Daisi Olotu is the Founder and Group Managing Director of Dees Holdings a successful business empire he ventured into 22 years ago. Subsidiaries under the Dees Holdings are Dees Travels, IWANFLY, Dees Hotels and Dees Motors. In its over two decades of operating in the Nigerian business terrain, Dees Holdings has provided enormous job opportunities to a voluminous percentage of the Nigerian youth while also making great impact in the society. The travel and tourism arm of the group, Dees Travels and IWANFLY are very reliable and dependable travel agencies that have handled the travelling procedures and protocols of clients without hiccups and at affordable rates. As regards the hospitality arm, Dees Hotels and Suites located in highbrow Ajao Estate in Lagos is indeed, home away from home with state of the art facilities available in any 5-Star hotel in Nigeria. In this exclusive interview with TOP SOCIETY MAGAZINE’S Publisher, Agwazim Isaac Ifeanyichukwu, Daisi Olotu the humble man behind the success story of Dees Holdings, spoke extensively on the tourism and hospitality business in Nigeria and other topical issues. Enjoy the excerpts:
Having celebrated 22 years in the aviation, travel and ticketing industry, how do you feel about it?
I feel cool…you know, because when you build your house on a good foundation, you will be able to sleep and sleep very well. So, to God be the glory, we celebrated our 22nd anniversary in August and it was a good one.
How has the journey been in these two decades of running business in Nigeria?
I will tell you, it’s very rough and tough because before you think of all the taxes you can think of in Lagos. The LIRS is there, FIRS is there, the radio and television advert taxes and the rest of them. Honestly, it’s tough but if you are in a business, you’re in business and so when the going gets tough, the tough must get going but at the end of the day, of course there will be light at the end of the tunnel and that’s exactly what we are celebrating today. We are strong and we are moving on.
Looking back 22 years ago and now, how can you rate the Nigerian tourism industry?
What I will say is that we have really come a long way. The industry has changed. When we started, it was the era of manual, manual and manual in everything but these days, whatever you are doing, once you are on the system to be online, what you are doing in Ibadan, somebody here in Lagos is seeing it, what you are doing in Abuja, somebody in Ibadan is seeing it. So, it’s been very interesting, we can’t just compare because 22 years when we started, if customers call you, you can’t even go on the system and make bookings, you raise cards, take cards to the airlines to make bookings. Then the turnover of aviation was very low but when everything became online and a customer comes to you and you make bookings for your customer, you tell the customer how much to pay and the customer transfer the money to the bank, you get your alert and then you allowed the agent to take the ticket to the customer and you know how many people you can do that for in a day while seated. Instead of raising cards, you call the airline on phone and if you are not satisfied with what you get from the airline, you carry the cards to the airline, you go and sit there from morning till night, make bookings, get everything done, come back to the office and call the customer. So, it takes a very long procedure. But with the advent of computer, online installation and everything, it resolves all that issue of going out long rout. So, what I mean is, we can’t just compare it. Now, it’s a very good experience and with the experience of that stone-age that we began with 22 years ago, and what we have now, we can’t just compare it. Now it’s wow!. The aviation industry has moved and our appeal to governments is to ensure they secure the travel agencies who are actually the downstream sector of aviation business are protected because come to think of it, as small as we are, we know how many staffs we have and if we have 200 similar like that, you know how many Nigerians we will employ. So, if the government does not look at that and the airlines decided to do away with travel agencies by any means, do you know how many people will be on the streets? So, government must be willing to protect the travel agencies from the airlines selling ticket directly to the customer instead of through travel agencies. There was this word before that every airline must move to the airport, let travel agencies sell, monitor logistics, monitor your flight and ensure that your flight arrives in time, monitor how you check in, do all your businesses at the airport and let the travel agencies sell ticket. That’s how it’s been in the advanced world. Airlines don’t sell tickets to customers, they buy from the travel agencies. Because, if you walk in now as a customer and you want to travel to London, as a travel agent, I will open to you all the inventories of the airlines that are actually going to London but if you go to British Airways for instance, they will never talk to you about Virgin Atlantic, they will never tell you that an airline can go to London via Amsterdam, via Paris to London that is cheaper than going direct. If British Airways will arrive by 6 o’clock or 5:30, other airlines that go via Amsterdam will arrive by 10. If you look at your time and you look at the difference in the money, you may decide to say, okay give me Air France, that’s actually the difference between buying ticket from travel agencies and buying from the airlines. So, it makes a whole lot of sense because the agencies, they are the professionals to open up the inventories of the airlines to you to make your choice.
