The Managing Director of Lamuytrip.com travel agency, Mr. Lanre Olawale; the company’s Head, Business Development and Communication, Mr. Mike Okwudolor-Kenechukwu and Mr.Kolawole Akinsumbo, its Technology team leader in this group interview with BusinessHallmark’s Obinna Ezugwu, explore the potential that exists in travel agency business in the country.
What would you say makes your Lamuytrip.com stand out?
I think we have been able to create something that is not common in Nigeria. That is the fact that with Lamuytrip, you can pay for your trip by instalment is unique. For instance, if you are making a trip by December, you can start paying from January. We have noticed that why people in other parts of the world are able to afford going on holidays and excursions is not necessarily because they have a lot of money and can instantly afford to do so, but because they contribute the money over time.
We have created similar platform here to allow people to save up money for their trips over a long period. Again, with us, you are certain to get flight tickets, accommodations, logistics, and so on at very reduced rates. Another thing that has given us an edge is that we have a broad base. We have offices in different parts of the country, including London. The London office gives us the international leverage to get better and more affordable prices. We are affiliated to about 450 airlines and over 400 hotels globally. In Nigeria particularly, we have affiliation with over 1200 hotels.
These have benefits which we pass onto our clients and by extension, it makes us competitive. If you walk into those hotels on your own, you are going to get the rack rate. But if you are coming through us, you will get at least 10 percent less than the rack rate because of the relationship we have with them. In essence because we are going there as a company that is delivering a larger number of clients. The same applies to the airlines, too.
What motivated you to go into the industry?
We saw that in Nigeria, there are only few travel agencies that do business online. Normally, you don’t need to visit an office to get your flight ticket. You can do everything on your phone or your computer. So, we decided to come up with a way to provide these services online. We are a one-stop shop for all your travel needs. You don’t have to apply for visa yourself, book your flight yourself or book your hotel by yourself. We do all that for you.
Beyond that we also offer travel advice. For example, if a client says he wants to visit America in August, we can inform you that the policy has changed and you no longer do the Dropbox; that you have to appear for a visa interview. We advise you on the best way to go about your travelling at any point in time.
What is the market like; would you say it’s viable?
The market is a wide market. Daily in Nigeria we see aeroplanes land and take off frequently. In some parts of the world, planes take off every five minutes; some every minute. That tells you that all over the world, the business is huge. In Nigeria, there are few people driving the business with technology. That’s where the opportunities exist most. There are about 400 travel agencies in Nigeria, but not up to 20 of them are online. In fact, there are only 12 that are online and only four are market leaders.
Again, because technology changes every time, you have to ensure that you are flexible. Your platforms have to be designed in such a way that they are easily used. We have designed our database, for instance, to give users access to more hotels. Those who are yet to migrate online are killing themselves as they risk losing their customers, even as their customer base will be limited. It applies to all other businesses. The business you don’t drive with technology in the 21st century is already a dying business. Having an online presence means that you have a global shop.
But if you have a shop in Ojuelegba, you have only one shop. But immediately you go online, you are in multiple places at the same time. We have clients, for example, from the U.S, UK and all over the world. They go on our platform and by themselves, make bookings; check in and out, submit and make payments even without speaking to us. That’s the power of technology.
Assuming someone wants to start a travel agency like yours, what does he need to know or have?
The first question the person should ask himself is what he has to offer that is different from what is available. I will take it from two perspectives: What I offer as a business and how I deliver what I offer. Think of your prices. Like we have said earlier, one of the strengths we have in the business is that a lot of people in the business are market schemers. That means they render services at very high prices because there is a lot of ignorance about travel requirements.
I will share a personal experience. I was at a place in Ibadan sometime ago. Somebody beside me received a call and was complaining about somebody he paid money for flight ticket but he failed to deliver. I asked him what the problem was. He told me he helped his brother to gain admission in the U.S. His brother was given visa. But he now paid his neighbour N900,000 to help him buy his flight ticket and the neighbour failed to do so. I asked him why pay his neighbour? He said because the neighbour said he sells tickets. I told him that he can actually log in on our website and buy the ticket. He said no, that if you want to buy ticket, you have to go to Lagos.
