‘Insecurity makes it difficult to sell our indigenous tourist attractions’
Susan Ejiroghene Iriri is the Managing Partner at PnG Travels limited, a subsidiary of Pinky and Glamour limited. The travel company, which is just over two years old, has made noticeable progress even with the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions.
Iriri holds a diploma in Mass Communication from Olabisi Onabanjo University, a degree in Business Administration from the University of Lagos, and several professional qualifications.
In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her passion for travels and tourism, especially surviving the COVID-19 pandemic as a young travel entrepreneur.
What spurred your interest in the travel and tourism industry?
The zeal to demystify tourism as a woman, with a Nigerian passport and personal immigration mistakes, led me into the industry. I realised that as a Nigerian with a green passport, there seemed to be a lot of limitations for those who seek to travel for tourism purposes.
This also opened my eyes to the fact that there are a lot of untapped tourist destinations in the world that one can venture without visa hassles. It also led me to the conclusion that a lot of people have similar issues and I decided to share my knowledge with those who need it while making a living from it.
Your company started out during the COVID-19 pandemic, how would you describe the journey?
Trust me, it was a scary period, because PnG travels was still at its teething stage; I had to deal with calling for refunds and having clients that were genuinely stranded ask for help and I couldn’t help. The whole world was confused, so you can imagine how I felt, but I remained focused and determined to weather the storm. I used that period to create and implement online strategies that increased my clients and gave my company a positive high protection.
The pandemic came with a lot of uncertainty and nobody knew exactly when it would end. We had clients stranded in various countries across the globe and the airlines were not lifting, but despite the drought the pandemic brought, the massive influx of travel requests immediately the ban was lifted gave me immense hope and motivation in the travel industry. The truth is, I was strategic enough to invest in myself as a person and my brand as whole during the lockdown; digital marketing and deliberate plans were put into place to penetrate the market as soon as the ban was lifted. And fortunately for us, it worked. So, yes, COVID-19 was more of a blessing to PnG Travels
Share with us some of the challenges you have faced running the business?
Being in the middle is always a tough job and the major challenge is trying to keep a client happy when things go sour. Issues always come up with airlines, hotels, cancellations, and refunds and of course the very painful visa denials Nigerians have to go through, which spoils most vacation plans for clients. I think that’s where we as travel professionals come in and make our clients happy by proffering solutions.
We have the challenges we can’t control and the ones that are within our control; it is very important to be able to distinguish them and do everything within our power to manage clients amicably. There are ups and downs in the business, and at times, we have to bear losses just to satisfy our clients. Of course, there is the issue we face generally as travel and tour operators in Nigeria, which is more of an economic problem.
For instance, the insecurity in Nigeria makes it difficult to sell our indigenous tourist attractions. There are a lot of beautiful locations waiting to be harnessed in this country, but insecurity, funding, promotion and maintenance have hindered the progress and growth of the tourism industry locally. Imagine having tourists come from America or Europe to connect to their roots and I can only take them to a beach in Lagos and Nike Art Gallery? In fact, Nigeria is listed as one of the unsafe places to visit in the world. We have a lot more to offer as a nation and its high time we harness this God given resources and put ourselves as a significant tourist nation, not just in Africa, but the world as a whole.
What new innovation are you bringing to the table in the industry?
I don’t know if its new, but I’m doing it my way. We have a travel club with growing membership; I have decided to make travel as relaxing and casual as possible, entertaining and most of all accommodating. Giving all our clients affordable luxury, as well as a truly fun experience whenever anyone chooses to travel with PnG. At our company, we encourage group trips and personal travel by taking as little as N50,000 deposit for a trip, once you show commitment, we are ready to accommodate your payment plan.
And in our travel club, we have three categories, Gold, Platinum and Silver where we give top priority service, discounted holidays, access to 50 per cent off our shelf deals. For us, our client’s needs are primary and we make it our utmost duty to deliver value for their money and time. We are also committed to opening up new tourist destinations around the world, thereby creating opportunity for genuine tourists to explore without stress.
How well would you say Nigerians appreciate the travel and tourism industry?
Nigerians actually love to travel, the airport is always full and contrary to what people may think, there are a lot of us also interested in local tourism. Despite insecurity, we still have beautiful resorts being opened daily and this is because of our love for travel and tourism. It’s just some vibes that is in born; we can’t help it. The only reason a Nigerian may not have explored the world is finance. Once they get it, they move.
The idea of travel to an average Nigerian is fascinating. Whilst we may travel for various reasons, it’s no news that we love to travel. The diaspora remittance to Nigeria rose by 11.2 per cent in 2021 to 19.2 billion dollars. The figure was the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, which recorded a 14.1 per cent to 49 billion naira, which almost beat the World Banks projection for 2021. So, yes, we love to travel despite the various setbacks one may experience, we travel anyway.
What has it been like running the business as a woman in Nigeria? Is there something you would have done differently?
The Nigerian travel industry is actually dominated by women and it’s a thing of joy for me to see my gender breaking the bias and doing big things. The urge to take responsibility and handle diverse demands of the business is present and highly commendable.
I personally have learnt a lot from women in my circle and I’m grateful for every opportunity that has been rendered. Of course, there may be exceptions, but in general, I feel the love and genuine intention from some women around me to grow and not necessarily compete.
What advise do you have for other women seeking to run businesses like you? What tips do you have for them?
One basic thing to consider when running a travel business is training and another important factor is experience; you need both to soar in the industry and none can be replaced with the other. I would advise her to get adequate knowledge, training, maybe learn the ropes from a mentor, work under someone who is not just experienced, but willing to share knowledge as well. Put in your A-game while you’re learning, be the best version of yourself and serve wholeheartedly. I believe she will know when she is strong enough to start running the business on her own.
Its also more expensive to run a travel agency now; they recently increased the share capital to register a travel company to 50m shares. One needs to put all these into consideration and save up before taking the big leap.
What can be done differently to improve the industry? What role should the government play?
The government can sure do a lot to improve the travel and tourism industry as a whole; we have to capitalise on our strengths and natural given resources. For instance, it will be a tall order for me to say we should invest in medical tourism, because we are definitely not ready and it will take years or even decades to portray ourselves to the international market in that light. But we have ready made beautiful natural resources in Nigeria, for instance the Obudu Cattle Ranch, we need more support to build and invest in places like that, we need more government controlled art galleries with the standard of Nike Art Gallery. Most importantly, we need security to confidently market these tourists attractions and good maintenance to keep us on good ratings in the world map. It is doable.
Dubai makes an average of 38billion USD per year. This isn’t by chance, but a deliberate effort from the UAE government to strategically put them as a top tourist destination in the world. And this has also attracted foreign investors. We just need proper investment and management. I think our government can do more; we are counting on them to do more.
What motivates and inspires you?
I am motivated by positive reviews from clients. Seeing that my clients are genuinely happy with my service makes me completely pumped up. Solving clients travel needs and saving them the hassles that comes with travelling keeps me motivated and the truth is one happy client tends to refer his/her friends and family and that automatically means I have to over deliver again to keep the positive chain going.
I could be having a bad day, but once there’s a client who is happy with any of our services, I light up and am propelled to do extra work and make more people smile. Other people’s success stories also motivate me. I am greatly inspired by my family and women like Okonjo Iweala, Chimamanda Adichie and Oprah Winfrey.
What is your life mantra?
Never give up! If you can dream it, then you can achieve it. There are a lot of hurdles and obstacles on the way to success and it doesn’t really matter how many times you fall, just dust yourself up and try again.