Exclusive Interview of Otunba Michael Balogun of Tour2Nigeria. Edited by Powered Magazine
Join us as we embark on a captivating journey with Otunba Michael Balogun, the visionary behind Xtrm Tours 2 Nigeria Ltd. Prepare to be inspired and captivated by the untold stories, hidden gems, and remarkable beauty of Nigeria, as we delve into the transformative power of travel with a true trailblazer.
Tell us about yourself and your business.
My name is Otunba Michael Balogun, CEO and Founder of Xtrm Tours 2 Nigeria Ltd., brand name Tour2Nigeria. I am from Nigeria, home to some of the best tourist destinations in Africa. Tour2Nigeria is a multi-award-winning domestic tour company based in the aquatic city of Lagos State. I founded the company with my childhood friend Kole Majekodunmi, a professional photographer based in the UK. Our company was established solely for the purpose of offering tour packages, promoting them, and creating an inroad to Nigeria's tourism destinations. I am also the South-West Vice President of the Nigeria Association of Tour Operators (NATOP). It has been a great joy for me to personally show tourists from all over the world various destinations in Nigeria in almost a decade of this journey, and the excitement is the same every day to show the beauty of our country to the world. We have also partnered with a lot of hospitality businesses across the continent, and in the process, we collaborated with a fellow colleague from Tanzania (Msifari Travels and Tours) to create a dedicated group called Intra Africa Travels, and we invited dedicated tour operators from the African continent to join to start promoting our continent and advocating for a borderless Africa.
What were your biggest challenges when starting your business?
Tourism, like any other business out there, comes with its own challenges. Part of the challenge I faced in the beginning was more of an infrastructure, funding, and insecurity problem, which is not peculiar to just Nigeria but the whole world; thankfully, it is now becoming a thing of the past in our country. Starting off in a new terrain comes with some surprises and panic attacks, but I'm glad those days are far behind and there is now a lesson to teach the next generation.
How have you handled success and failure over the course of your career?
Success and failure are the best friends of every business owner and entrepreneur. With failure comes a new lesson. Over the years, we have tried several business models to scale our business. While some worked, others failed, and through that process, we have found new solutions from the failures and have been able to scale our business over the years. Failure is a great part of success. Success for me can be defined as doing what others thought couldn't be done. Many businesses I know closed shop during our first two years of starting in the tourism sector, and most thought it was the worst time for our brand to sell tours to Nigeria. But here we are today, still selling and promoting the best of destinations in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
What strategies do you use to stay competitive in a changing market?
Our strategies have been based more on feedback from clients and business partners. And it is important to understand that the strategies we employ also involve the latest technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. By also regularly evaluating the market, adapting to changes, and staying customer-centric, we have maintained competitiveness in the tourism industry.
What motivations drive you to keep pushing forward in the face of adversity?
Passion and Purpose: A deep passion for travelling and the outdoors have kept the fire burning for me. Like I have always described tourism as a way of life, it involves meeting new people as you travel to different countries, tasting different foods and drinks, and experiencing new cultures. Also, my strong sense of patriotism and love for my country make it so easy to keep forging ahead and to create a legacy for my children and the next generations to come. These are the factors that have helped fuel my strength to persevere in the face of adversity.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their chosen field?
The best advice I can give to anyone starting out in their chosen field is to find their purpose first in the sector they are embarking on. Passion and love for their chosen path. You must be able to wake up each day and love what you do, unless you are going to be frustrated by your own dreams and visions. You must love yourself and be able to ask yourself, "Why do I want to do this?
How have technological advances affected the way you conduct business or operate your venture?
Technology has become a part and parcel of our existence, so to speak; from our smart homes to our smart phones, we almost feel lost without having them with us. With the help of technology like virtual reality (VR), our world has become a simple click away, either by using our smart phones or using the head gear mount (Meta 2). This gives you an immersive experience of a destination like never before, right from the comfort of your home. With the use of social media platforms, millions across the globe can connect with our business and get to know more about Nigeria straight from our Instagram handle, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
In what ways has customer feedback or response influenced how you prioritise goals or objectives for your business or venture?
Tour2Nigeria is a customer-centric company and brand, and over the years we have relied on our customers feedback, either through their reviews on our TripAdvisor page, via our social media platforms, phone calls, or emails. Tour packaging is a fully human-interactive social form of business since we practically deal with humans on a daily basis. Feedback from our clients and customers has been a direct source of information for our company and its growth. Who else gives the best feedback than your customers, who are spending their hard-earned money buying our tour packages, so they come with the best advice and feedback?
What trends do you see emerging in your industry that are likely to shape its future growth and development?
Evolving technologies are now the new frontiers in the travel and tourism sector, from AI like Chat GPT to VR (virtual reality). With a click of an app, you can book a flight ticket to Nigeria, check into any hotel across the world, hail a cab from an app like Uber, and the rest. These technologies help everyday travellers travel stress-free, and from the comfort of your home, you can now take a virtual tour of destinations in Nigeria or any destination around the world.
What have been the most rewarding and difficult aspects of your chosen career or business path?
The most rewarding aspects of my chosen career were getting Nigeria listed on the world's largest tour booking site, Viator, a TripAdvisor-owned company, way back on June 17th, 2015; my different awards, both local and international; a special recognition by our esteemed Nigerian Ambassador to the Netherlands during the Nigerian Independence Day event at the Hague in the Netherlands; and most recently, I was given the Chieftaincy title of Otunba Fiwajoye of Ilado-Akoko Kingdom in Ondo State by HRH (ENGR) Rotimi Ikugbe, the Olu of Ilado-Akoko.
Are there any skills or areas of expertise that you think are essential for success in your field?
Every career path comes with a set of skills and qualifications. Relevant courses in travel and tourism are a good example. For tourism, you definitely must be a people person, charming, good at storytelling, and customer service oriented. A smile you must learn to wear daily in this line of business. You cannot afford a mood swing or an aggressive attitude when working in this industry.
How has working remotely or online impacted your business or venture over the past year?
During the COVID-19 pandemic and with the world shutting down, we all adapted literally to working from home remotely, and so many of us got comfortable at this. For me, it didn't really affect me that much; we used platforms like Zoom and Google Meet to keep in touch with our staff and clients as well. I would rather work from home than spend half of my productive time stuck in traffic.
What tips would you like to offer to others who are in a similar position to you but looking to take their careers or businesses further?
My favourite tip is this: there is no shortcut to success, and remember, patience is a virtue. Tourism is a long-term return-on-investment type of business, so do not rush into it if you are not willing to go the whole nine yards.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers that we haven’t already discussed?
Please come visit my beloved, beautiful, and picturesque country, Nigeria. Thank you so much for this opportunity to talk about my business.