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Travel Talk: Hajia Bilkisu Abdul, President, Nigerian Association of Tour Operators, Natop: ‘Government needs to be more active in Nigeria’s tourism’

Founding a tour company

Out of my love for travelling, I developed a flair for online booking, without the aid of agents or agencies. From my phone or laptop, I’d check websites, follow instructions, book myself, pay online and obtain my ticket, then get to the airport and get on my flight and off to my destination. In time, I started helping friends and families to book their travels. Soon, it was about ‘Hajia, book my trip for me.’ I spent time filling forms online and occasionally got free tours for a few of them. One day, in a few hours, I successfully booked seven friends who were travelling out of the country. Then it occurred to me: hey, why not own a travel agency? I told my siblings and tasked them to come up with a fanciful name for a travel agency. At first, they didn’t take me seriously. After juggling the first letter of our names, we got BBOOG. The following day, I went to CAC and registered the business name Bboog International Business Limited. While surfing on the internet, I stumbled on, went through the platform, got useful tips on operating travel and tour agency, sent an email and got a reply inviting me for a class. Afterwards, I started Bboog Travel and Tours in 2012.

State of tourism in Nigeria 

Nigeria is not doing well. NATOP as an association is doing well but selling outbound, not inbound tours. We have been talking to Nigerians about the imperative of building our tourism industry. The core of the issue is, Nigerians’ passion for tourism is not yet deep; Nigerians travel a lot––they pack their bags and travel, but stayed holed up in their hotel, eat do everything there, hardly going for sightseeing. Others travel mostly for shopping. NATOP is trying to show Nigerians the benefits of tourism. When you travel to a destination, you pay some two dollars here, five dollars here, three dollars there, when you multiply the number of people that have paid those token amount, you would be amazed at the huge resources the country has generated. That is what we have not been doing as a country. This I have preached to government: Come into tourism, we can get things right.

Tour operators are ready to market Nigeria. It is our duty to sell destination Nigeria. We are up to the task. But, how do we do that when the tourist sites are not developed?

Bringing in the private sector

As NATOP president, I focused on using people in the private sector who have passion for tourism to push the message. One of such personalities is my godfather, the Ooni of Ife, His Imperial Majesty, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, Ojaja II. He has a passion for tourism. His resort is one of the best in Lagos. He also has the Ife Grand Resorts and Leisure, where we hosted our last AGM. Ooni has done well. Presently, a lot of people from other countries are in town for Olojo festival, and they will be going to Ife Grand Resorts. Out of 36 states, if we can get 20 or 15 states with fully developed, well-maintained tourist attractions, Nigeria is going to be among the top tourist destinations in Africa.

Best experience abroad

It is in Switzerland. I love Switzerland so much. I love the way the Swiss do their things. Dubai is another destination I love so much. When you think you are done with Dubai, you’d find yourself yearning to go back again. Especially when you travel with your family, the kids will continuous pester you, ‘mum, let’s go to Dubai.’ There is always something new in Dubai.

Travel advice

Take care of your baggage. When you are travelling with boxes and bags, supervise it to the right point to avoid anyone hiding anything incriminating in them. I always tell travellers, beware so as not to fall a victim and found yourself in a difficult situation whereby you are unable to explain how contrabands got into your bags.

Dream destination

Ethiopia. I am most fascinated by the story of Queen of Sheba (Bilkis), with whom I am a namesake. I have been planning that trip a long time ago, but my busy schedule has been an impediment. I hope to make it the trip someday.

First travel experience

My first travel was to Dubai. Back then, Dubai wasn’t a place everybody goes to, it was more like a destination for society’s Who’s Who. At the time, only one flight flies from Lagos to Dubai. You had to be strong to get a Dubai ticket, because of the flood of people, especially from Lagos. You would see people with visa but no ticket and those who had tickets but still waiting for their agents to materialized with their visa. Today, just about anyone can travel to Dubai with ease.

Most unforgettable travel

Still Dubai. It involved my best friend who was on her first trip to the UAE. We travelled together and we had a good time in Dubai and we had a stopover in South Africa. On that trip, she met the man who became her husband. The couple is happily married and living in the United States.


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