Erelu Funmi Rotiba, chief executive officer of Special Tours and Travels Limited and Imperial House of Culture, spoke with ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA of her sojourn in the world of tourism and her life time commitment to putting Nigerian tourism on the global tourism map
Young, adorable and pretty, with a unique personality and dress sense, Erelu Funmi Rotiba, stands out from the crowd as she easily attracts attention of people. Her smart and intelligent disposition marvel her audience especially her erudition and passionate commitment to tourism and culture. She has nurtured her interest in these two definitive areas through her two companies, Special Tours and Travels Limited and Imperial House of Culture, as the founder and chief executive officer of both outfits. Through these two entities and others, she has reached to the world within such a short period of engagement, attracting in the process the attention of everyone and accolades of different hues. Born and bred in Akoko, a laid back town in Ondo State but had her primary education at Sacred Heart Catholic School, and secondary education at Our Lady of Apostles, both in Ibadan, Oyo State. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from Lagos State University, and is a Chartered member of Nigeria Institute of Personnel Management (NIM). Fondly called Erelu, she has also bagged Doctor of Letters ( Litt. D) in Travel and Tourism and PhD from the Institute of Public Resources Management and Politics, Ghana. Besides, she was crowned Erelu Asa of Nigeria for her devotion to preserving and promoting Yoruba and Nigeria cultural values. She is a proud recipient of over 200 honourary awards and several chieftaincy titles; the endless list include: Erelu Asa by Orangun of Ila, Erelu Kiriji at Imesi, Top 100 Tourism Personalities in West Africa, Best 100 Tour Operators by Africa Travel, Ambassador to the State of Osun on Karele Oodua, Distinguished Woman of the Year by Afe Babalola. Ambassador of Culture and Tourism, Ondo State, 60 most influential personalities in Ibadan, Oyo State and Leadership Honour from Nigerian National Cooperative Society in the year 2018.
Her growing up years has greatly influenced her and made her the lady of substance that she is today, as its imbue in her unalloyed commitment to the highest cultural values of her people, to which she has devoted her time and resources in preserving and promoting at different foras across the world. ‘‘My growing up years were lovely, with both parents impacting correct discipline and love in me,’’ she intones with a high sense of nostalgic emotions as she pays glowing tribute to her parents who at her formative years inspired and influenced her world view. Erelu credits her mother as having the most profound influence on her, as she grew to appreciate the importance of mothers and motherhood as the hand that rocks the cradle. Her love and passion for life are no doubt productsofthisfinestupbringingfromwhich she derives her philosophy and motivation in life: ‘‘Move with life or life leaves you behind, be passionate and loving,’’ she says.
Attraction for the travel industry
It is perhaps not surprising that she finds a natural solace in the travel world, which she was attracted to by her flair for travelling even from a tender age. After bagging a degree in Economics in 2004 deciding on her career path, she was however, chosen by travel industry as she has always derives joy and satisfaction from exploring the world of travel. She describes her forage into the world of travel as ‘‘normal, as it is borne out of passion for travelling.’’ Her first experience of travel outside the country was South Africa. ‘‘South Africa was dazzling and the beauty of the country captivated me to explore more,’’ she recounts. Ever since that experience, she never looked backed as she was smitten by the travel bug and decided to cast her lot with the world of travel. But not after undergoing some tutelage, leading to setting up her firm, Special Tours and Travels International Limited.
Special Tours and Travels was divinely inspired
It appears from day one of deciding to fish in the world of travel that she was destined to carve a special niche for herself. To begin with, she reveals that the name of the firm was divinely inspired as she recalls that: ‘‘It occurred on the midnight of August while I was searching and combining the names to use, I was praying to God to give me a name. ‘God give me a special name,’ and as I was repeating the word ‘special,’ I was calm and then I picked up that name as I believed that it was answered prayer. ‘‘But guess what, nobody in the history of Nigeria had used ‘special’ for a company before then as the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) search record showed and congratulation to me, it was first of its kind, and because of this they waved some payments for my registration fee.’’ In pursuant of this special disposition, she decided to locate her business in a beautiful edifice, which then was out of the normal as most travel offices where noted to operate from nondescript locations, with no care really for aesthetics. But not for her, as she notes that she set out: ‘‘To be different, while some where taking offices like shops, I put up in an edifice, so you can trust, believe and have faith in your travel consultant and the establishment not running away with your money.’’ That strategy has paid off for her as since 2005 when she started off, she has grown in lips and bounds, attracting clients of all sorts, including governments, to her beautiful enclave, as she has become a household name not just only in Ibadan where she is based but in Nigeria and across the world.
With commanding presence and influence, 15 years on in the business, Erelu says is due to her passion and resilience in the face of many challenges that she had waded through and the fact that travel is her first love. ‘‘Passion, you must love the job you’re doing for you to stay in it, to the glory of God; from 2005-2020; I am 15 years in the industry and I have contributed as travel consultant and operator. I have changed the ways things were done previously. I am presently the Coordinator of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) Oyo State chapter, Internal Auditor of Western zone of FTAN, which is made of six states and consultant to two states, with many more achievements to my name.
The challenges encountered as a travel consultant, she says are myriad especially those imposed by the operating business environment, bothering on infrastructure and logistics as well as access to funds while on the side of the clients, she puts it to: ‘‘People wanting quick way to get visas, clients not having documents to satisfy consulates, and bank statements irregularities.’’
Tourism in Nigeria still at infancy stage
Tourism in Nigeria she says is still at its infancy with little development as she insists that the industry is far from being a thriving sector yet. ‘‘Still a long way to go, we are just below 30%, we have not ramps into destination tourism,’’ she says, adding that: ‘‘The state governments need to create avenues for tour operators to be able to sell local tours, and create enabling environment for travel business to thrive.’’ For her, it is still morning in creation, as she looks to establishing chains of businesses aside the travel business as her legacy to the world. ‘‘To keep growing and have financial stability with chains of businesses. I see brightness and becoming a household name with more established companies,’’ she says of her life –time dream.
With affable personality, Erelu describes herself as an amazing and lively person, with no dull moment but abhors laziness. ‘‘Absolutely fantastic person, you can have full moment with me and you must be hardworking.’’
I like to look regal and royal
Elegance and royalty are two precise words that aptly describe her fashion style, as her dress sense is one of the things that stand her out. She is always elegantly and royally dressed, exuding a mix of feminine and masculine aesthetics in her outlook. She says her dress sense is influenced by the society, adding that: ‘‘I love to look regal, I love to dress masculine while growing up, and so I mix both regal and royal.’’ This no doubt has also opened a lot of doors for her as many people find her simply fascinating whenever they come in contact with her. ‘‘It allows me more avenue to meet great people, I love being a lady of substance,’’ she says of her fashion statement.
I play ludo alone and read
For her, it is not all about doubling the figures or offering people exciting experiences, as she also finds time to replenish herself. She finds solace in playing ludo all by herself and reading. ‘‘I play ludo alone and reading, and checking other countries tour sites,’’ she says.
Osun State is her best inbound destination, as she says that ‘‘Osun State has so much to explore in one state,’’ while her best outbound destination for educational tour is New York because of the fascinating nature. Exploring Ekiti State is one of the things that she looks forward to and Canada because they are untapped with enchanting attractions to behold.
Aspiring young lady professionals should see travel as freedom to explore
Her counsel to the teeming population of aspiring young lady professionals is for them to be daring and see travel as freedom to explore the world. ‘‘They should see travel consulting as freedom to explore and do more because tourism is a way of life, you benefit from meeting people on trips and be worldwide consultant.’’