Looking back to your 23 years of business journey, has there been any point in time you feel like quitting?
No… You know, I had a meeting with a set of people last week and I told them, they were asking me what are the challenges we have with our business and I asked them, we are almost in the same industry. Are you not operating in Nigeria, are you operating in the sky or in the heaven? We know the challenges that we have although we would not continue to complain about government, government, and government; there’s a lot we too can do, okay. There are lots of challenges but at no point did I ever decide to quit my business. You know, this is my business, this is what I know how to do and if I quit the business, what else do I do? So, it’s at no point have I thought about quitting business.
How do you feel being an investor in the travel and tourism industry?
Yes… right now, you know what I always think about is that Nigerians, we don’t really go on holidays okay, but I want to tell you this, I know that with time, people will wake up. You see, travel and tourism is a sector we have not even scratched the surface when it comes to the tourism level. Yes, Nigerians love to travel, but you see somebody that says he wants to go and do holiday, you go to London, you go to your brother’s house, you stay there, you go to the shopping mall, you go and chop, come back, sit inside the house and after maybe one or two weeks, you come back to Nigeria, is that holiday? Nigerians don’t know how to have good times in terms of going on holidays. Look, an average American or European, they work from January, save their money to go on holidays, they have special savings account to go on holidays, every year they must go on holiday no matter what. But we Nigerians, we work round the clock, if you go on leave, you just go or maybe you will even be working again. Do you understand? So, we don’t cherish that holiday period and I know there will come a time when Nigerians will wake up and they will now know that they really need to go on holiday. Going on holiday does not mean you enter flight and travel abroad, there are lots of resorts in Nigeria now, you can carry your family and go to Obudu Cattle Ranch and enjoy yourselves. Do something different and by the time you come back, you are refreshed and you are back to work. So, that is the area where they really, really need to address because let me tell you, if you check now they said people die young in Nigeria; that people die in their 50s, 60s and there about, whereas in other countries like Japan, another country that they really have time to go on holidays and create time for recreation and all that, they live up to 80, 90 years. Do you understand? So, we must make an effort to ensure that people should know that look, after work you must rest. You must go on holiday, so that’s why I know in my mind that this business can never crumble, it can never die. I mean travel and tourism business can never die, it will rather continue to grow. Therefore, people that are coming into it, they’ve made a very good choice. I have never regretted one day since I have been in the travel and tourism business.
Now, countries like UAE, they make their revenues from oil and tourism and looking at Nigeria’s oil, the value is dropping on daily basis. Do you think the Nigerian tourism, if well harnessed has the potential to restate the nation’s GDP?
You see, Dubai, UAE decided to go that rout because it’s by waking up and say, oh we are depending on oil, what if oil dries up tomorrow, what next? Tourism is the oil that will never dry because right now this is what Dubai is doing. They are making concerted efforts to ensure that they make that country a tourism hub by all means. They went to Holland and see what Holland has and they want to reciprocate it, it’s there already and as we speak, there is a lot of places to visit in Dubai and here, there’s actually a lot of things that God has given us that we really don’t need to stress ourselves just to re-develop them. We have a lot of water fronts, we have a lot of tourism sites that we can develop and just make people from anywhere in the world to come and see and we will be making money. The country will make money, the state where the business is located will make money and there will be work for individuals. It is the tourism centre that will employ the highest number of people if well harnessed. I am telling you, it’s a sector that government cannot just do without and there is nothing they can do about it. You can see what is happening in Dubai, if you are not 40 years old now, you can’t go to Dubai, if you don’t have a fat bank account now, you can’t travel to Dubai. There’s lots of things happening, that is evolving everyday and it’s just funny. You know, when I wake up and think about it, it gives me some sort of worries and government must do something about it.
You earlier said that Nigerians don’t know the importance of tourism, can you expatiate on that?
I think I said something about the life expectancy of Nigerians, okay and I mentioned that in some of these advanced countries, when you start work from January, you must have an account that is purely for holidays. Holiday is like a project that you need to save for. I mean there is a lot of gain in saying that people should go on holiday, there is a lot of gain in it, if you go on holiday and you come back to work, you will achieve more because within your body, you will know that you are refreshed and that energy to work more and better will be there.
Looking at how expensive it is to go on vacation, and looking at the low rate of income in Nigeria, how do you think tourism investors like you can bridge the gap to suit the average Nigerians?