That’s ignorance and it’s not about education, it’s about knowledge. A lot of people don’t know that they can book flight tickets on platforms like ours. And some these schemers, tickets that you can purchase for N400,000 they will tell you it’s N700,000. And when you must have begged them to reduce and they accept N600,000 they say they are doing you a favour. The people who do that are called market schemers. There are two pricing methods: scheme and penetration. We came in with penetration strategy. If anyone is coming into the business, he has to look at his business model.
You talked about market schemers, but there are also market scammers in the industry. How does one tell each apart?
The schemers are actually professional scammers. They still deliver, but at a painful cost. The market scammers on the other hand, don’t deliver at all. One way of identifying the scammers is that they make false promises; promises that are not achievable. When I was younger, there was this rush to go abroad. It was during the military era. Agencies sprang up at every corner in Agege then. When you pass a street today, you see a travel agency. But when you pass the same street next week, the agent is gone. They would have taken money from people and left for other places. But overtime, they have also upgraded. But how do you tell the authentic people from the scammers?
One, as a potential traveller, you should make your research. Check the requirements for where you want to visit. Two, look out for too good promises. When somebody tells you that he will get you a Shanghai visa in five days, or he can relocate you to Canada in one month. It is not possible. They will tell you that you don’t need an interview to go to America. Look out for promises that are too good to be true. And people fall for them because they are overzealous. Three, do a background check of the agency. Four, don’t be quick to throw your money in the box.
What about the regulatory requirements? Can you just open a website and start or are there agencies you need to obtain certification from?
There is National Association of Travel Agencies (NATA) that regulates the industry in Nigeria. We are a member. That’s part of the background check you have to do. Make sure that the agency you are dealing with is a member of the regulatory agency. They must be able to show you that they have NATA certificate. What it means is that when they fail to deliver, you can report them and they would be sanctioned appropriately. Those mushroom ones that will scam you today and relocate tomorrow don’t belong anywhere. Some of us who are truly into the business are mindful of our reputation because we process visas for our clients too. We have relationships with the embassies and we are mindful of the businesses we handle.
If someone wants to go to the U.S for instance, and refuse to come back, we will not handle that. We know because we also do our own checks. And because of the trust the embassies have for us, we enjoy certain privileges. Recently, someone wanted to travel to Israel for a programme TB Joshua was having there. Because I know it would be late if he was to travel on the date he could be allowed to travel, and because I know him, I called the embassy and told them. They asked if I can vouch for him, I said yes. The consulate agreed to give him the visa. The person was travelling with his private jet and I know he would come back in few days. We can’t afford to lose their trust.
When you speak with business owners in Nigeria, they tell you that the environment is tough. How have you managed to cope?
The environment is tough, no doubt. But one thing that has kept us going is our focus, our commitment and the passion we bring into the business. When you have passion for what you do, whatever challenges you see along the way, you ride over it. Your focus is on your goals. Again, we try to bring in creativity. We are a multi disciplinary team and we are widely travelled. We bring the experiences we garner from our travels to bear. We don’t benchmark what we do with what is happening in Nigeria, we try to benchmark it with global trends. So, yes, there are challenges, but we don’t want to focus on the challenges, we keep pushing.
You mentioned about packages you have for potential clients?
Presently, we have a lot of tour packages. We have Dubai package, which is on all year round. Anytime a family wants to go on a holiday, they can come to us. We also have tour packages to Maldives, Seychelles, Ethiopia, South Africa. Ethiopia and South Africa is a two legged tour. Maybe you spend three nights in Ethiopia and four in South Africa. We have tour packages in Santorini Greece, Mauritius and we also have tour packages for those going on religious pilgrimages.
It doesn’t mean that these are the only people that can come to us. People go to China, Dubai and so on for business. People go to Canada, U.S to visit their children in schools or to attend their graduations. There are several reasons for which Nigerians travel. A company may take its workers on a holiday trip. These days, people take events to Dubai, South Africa and so on.