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CHINYERE UMEASIEGBU: Operating travel business in Warri has been challenging


Pastor (Mrs.) Chichi Umeasiegbu, a former banker and finance and investment specialist, is a graduate of the University of Bangor, UK and chief executive officer and managing director of Global Links Travel and Tours, Warri, Delta State, with operational offices in Lagos and Port Harcourt. She developed passion for travel from her childhood days following her exposure to different destinations across the world on family vacation and that passion had ever since stayed with her and stoked her delving into the travel business years later. ‘‘My passion for travelling and visiting different countries began as a young child going on vacations with my family,’’ she disclosed.

Despite the successes that she made of her banking career spanning over a decade, she gave it up to journey into the world of uncertainty, at least that was what the travel world was to her then a she knew little about the intricacies of it, but was buoyed on by her passion for travels.

‘‘After more than a decade in banking, I was motivated to move out on my own to start a travel outfit so as to have more time for my family and myself,’’ she said, adding that her taking to buying and selling business while still in the banking field made a lot of difference in her stability at the time. ‘‘It was a bit easy as I had tried my hands on buying and selling even as a banker, but I moved on into the capital market as a broker for a highly based securities company and eventually my love and passion for travelling won the day as I ended up concentrating fully on it.’’ Her family, she said was her backbone, especially the husband who was there for her and gave her all the needed support to thrive in her new business: ‘‘Well, the challenges were there, but I was fully supported by my husband,’’ she stressed.

Niche in travels

Travel business is a vast one and to succeed in it, either as a travel agent or tour operator, requires you carving a niche for your company so as to grow into an authority and a household firm in those areas. Aware of this, Umeasiegbu, after trying her hands in the different areas of the business, over time decided to carve a niche in some of the prime areas of travels. These include pilgrimages, cruises, and vacation packages. In addition, she also offers ancillary services in the areas of recruiting students for foreign universities particularly the University Of Georgia, Tbilisi and visa assistance as well as ground tour services.

The journey

Growing Global Links Travel and Tours to the level it is today, a household name in Warri, as one of the leading travel companies in that part of the country, and extending further down South South region, for her, has a been a challenging task. However, she attributed the successes recorded to God, describing the journey as: ‘‘Wonderful though a bit challenging. As a group we have been able to cut our teeth and settled well into our core business and we are most   grateful to God for this. ‘‘I am not joking. My total dependence on God has steadied me and the business. In fact, God is our ‘Executive Chairman.’ We would not have gotten to where we are now without His direction and leading.’’ The place of God in her life and her business is very clear given her spiritual bent and ‘a woman of God’ status. ‘‘It has been God,’’ she said.

‘‘A lot of factors would have made us close up shop, but we persevered even after the exit of Shell from Warri and we still stayed on,’’ she revealed. She described Warri, birth place and home of her business, as her Jerusalem. ‘‘Warri is our Jerusalem, so to speak, and we have tried over the years to try to contribute to its growth in our own small way of promoting the city and region to our travel trade partners.’’ According to her: ‘‘Our presence in Port Harcourt and the South South is informed by the need to extend our services to our colleagues in those areas who partner with us in our different travel offerings. ‘‘Also, we initiated and originated our trade platform known as Travel Trade Network (TTN), where we collaborate with our colleagues.’’ Staying afloat in this part of the country, according to her, has been challenging as people and businesses prefer to patronise travel operators based in Lagos, however, she has mastered the market and carved a niche for her business as one of the most prominent in the market. ‘‘It is challenging because our trade partners tend to concentrate more on Lagos and the other major cities in the country; so we have to push for every kind of support that we get from them’’ she said of her staying power.

Ije – The journey

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Given the growth of the travel business in the Niger Delta region, she saw the need to create a platform for the operators to interact with the travelling public and exchange ideas on growing trends and developments in the industry. This gave birth to an exhibition platform, which she called Ije (The journey). The platform, which is now in its sixth year holds yearly in the month of March and has been instrumental in forging the growth of the industry in the Niger Delta. ‘‘The main objective of Ije is to promote our services and products and promote the region with Warri as its hub. We get our trade partners to come to Warri to support us and showcase their own products, giving them an opportunity to interact and network with our participants. We also promote different destinations as well at Ije,’’ she said of Ije. She described the last edition of Ije as very explosive: ‘‘It was explosive.

Our focus was on promoting Namibia as a destination and our signature project; the Nam-Naija Project, which is basically promoting Namibians to Nigerians and Nigerians to Namibians. ‘‘Ije 2019 was showcasing Nigerians to Namibians, as we had a host of local talents showcasing their craft during the event, which was recorded and will be shown in Namibia.’’ On the logistics and challenges of organising this travel platform yearly, she said that: ‘‘Well, our company fully sponsors the event and have been doing so in the last six years. It is our way of promoting the region, and it can be bigger if we are supported by the private sector. I deliberately did not mention the government, because of the bottlenecks and bureaucracy there.’’ Despite this challenge, she is grateful to God that the platform has become very successful and visible, saying that: ‘‘In terms of visibility, it has been very successful.’’

Nigeria travel industry

She holds an optimistic view about Nigerian travel industry as the said that it is ‘‘growing with major room for improvement.’’ However, Umueasiegbu lamented on the hampering role of ‘‘security, bad road network, government   neglect of the sector, while other countries fall over themselves to develop it since it is a viable alternative to oil, given our great tourism potential.’’ Also, she called ‘‘on the government to be more interested in the tourism sector. Appointing core tourism professionals as minister of tourism and other key positions to be spearheaded by professionals so as to turn around the fortune of the tourism sector.’’

Attractions of outbound tours

It is a known fact in the travel industry that many of the travel agents and tour operators in the country prefer the promotion of outbound to inbound tours. She attributed this sad development mostly to Nigerians penchant for outbound destinations and to remain in business travel operators have to follow suit. ‘‘It is because of our people, Nigerians are travellers. I believe that we must be one of the most widely travelled people on planet earth. I am not sure there is any place on this earth that a Nigerian has not visited, or does not live in. If there is such a place then that place is not inhabitable. ‘‘Nigerians love to travel, so we position ourselves to provide them with all they would need to enjoy and have a fun filled experience.’’

Shutting the door on international travel exhibitions

It is on record that in the last five years that Nigerian government has shut its doors on attending foreign travel expositions and conferences, such as the World Travel Markets (WTM) in London and ITB Berlin, where operators like herself, who was a regular face on the circuit, market Nigeria. She described this development as disadvantageous to Nigeria and affecting the business of the private operators: ‘‘It puts us at a serious disadvantage because people do not get to know about our diverse offerings in terms of tourism,’’ she said. However, her admonition is that this period of hiatus should be used to put Nigerian tourism in proper perspective.

‘‘But then we need to use this period of absence to put our tourism house in order, so that when we do attend such shows again, we would have definitive products to offer.’’ According to here, there is a lot to gain from such international promotions. ‘‘A lot, especially opportunities of meeting and building new working relationships with our foreign destination partners. Where you discuss with them one on one.’’ Umeasiegbu stressed that one of the things that she and other trade partners have missed most about not attending these travel trade exhibitions is ‘‘meeting with new and old partners, as it is one big reunion meeting places.’’