skills. There is a skill development project between the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR), the official institution for tourism training in Nigeria, and Akwaaba/Naija7 Wonders. It is a partnership project taking place in Abuja this March. ‘‘Please sign up and pay. Understand your numbers in business. Don’t look at the money, concentrate on your customers, have a detailed business plan, be teachable, register with the right trade associations in charge of the sector, and be curious, adventurous and in love with the business of travel.’’ Being a tour operator is very fulfilling Despite the challenges and lowly rated nature of travel business in Nigeria, Asuquo – Ankoh, says she is fulfilled as a tour operator. ‘‘I am multi-gifted and multitalented; as such, being a tour operator is one of the hats I wear. My zest for life and living is very high. Being a tour operator is very fulfilling, it depends on which of my personal goals I want to achieve.’’ Sights on private groups Her niche market, she says is specialising on private groups, families and professional groups among others. ‘‘I have a niche which is private group trips. I am more open to large family reunions and parties, social groups, professional groups and old school/ class groups. The reason is that people within these groups know what they want and their trips are more defined to meet the travel objectives and values. ‘‘I also carry out bespoke tours, that is, tailoring tours based on customers’ needs, preferences and prejudices. Presently, with the pandemic, change has been activated but is yet to be experienced, so new preferences and prejudices have been formed in the sub-consciousness of most travellers and tourists.’’ Nigerians know very little about the country, need to be educated For her, one of the reasons why Nigerians prefer outbound to domestic tours is because they have little knowledge about the vast and unique attrac-tions inherent in the country. ‘‘From my experiences, I believe that most Nigerians know very little or nothing about their immediate environment, which is quite sad. ‘‘It is easy for us to blame it on insecurity but the insecurity issue is just a recent development. It will shock people to know that Nigeria is blessed with almost all aspects of tourism. ‘‘On reversing the trends, I think the pandemic has been more of a blessing to the tourism sector than a curse as it has enabled us to look inwards, she says. Obudu Mountain Resort is my best destination ‘‘There are a lot of beautiful places in Nigeria but Obudu Mountain Resort is my best location. There is no place like Obudu in Nigeria or should I say in Africa. Even after five visits to this resort, I still look forward to going there again because every visit comes with something new to learn, see and be inspired by,’’ she says of her romance with the resort. Looking to multiple experiences in one life While it is easy to settle for Obudu Mountain Resort as her best domestic destination but not so when it comes to outbound as she tells you that each country and visit holds different experiences. However, she looks to live multiple life times in multiple experiences in one life time. ‘‘Having travelled to over 60 countries, each country comes with a unique feel, sights, sounds and experiences; therefore, choosing one over another is something I can’t do. One thing we should understand is that you could visit one country five times and have five completely different experiences. ‘‘It depends on the goal of every trip. My goal is to live multiple life times in multiple experiences in one life.’’ Set to conquer Chappal Waddi Mountain and Baghdad Chappal Waddi Mountain in Taraba State, the home to Mambila Plateaus, is the next domestic destination to beconquered as she tells you that: ‘‘This Mountain, at 2,419 metres, is the highest point in Nigeria and West Africa. I would want to behold the beauties of that mountain.’’ On outbound destinations, she says her sight is set on Baghdad because it is regarded as the cradle of civilisation. ‘‘I want to tour Iraq as it is referred to as the cradle of civilisation, especially with the events following the postflood era. ‘‘What people don’t know is that I’m big on cartoons. Cartoons like “The Thief of Baghdad” and “Aladdin” are animations I have watched several times, and they have a special place in my heart. Its setting is in Iraq and it shows the colours and beauty of that nation. ‘‘Apart from the cartoon storylines, most people don’t know that no other country or nation, except Israel, has more biblical history and prophecies associated with it than Iraq. Stories like the Tower of Babel and the confusion of languages took place there. ‘‘Abraham came from Ur, which is in Iraq; the events of the Book of Esther; the spiritual revival of Jonah took place in Nineveh, a city in Iraq. I would love to experience these places. Another location in Iraq that I would love to visit is Erbil Citadel. I hear it is a very beautiful place and I would love to see it for myself.