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By Ebele Orakpo
Mrs Rachael Ogbah is the Chief Executive Officer of Reachy Travels and Tours Limited. In a chat with Vanguard in her Ilasa, Lagos office last week, she spoke on several issues including how Reachy Travels and Tours Limited came into being and the challenges facing the travel industry.

After her primary school education in 1979, Mrs Rachael Ogbah went on to secondary school which she completed in 1984 and then to Aviation School. In 1986, she started work in the travel industry. 'I worked with some travel agencies and helped them to obtain their licences.

•Mrs Rachael Ogbah…
The last company I worked for, I got their licence for them in 1993 and worked with them until late 1999.'

In 2000, she decided it was time to launch out on her own and thus Reachy Travels and Tours came into being. According to the Edo State-born travel agent, although she had the dream of starting her own outfit, she was not sure of how, because of the huge financial involvement.

'I was not having it in mind to actually start because of a lot of challenges involved. You have to have enough money before you can go into travel business.

As at 2002, before you are licensed, you must deposit N500, 000 in your bank as a guarantee. It later became N2 million and now, it is N10 million. When you look at the financial involvement, you will be scared because you do not really have the money to go into it.

But then, when you are thinking of moving forward, you forget about the challenges. Your determination matters. It was a dream I had and my husband actually stood by me. He really encouraged me.

He told me that if I was able to do it for others, I can do it for myself. He said I should not bother about the money involved because the God who has always helped me to help others will surely come to my aid.'

Indeed, help came from an unexpected quarter. 'Because of the trust a friend had in me, a friend who I will never forget, came to me and told me that I should not bother about the N500, 000, that she will help me. She gave me the money which I later offset in several installments and I got my licence in 2008,' she said.

She said to run successfully a travel agency, one has to be on top of the game and always think outside the box. 'Some people think that the moment they get licensed, everything falls into place but that's not true although having a licence gives you an edge over others. With IATA licence, you will be seen as dependable.

You sit in your office, the client pays you, you take it to the airline and they give you the ticket and you earn your commission, you don't go through middlemen. Back then, there was nothing like billing and settlement plan (BSP) that we have now,' she stated.

The Reachy Travels and Tours boss said she got the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies' (NANTA) approval before getting the International Air Transport Association (IATA) licence.

She noted that there are many hurdles to overcome in the travel business because 'after obtaining the licence, for you to sit in your office and write tickets involves money. Some airlines ask for N5 million bank guarantee, some ask for N20 million. So if for instance you want to do business with five airlines, you need five different bank guarantees.

I really wanted to also sit in my office and write tickets just as others. Last year, Leadway Assurance came to our aid. They gave us guarantee. Once you have your collateral, they rate you and give you bank guarantee. All they want to be assured of is the prompt payment of every ticket sold to the airlines. They had to educate us on how we must not sell on credit to those we know will not pay us.

That it's better for us to sell on cash and carry basis rather than selling to people on credit who will end up not paying us. In that case, they will block you and make it difficult for you to operate until you finish your payment.

That is the rule that has been guiding us. We make sure that when we sell; we collect the money and pay in at the right time to the airline. We now have in stock tickets of almost all the airlines.'

For the smooth running of the business which goes on round the clock, Mrs Ogbah said the company has two generators. 'If a client comes and asks for his ticket, you won't start telling him stories.

The generator is supposed to be a support to power from the utility company, PHCN, but in our case, there is no power from PHCN to support,' adding that timing is very important in the business as 'a client can be at the airport and pay money into the company's account and call for a ticket, I will quickly go to the computer, get the ticket and give him the reference number because everything is computerised.

You cannot tell him 'sorry, there is no light.' You will definitely lose that customer.'

She said the company's slogan is 'taking troubles out of travels' and they try as much as possible to do just that. 'There are a lot of troubles involved in travels.

Some clients would have been stressed in the process of obtaining visa, they have spent money and time and now out of so many travel agencies, they decide to come to you, you don't start messing them up.

We are at the receiving end because all the hassles they have passed through, they will bring it down on you so you must be ready as a travel agent to receive them and attend to them.

I let this guide me. We guide our clients; advise them on the cheapest airline and the best time to get the best bargain. We advise them on how best to make use of their money.

There are some classes with different fares but same services. We always guard against being seen as cheats by clients. We tell them the truth always and advise them. We don't inflate prices.'

On how they source for clients, Mrs Ogbah said: 'We go out to companies and individuals. And because I've been in the industry for a long time, most times people I don't know call me to do business with us.

So you have to first of all build a solid foundation, have a good relationship with clients because they are the ones that will end up being your sales representatives.

The best sales representatives you should have are your clients, that is why it is mandatory for you to accept your faults if they say you are at fault because you are not paying them for canvassing free of charge for you, although your character is helping you to pay.

She said the travel agency is also in partnership with some Malaysian schools. 'We prepare those that want to go to higher institutions in Malaysia. We send their documents for processing and write their tickets.'

The travel agent harped on the need for business owners to develop a solid relationship with clients because 'if they know you one-on-one, they know what you can do and they will stand by you. Although there are some difficult clients but we try as much as possible to placate them and keep them satisfied.

Most clients appreciate us and recommend us to others but a few do not, yet we do all in our power to make them happy because one client means millions to us therefore we must not allow that person to go. Even if he insists on going, let it be on a happy note so that he will not go about spreading false reports about you,' she advised.