Let me say this, if you are not working, holidaying is not meant for you because you are already on holiday (laughter). But, holiday is only for working class, people that are busy, people that are really, really working, businessmen. Now, when you say its N800,000 for instance to go on holiday, where? And I mentioned it earlier, it depends on your pocket. I might decide to say, oh! this holiday period, I don’t have money to travel abroad, I don’t have money to go to anywhere but I want to give myself and my family a two weeks treat out of Lagos. You can go to the village because the air that you breathe in the village is different from the air that you breathe in Lagos. I can prove that, take your kids, go to the village, have the experience of new, new things. I am telling you, if its farm that your people are going to, follow them to the farm. You are on holiday, you are not working o! by the time you come to Lagos, you will be refreshed and I can assure you, you can’t spend up to N800,000! To do what? Flight ticket to the village or transport money to the village or you want to be ordering food from the hotel in the village? So, it all depends on how you look at it. All you need is just give yourself a break. People that are earning N100,000, if you want to go on holiday to the village you can. It doesn’t mean that you just have to travel out of the country.
One thing is to run a business, another thing is to sustain it. What does it take to sustain a business in an economy like Nigeria?
To sustain a business in Nigeria it started somewhere. I mentioned some three things, that your interest in the business must be there because the interest in that business will never make you lose the track of what you are doing. Then, like I said, hardwork because it is not enough to have a business and just sit down at home and be reading newspapers. To whom much is given, much is expected. Business is like planting a tree, if you take care of it, it grows. So if you start a business and you are taking care of it, the business will grow definitely and by the time its bringing forth fruits and everybody eats from it and you are all happy. Business environment in Nigeria, like I said earlier is very tough, but when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. So, you have to continue to forge ahead. You must have interest in what you are doing. Some people want to be traders and you ask them to come and be running some other businesses, their minds will not be there, they will be doing this and doing that and every other thing. So, of course everything I do, am always here, this is my business and this is what I do. Any other business that we have, others are in charge of it. You can’t do two things at the same time because if you do that, your interest will go to one and the other one will suffer, do you understand. So, it’s a tough environment but with the interest you have in that business and as a very hardworking person and with prayers, you will definitely be moving forward.
As a consultant for tourism and all that, how do you have time for yourself, to relax?
Resting, like I said to you is what we have to create time to do. We have to create time to rest. Okay, when you guys are going on holidays, am here, am not going anywhere. But when you guys are back, I just go on my own. It’s always good to go on holidays but the thing there is that anywhere you are going as a travel agent, you must carry your work tool along, in case there is a problem, you can quickly open and do some things. This our business has to do with handling, taking care of people. So, if somebody has an issue, that’s why you must have open hands. So, we have time to go on holidays too.
Some people measure success by the volume of money in their accounts, assets and all of that, what does success mean to you personally?
Thank you very much. When you say you are successful, it is not the amount of money you have in the bank. Why? It’s in the bible…Contentment, when you are satisfied with what you have, it’s a great day. For me, I just told somebody, I don’t have money but you know what, I am not hungry and I am satisfied. You see, when you say somebody is successful and you are looking at money, you are making a great mistake. You are not looking at the family. You are not looking at the fact that somebody is successful and his son or daughter is smoking Indian hemp then he is not successful. Be you a billionaire, whatever you have, take care of your family because whatever you do, they are the ones that will continue doing it. So, you must ensure that you train your children well, treat them well and when you are able to do that, I can say that, that man is successful.
How do you balance your roles as a father, an entrepreneur, businessman and perhaps a socialite etc?
The fact is, there’s time to work, there’s time to mingle and there is time for you to be with your family. So, you don’t mix all that together. You just have to sort them all out. You must know that, that work you have to do it and if it is time to go on holiday, you go with your family. An adage says the money you supposed to use in training your children, if you don’t train them and build a house, it is those children you fail to train that will sell those houses. So, you have to create time and have enough of it for your family.
Lastly, what will be your word of advice to younger generations and probably those who are inspiring to go into your line of business looking at the kind of man that you have become?
Yeah!…if I look at you and you are successful and I said I want to be like you, it’s a wrong approach because if I have it in mind to be like you, I have to go through the rout. For instance, you identify a successful pilot and you want to be like that pilot, you have to continue training and you have to be focused in as much as that is what you want to do. I always tell people, if you want to become anything, continue to meditate on it and you’ll be there because a lot of people don’t mean what they are saying. Pray and say to God that you mean what you are saying do you understand, so a lot of people say a lot of things but they don’t mean it. So anybody that wants to become a travel expert, it’s not really a problem but some people will get there and they’ll say ah, this thing is difficult but inspite of the difficulties and all that, you go through the trainings and do what you are supposed to do, you’ll be there, definitely.