• Monday, June 17, 2024
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Being a lawyer has made me do better in travel business – Onuoha

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Ogechi Onuoha is a multifaceted individual who wears many hats. By day, she is a lawyer with one of the distinguished law firms in Nigeria. Outside law, she indulges her passion for travel, exploring the world and curating unforgettable travel experiences through her agency, Skies and Seas. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, she speaks on how Skies and Seas is revolutionising the Nigeria’s travel and tour sector amid challenges in the sector.

Your career is a fascinating blend of two seemingly disparate sectors: law and travel. Could you share how these two worlds have intertwined in your unique journey?

As contrasting as law and travel may seem, being a lawyer has made me do better in the travel business. Similarly, travelling, has made me an even better solicitor. In my business as a travel curator, I bring to bear some of my legal skills, including attention to detail, problem-solving, time management and effective communication. At Skies & Seas, we create an environment that enables our clients to hold us to the highest professional standards. Everything we do – from planning to execution – is carefully thought out and meticulous. We also have systems that enable us to promptly address issues before, during, or after a trip.

On the other side, travel brings new perspectives and insights into life. It exercises that part of the brain that lets me appreciate the differences among us and help me remain mindful of my privileges. These are important for my physical and mental well-being and in how I approach every facet of a legal brief.

What ignited your love for travel and the desire to explore the world?

Lebanon ignited my love for travel. My first visit to this amazing country was in 2021, when Nigerians had not fully appreciated Lebanon as a worthy vacation destination. Exploring different cities in the country and being surrounded by one of the most hospitable people, made me realise how much I wanted to see the world without being influenced by anyone else’s views. Lebanon is ideal if you desire a slice of unadulterated landscapes and beaches, a Mediterranean-meets-Middle Eastern vibe, and a ton of culture.

Could you describe the inception of ‘Skies and Seas’ and the gap it aimed to fill in the travel industry?

I planned a girl’s trip for my friends and I to Lebanon at the beginning of 2022, and the consensus at the end of that trip was: “Oge, you need to do this as a business”. I believed I could do it for the public if I could impress my friends so much. At the time, the two things I aimed to bring to the travel industry were: a bespoke and end-to-end holiday service and an appreciation for experiential travel. First, I want people to understand their travel personality, visit those places that are in tune with their travel personality and do the things that enhance their personalities. Second, I am a major advocate for immersive, transformative, and purposeful travel.

Travellers should focus on actively and meaningfully engaging with the visiting country’s history, community (people), food, culture and environment. In the process, you would be amazed at the enriching experience you garner from your holiday.

You explore the world and curate unforgettable travel experiences through Skies and Seas. How many countries have you visited personally, and how many countries have you helped people visit?

I have personally visited 24 countries and have planned trips for clients to over 27 countries, including Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Mauritius, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Seychelles, France, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Spain, Portugal, Ghana, Netherlands, the U.S, Netherlands and U.K., to mention a few.

How do you promote travel and tourism within Africa through your Skies and Seas?

For me, it is important to create awareness around the incredible experiences African countries have to offer. From breath-taking landscapes and diverse cultures to our unique wildlife and rich history, Africa has something for everyone. This is why I am very pro-African travel, and as a brand, we promote African destinations and educate our existing on the amazing places to see and things to do in these destinations. While there’s room for improvement regarding intra-African travel regulations, there’s still much to explore within Africa. There is so much untapped beauty within the continent, and Skies and Seas will continue to do its best to show it to Africans and Westerners alike.

Due to the economy, travel out of Nigeria has shifted from leisure to a necessity for more than two years. How have you helped your clients navigate this challenge?

There are two interpretations to this question. One is that Nigeria is awash with the ‘japa’ syndrome because of how the economy has deteriorated. The second is that people now want to travel as an escape from the sad reality of the country.

Concerning the former, unfortunately, we cannot help the situation, and if people want better lives away from Nigeria, they are well within their rights.

However, we do not advise on or handle relocations. We are only focused on vacationing. On the latter, whilst people feel the need to escape more often for vacations, their spending power has also depleted owing to Naira devaluation. We strongly advise planning well ahead of the intended trip to ensure that our clients do not feel pressured. This significantly helps to cut down on unforeseen costs.

Your law career spans almost a decade of involvement in transactions across different industries of the Nigerian economy, including corporate restructuring, mergers, and acquisitions and strengthening organisations’ corporate governance. Could you share some of your success stories?

Other than the areas that have been highlighted, I have significant experience in banking, corporate finance and capital raises in the debt and equity capital market. Under the Rules of Professional Conduct for Lawyers, we are prohibited from engaging in any acts that may constitute an advertisement, so I will refrain from dwelling too much on this. In a nutshell, I have been privileged to advise on some market-defining transactions within the country that have had an impact on other countries. This feels me with a sense of humility and accomplishment.

In 2023 and 2024, the Legal 500 EMEA’s Global Rankings recognised you as a Rising Star in Banking and Finance. Can you tell us what this recognition meant for you?

Yes. I was also ranked as a Rising Star in Capital Markets by IFLR in 2022 and 2023. The IFLR and the Legal 500 EMEA are global directories of leading lawyers and law firms recognised in different practice areas across several jurisdictions.

Being recognised by both in my core practice areas is a testament to the exceptional work that I do and has a positive impact on my legal career. Of course, I am very grateful for my solid foundation in Olaniwun Ajayi LP – the law firm where I work.

What major challenges have you faced with your vacation curatorial planning service, and how did you circumvent them?

Exchange rate fluctuations are a major challenge for us at Skies and Seas. The more the value of the Naira weakens, the more difficult it is for travel seekers. It also limits our options as we have to work with clients’ tighter budgets. Nevertheless, we hope fiscal measures are put in place by the Government, which improves our Nigerian clients spending power. Another challenge for us is visa restrictions on Nigerian passport holders. Still, sometimes, it is difficult to access these places because of the seeming disregard for the Nigerian passport and some strict visa conditions imposed on Nigerian passport holders. As with the exchange rate situation, this is not something we can control, and we just have to remain positive that our passport ranks better.

There are some other lighter challenges we face – impromptu cancellation or rescheduling of flights by the airlines and impromptu cancellations by clients of some components of their trip (e.g. tour activities). At the beginning, these were the types of challenges we were facing because the clients would start demanding refunds even when these cancellations were through no fault of ours. We had to tighten up our terms and conditions to make clear that whilst we do not mind making refunds for cancellations, this is subject to the policy of the airline, hotel or Tour Company as may be applicable and cancellations have to be made in ample time.

What is the next big thing for Oge Onuoha?

Visit more countries personally and expand Skies and Seas to other African countries.