‘Awareness and education about local tourism within Nigeria is super low and quite disheartening’
Meeting Chiamaka Obuekwe for the first time, you immediately get a sense of her passion, vivacity and bubbly nature. She has taken those traits and her passion for travel and transformed them into a thriving travel and tour business named Social Prefect Tours. In a chat with GuardianWoman, she shares her vision for travel and tourism, her intention of putting Nigeria on the world map – for the right reason, and her goals for growing and expanding her business. You certainly will be inspired.
Let’s first of all congratulate you on your 25th birthday. You certainly broke the Internet with your photos and videos. How do you feel turning 25?
HAHAHA, did I? Well, I certainly hope in a good way. It felt really good turning 25. I have looked forward to this age for so long. I really don’t know why. Maybe because it’s a milestone age; silver jubilee. It’s quite significant; middle of 20s and it is the point when a lot of your choices shape your destiny. However, I’m just really happy to be alive, healthy and to be doing work what I really enjoy and for the impact I’ve been able to make in such a short time.
For those who don’t know you – who is Chiamaka Obuekwe, and what does she do?
Chiamaka Obuekwe is a vivacious young lady who is really full of life and is adventurous. She is the CEO of Social Prefect Tours, a travel and tourism enthusiast, a travel writer, blogger, tour- guide and tour operator. Social Prefect Tours is a Nigerian tourism company that is passionate about African tourism and connecting great people. We organise “off-the-beaten-path,” unique and interesting tours and adventures around Nigeria and Africa. Our tours are affordable and properly curated in order to encourage people to explore our rich, diverse cultural heritage and our beautiful and breathtaking landscapes.
How did Social Prefect Tours begin?
Social Prefect Tours started in 2015. I fell in love with local tourism in 2014 and this started when we (some friends and I) took a few trips to some parts of Nigeria purely for leisure and discovered that there were lots of beautiful destinations that no one was talking about. Most Nigerians spend their holidays outside Nigeria, yet there were vacation worthy destinations and adventure spots in our own country. I was really surprised at the lack of awareness of local travel and tourism and I felt such a burning desire to share. Therefore, I started my blog just to document my experiences and tell the stories of all the places I was discovering and in this age of social media, it was not really hard for me to get an audience. People saw the pictures and videos and also read about my experiences online and many of them were fascinated because they did not know that such places existed in Nigeria. Interestingly, people started asking if they could join these trips and we saw that there was a need for local tourism, especially group tours, therefore, Social Prefect Tours was born.
You had a 9 to 5 job at an Internet start-up, then you quit? Did family and friends support you, or did they think you were off your mind?
Yes I had a 9-5 job at a popular e-commerce firm, but I was part of a company-wide retrenchment that took place in 2015. So, I did not quit; I lost my job. However, it was one of the best things to have happened to my career and journey with Social Prefect Tours, as that helped me focus on my dreams and the rest they say is history. Initially, my family thought I was crazy, yes. My parents encouraged me to get another job for stability and what not and many of my friends just couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I wanted to be travelling for a living. Honestly, a lot of the things I was doing did not make sense at the beginning, even to myself. But recently in a speech, Mark Zuckerberg said ideas do not come out fully formed, they only become clear as we work on it and that is my story. The idea of Social Prefect Tours and the vision became clearer day by day and we will keep innovating as time goes by.
Two years on, how would you rate the journey?
Wow! The journey has been unbelievably splendid. I never thought that in two years we would be where we are today with the company; the recognition has been mind-blowing. Recently also I was awarded alongside leaders and great women in the African tourism industry as one of Africa’s top 100 women in travel and tourism. A friend recently told me that he ‘Googled’ my name and was astonished by what he found and that is my reality now. So much amazement from all the recognition for simply following my dreams and working daily to be better at it. I receive a lot of emails, messages and DMs from young and old people saying how much I inspire them to follow their dreams and it just touches my heart. My journey has indeed been a humbling experience.
What is the core aim of Social Prefect Tours and what do you hope to achieve with the business?
Simple, the core aim of Social Prefect Tours is to promote tourism in Africa, most especially Nigeria. The lack of awareness and education about local tourism within Nigeria is super low and honestly quite disheartening, the attention from the government as well is discouraging, but in two years of our business and three years of our blog, we have been able to educate and inspire quite a number of Nigerians and foreigners about Nigerian tourism. Tourism and hospitality is a serious business with links to various other sectors as well, like aviation, entertainment, food, fashion etc and with serious minded changes, actions, work and policies, Nigeria can be making a whole lot from this industry. With Social Prefect Tours, we hope to consult for the government and collaborate with various bodies and sectors to help change the face of tourism in Nigeria.
What have been some of the highlights of your business in the past two years?
