My name is Miss Geraldine Itoe. I am thirty years old and the first born of three children. I hail from Katchuan Irruan in Boki Local Government Area of Cross River State, live and do business in Calabar. I studied History and International Studies in the University of Calabar and graduated in 2006. Proceeded to do my NYSC (National Youth Service Corps) in Kogi State in 2008 and was later redeployed to Calabar seven months later due to a spinal health condition. I was 23 years old already at the time of my NYSC, and seized the opportunity to register my company (NovaRosta Ltd) in the course of my service year; to avoid having to play victim to the scourge of unemployment after youth service. Today, NovaRosta Ltd is 7years – we specialise in Events and Destination Management and provide professional planning solutions and consultancy to individuals, groups and companies who book holidays, conferences, events, travel and special visitor/tour programmes to Calabar and across Nigeria.
I graduated from the University of Calabar in December, 2006. Under normal circumstances, youth service is expected to be due within a year of yourgraduation. Seven months after graduation and after awaiting NYSC posting, my department brought to my attention the fact that I had three missing scripts; reason why I could not be shortlisted for NYSC.
It was a frustrating experience, one I couldn’t comprehend and was expected to pay a huge sum of money under the pretext of “assistance” and “facilitating” the search process. After much ado, two out of three of the claimed missing scripts emerged. I was compelled to re-register and re-sit an exam whose grade I had already celebrated after being published. When re-sitting the exam, I made sure to be very visible in the examination hall to prevent a second occurrence.
When the new results came out, my name again wasn’t among the published list. This time I drew my conclusions, wrote officially to my Head of department, stating my challenges and perception of the case, giving the department an ultimatum of 7days to release my result or have me take up the case with the Vice Chancellor of the University and the media (electronic and print media as was intended).
Within few days, my result emerged and I did not have to pay any “ransom” for its release. With the scenario above, it is clear that corruption sits deeply and comfortably in our educational system. And if a victim is unfortunate to fall in the category of the “weak” he or she ends up being thoroughly frustrated, harassed, abused and brainwashed of their fundamental rights. End result is an economy populated with youths who end up as victims of their circumstances and youths who rather than seeking to make a difference resort to “illegal means” of earning a living.
Between 2007 and 2008, while awaiting my call up for National Youth Service, I made few attempts at Job Seeking. During my short adventure, I realised that everywhere I went; employers would request a minimum of two to five years’ working experience. The big question I constantly struggled to answer was, “How do I get the required work experience without an employment”?
I also observed that there were lots of seemingly qualified candidates who had constantly been in the job market for up to five years since gradation without a job. A reality I could never come to terms with. It was at that realisation that I decided to take my destiny into my hands. I wasn’t going to be a victim of unemployment; rather I took the bull by the horn and stood up for myself.
The challenges faced during my job seeking experience ranged from:
– Endless submission of CVs to various establishments which resulted to endless interviews with no direction.
– Lack of ‘Part Time Job” opportunities, which increased the dilemma of people like me whose CV boldly screamed‘Awaiting Results”.
– The challenge of automatic disqualification due to lack of working experience.
– The high probability of being a victim to scam by people who take advantage of your struggle and rip you off in other to get enriched and so much more.
Being a Woman:
– Expectations Of Marriage from Family After School (university)
– Predatory nature of employers/Interviewers during job seeking
– Sexual Harassment and victimisation in the case of failed attempts
Lack of Finance:
Finance is key to any business, be it start-up, growing or established. The fact that no institution goes out of their way to help fund start-ups and growing businesses without asking for collateral is a major challenge I personally faced in my business, and this brings me to talk specifically about how lack of finance has militated against my business struggles and efforts.
THE DOUBLE DECKER BUS EXPERIENCE/CHALLENGES:
My belief is that every human being has one particular skill that God has instilled in them and it is important to discover what that skill is and build on it. In my case, I felt I had a flair for modelling, fashion and Events. Once I had made up my mind not to be an unemployed youth, I started looking for an area of enterprise that would take advantage of my own God give talent and flair.
At that time, the government in Cross River State was seriously promoting tourism with investments in infrastructure and sectoral human capital development. I then decided to key into the general direction of the government and started out on my journey to be an entrepreneur. Several years after being in my line of business, I made the decision to introduce the first London-Style-Double-Decker Tour Bus service in Calabar, a service that was lacking in Nigeria and in the entire West Africa. This decision was borne solely out of the need to provide QUALITY VISITOR EXPERIENCES while adding variety in our service to MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) and LEISURE visitors (families, holiday makers, honeymooners, etc) whom we often service.
I bank my business in four reputable banks and I have banked with some of these banks for at-least ten consecutive years. I approached my banks for funding when I started my bus project, but was faced with the challenge of people who couldn’t see the prospects of my business which is a tourism infrastructure, but were ready to sponsor beauty pageants instead. I decided to deal with the challenge head-on and started saving; and it took me two years to save enough for an initial 50% down payment.
