‘Success in entrepreneurship is a process; it takes time, patience and resilience’
Tolu Adesanmi, managing director at DubaiAfrika, a Nigerian luxury tourism & lifestyle brand, in an interview with BUNMI BAILEY gives an insight into his brand and how it has been able to scale through Nigeria’s tough economic environment.
What inspired your brand?
The real inspiration behind the brand came from many experiences and lessons learnt from trying different kind of business ideas, from being a driver to a madam in Ikeja, to selling induction cookers in the streets, to working in the entertainment industry free of charge, till escaping to Malaysia in 2013 to find greener pastures, to running back home the same year as a result of harsh living conditions in Malaysia, to relocating to Dubai same year in search of job, etc.
All these challenges and past experiences inspired my romance with the tourism industry. After my recovery from being critically ill in Dubai, I went to a tourism company for visa renewal so I can continue the job search.
I met the CEO of Greenline Tourism LLC, and I did a 10mins pitch of how I can return to Nigeria and help him establish a branch of his company in Lagos since Nigerians love Dubai. He bought the idea, printed all the company’s official branding materials like letterhead, Business cards, ID cards etc. And I returned home to start Greenline tourism Ltd from scratch; I was MD of Greenline tourism for two years before the inspiration for DubaiAfrika came.
What is unique about your brand and what do you hope to achieve?
We hope to make the brand a household name not just in Africa but worldwide. DubaiAfrika is unique because we now do strictly luxury tourism where we service very important persons with our various presidential packages by providing the best luxury tourism money can buy.
What is travel/tourism like in Nigeria? Is there a market for it?
Tourism is a huge market in Nigeria, a multi-billion naira industry. Nigerians love to travel, so yes there is a huge market for tourism in Nigeria.
In this tough environment, how have you been able to scale your business?
Very simple, it’s just pure grace of God, perseverance no matter the challenge, hard work, and consistency. No matter the setbacks we encountered, we kept going.
What has been the most difficult aspect of building your business?
Like other entrepreneurs from this part of the world, funding has always been the major challenge. It is tough doing business in Nigeria, even though you can start up a business, with or without capital, cost of logistics, operations, promotion and marketing are always huge, so you end up using your payment cash flow to run the company.
It is pretty difficult to get investors or sponsors, so what we did in our early years was to run operations on our cash flow which most times eat into our profits, whatever is left is recycled into promotion and marketing of new products. So basically the most difficult part of running this brand in the early days was lack of capital. From payment of celebrity endorsements, sign up fees to cost of celebrity logistics, promotion etc.
Tell us about your vision for the next five years?
In five years, we plan to make DubaiAfrika the go-to luxury tourism plug worldwide. We hope to service more exotic luxury destinations around the world and do what has not been done ever in the history of tourism.
From your experience, what are the issues faced by young Nigerian entrepreneurs like yourself and what do you think should be done to solve the issues?
Like I said before, most entrepreneurs need funding, they need adequate business capital and they need proper staffing and management. Experienced staff don’t come cheap, all they need is funds, so lack of funds makes you underperform because you end up being the CEO, account officer, sales representative, marketer etc. which makes you less productive.
So, the government should create an enabling environment for entrepreneurs and also the banks should properly support Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) without asking for unrealistic collaterals.
When you started, what were the major obstacles faced and the current ones you are facing?
When I returned back to the country to set up a tourism company, my major challenge was how to get clients because back then there was no Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp. I think the main apps then were Facebook and Google, so I had to search Google for the list of travel companies in Lagos.
I had to copy their address and start tracing them. I had to trek the whole of Ikeja looking for a travel office to introduce my Dubai services to them and be their service providers at cheaper rates. But thank God the world is now a global village, with the internet and lots of social media apps, it has become easier to market and get clients.
The current obstacle we are facing is the effect of Covid-19 pandemic on the tourism industry. 2020 was a tough year; we had to shut down operations making us lose over 50 Million to the pandemic and restrictions. We resumed operations early this year and even at that there are still a lot of uncertainties, but we hope everything will return to normal fully soonest.
Can you mention some of your past tour projects?
From 2016 till date, we have done a series of tours back to back with celebrities like Davido, Odion Ighalo, FalzTheBahdGuy, Mercy Aigbe, Ushbebe, Kenny Ogungbe, Jackie Appiah and many more.
What was the major mistake you made or what is a major mistake you see entrepreneurs make in Nigeria?
For me I can’t really say certain things were mistakes. I really don’t have regrets about every move I made in my Entrepreneurship journey. I enjoyed the process; it creates experiences that eventually lead to growth.
But for young entrepreneurs, I see them wanting to turn into overnight success but it is not so, it takes time, patience, resilience, to make a company a success. Most young entrepreneurs are not ready to go through the process. I think my only mistake was not starting out earlier as an entrepreneur.
What policies do you think the government could implement to aid your field of business?
They should improve and invest in local tourism to enable travel companies to attract tourists from the outside world, and also they should improve bilateral relationships to enable Nigerians to have easy access to tourist destinations around the world for vacations. Many countries should be visa free for Nigerians as the giant of Africa.
What’s your greatest source of inspiration?
My greatest source of inspiration is God and my family. Also, my dad’s death inspired me to become an entrepreneur, my mum’s support and that of my siblings motivates me daily to do more and never give up. My unborn kids inspire me to work even harder in order to be a billionaire and a source of inspiration to them as well.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs on creating value as it pertains to business?
Values sell, value is key, when your brand or the services you provide speaks value it becomes easier to attract sales, clients will find you. So matter what you do, create and add value.