There have been so many from award nominations and winning, interviews and recognition on great platforms like Bella Naija, Punch, Channels, Classic FM, ThisDay, The Guardian and the list goes on, to speaking engagements on major platforms. Also meeting, connecting and networking with great people from all over the world. Some other major highlights have been working with top brands and bodies like Samsung, South African tourism, Bauchi State Government, Smile Communications, just to mention a few. Some major highlights for us personally would be successfully completing some specific tours like our tour to Bauchi, Niger, Enugu, Ghana, Benin republic and also our tours for children alone this summer holiday; that was a major one.
And the lows? How have you dealt with and overcome the challenges?
There have been many lows on this journey, but the truth is that challenges are the bread of champions. We cannot truly grow and become strong without challenges. One major challenge we have faced would be with people challenging our prices. The truth is that Nigerians are just getting into this travelling for leisure culture, especially within Nigeria. Local tourism is new, so some people expect it to be ridiculously low like going to the cinema. Nigerians are not yet big on buying experiences, but they would buy products and shinny things for exorbitant rates. Our prices are very affordable for the value we give (our tours are all-inclusive packages), however some people do not understand this and some of them cannot afford it at the time, so they criticise it. We have overcome this by defining our target market and positioning ourselves to that audience/market and when they attend the tours and see the value we give, they are always surprised at how affordable it is.
Speaking about milestones and challenges – would you say that you’ve been able to scale your business?
To a point, yes we have, but not to our desired level. We are a work in progress and take growth and development very seriously. Our portfolio of tours are growing and very soon we hope to have several partnerships to boost our business and also have guides all around who lead tours to various places, not just monthly, but weekly and daily.
What are some of the next steps for you personally and professionally?
A major next step for me personally is that I will be getting married soon and I am pretty excited about that because my fiancé is very supportive about my work. Professionally, Social Prefect tours plans to collaborate with several brands and platforms to work on how tourism can be inculcated into their businesses as well. We also plan to start hosting more specifically themed tours like tours for married women for example, to help them relax. We are also working on having more African countries on our tour list and creating more beautiful cultural experiences. A CSR initiative is also in the pipeline for us.
You co-run your business with your fiancé – is that cool or weird? And what happens to work when you guys fight?
Your questions are the best, honestly. I am laughing so hard. On a more serious note though, it’s not weird at all. We are doing our best to balance it out. We know when to draw the line and are very professional during tours and with our clients. When we fight, we try to settle as fast as possible. However, in the event that we do not settle on time, which also happens as well because we are human, we still get to work and discuss about work, especially if we have a tour coming up or clients to work with.
What do you know about yourself now, that you wish you had known before?
The level of my strength. There are certain situations that have really stretched me to my limit and I always come out stronger. I did not realise how strong I was before. I wish I had also known how powerful I was and the level of influence I had by just being myself and doing the work that I truly enjoy.
If you weren’t running Social Prefect Tours, what would you be doing?
If I was not running Social Prefect Tours, I would have been looking for a way to get into United Nations or I may have been there already. I may have also started my journey to becoming a diplomat or ambassador. I studied International Relations, so I aspired to work in foreign affairs or international diplomacy.
You are such a joyful human being, how do you stay so inspired and energetic and how do you relax?
Honestly I was born happy. I’m sanguine and being happy and jovial is in my nature. I mean, that’s why I’m social prefect. This does not mean that there aren’t bad days. I’m inspired by a lot of things but the most important one is ‘life’ itself. The fact that I am alive actually keeps me super inspired and wanting to do more. Anytime I remember that life is short and there are many people who have lost their precious lives in the blink of an eye, I remember to enjoy life and live it to the fullest while I’m still here.
I relax by exploring nature alone or with my fiancé, spending time with good friends is also a great therapy for me, also by reading books – African literature especially, or binge-watching a funny series or show on You tube or by just being at home and doing nothing.
Words of advice for upcoming female entrepreneurs?
First advice would be for them to know that nothing is impossible as long as they set their minds to achieve it. That you are a woman is not an excuse not to do anything you want to do or become anything you want to be. Do not expect anything to be easily handed down to you. You have to work hard for it.
Secondly, passion and enthusiasm is everything. If you are not passionate about whatever you are doing, it will show and eventually that thing will not succeed. Passion speaks and it will make you stand out from your competitors. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. You have to do work that you truly love.
Thirdly, always give extra value and excellent service to your clients. Customer service and satisfaction is key. Let your brand and business be known for excellence. Lastly, be consistent. Put in work every day. Little drops of water make a mighty ocean, so keep at it, even in tough times. Never give up; if one way doesn’t work out, strategise and look for other ways that work, but don’t quit.