After exhausting my entire savings on down payment for the bus, life became almost unbearable. Paying my Rents became a big problem, maintaining my car became a MAJOR hassle.Even feeding became a challenge that is only best imagined.
In the face of so much difficulty, I was more determined than ever to retrieve ALL my debts from clients whose event, holiday or conference we had serviced and still owed for services delivered.By the grace of God I was able to raise an additional deposit of 30% which came from family, soft loans from friends, more savings and proceeds from my business. I mopped up everything from all my accounts at which time I was able to travel abroad to meet my suppliers in person.
Just before my departure from London, I was more than pleasantly surprised when my supplier told me they were happy to let me have the bus shipped to Nigeria and pay up the outstanding 20% balance whenever it was possible. It was a strange kind of favour I never would have imagined, especially to a total stranger and not just any kind of stranger, a Nigerian!
This made me even more determined to see the bus business to the end.I was now faced with SHIPPING challenges which was basically lack of funds.
When I came back to Nigeria, I ran to my bankers again and requested a loan or overdraft to facilitate the shipping process; but collateral is the only vocabulary our banks apparently understand and respond to. Shipping was valued at 4, 800GBP (four thousand, eight hundred British Pounds – an equivalent slightly above N1.4m). I didn’t have any landed property so offered my car as collateral to no avail. I was lucky (strangely surrounded by favour) to have met a clearing agent, who was actually recommended by a friend. He offered to handle the shipping charges as a loan payable on agreed terms.
The bus arrived in Lagos, spent another three weeks in Lagos accumulating demurrage due to lack of funds and heavy taxation and frustration in the hands of Nigerian customs. Eventually the big yellow double decker bus arrived in Calabar on the 29th of June, 2014 – four days after my 29th birthday. I decided to take my time to effect repairs on the damages done to the bus while at the Lagos port before officially launching the service and commencing business operations three months after.
No Working Capital:
During my short visit/meeting with my suppliers in London, I was determined to learn the trade including how to operate and maintain the double decker myself. I asked a lot of questions from several business operators of the double decker service in London and my suppliers were kind enough to give a driving course at my request, during my stay.The first few months of its arrival in Calabar, a number of per sons who saw medrive the bus to places like Tinapa and a few places within the city were shocked to see me drive a truck as it is often called, but it wasn’t a gimmick. My reason for learning how to drive and maintain the bus in the first instance was for such a time – at the time when I was unable to afford a driver to operate the bus at the early stages, I got on the wheels and drove it myself
My inability to afford a driver was however an insignificant challenge compared to the challenge of having to tropicalize the bus to suit our Nigerian weather and system of operation. This constantly drove me to huge debts which we are still servicing till date and the challenge remains a work in progress…seeing that there is no existing template to adapt.
Everywhere else in the world where a double decker bus business thrives, it thrives as a result of one of many factors includingGood Road Network.
The continuous deterioration of our road systems limits the scope of our market reach and makes it very challenging for our business to operate optimally.
Even little things like keeping our trees pruned, cleaning, developing and maintainingour tourist sites, ensuring that low and/or dangling NEPA/High tension cables are adjusted to stay off human reach along our roads and tour routes is a major ordeal we face daily in our business. Tourists/visitors end up at the receiving end and this hampers our ability to deliver the kind of service expected where FUN and SAFETY is key.
At the end of the day I have to do everything myself with extremely lean resources, even when it is government responsibility; just to keep my business afloat against all odds.
Surrounded by so many challenges and instead of looking for reasons why I can’t succeed, my resolve was and is that I have no other choice than to succeed.
Everywhere in the world, it is the private sector that drives tourism while government supports by creating the enabling environment and business friendly policies that allows the industry to grow and stand on its own. Starting off in the tourism business at the age of 23, I have developed a natural flair for the trade and have been opportune to serve a wide range of business and leisure visitors including multi-nationals from within and across Nigeria.
Below is a list of corporate groups we have been opportune to serve from 2009 till date:
o Rivers State Government Leadership conference
o South South Economic Summit
o FIFA U-17
o Oceanic Bank Calabar Retreat:
o Channel Oil and Petroleum
o NNPC Executive Visioning Retreat
o CreativeHR Solutions and Consulting Retreat
o Ground-Breaking of Nigeria/Cameroon Multinational Highway Transport Facility
o NNPC Financial Management Retreat
o Adaxtra consulting Retreat
o Jeff and O’brien Consulting Retreat
o Staurus Training/Retreat
o Inter-switch Management Retreat
o Section of Nigerian Bar Association
o Security and Exchange Commission Management Retreat
o Exxon Mobil Management Safety Retreat (Eket Dept. Akwa-Ibom State)
o Society of Petroleum Engineers Conference
o Rivers State Education Summit
o Rivers State Economic Advisory Council Retreat
o Nigerian Navy Management Retreat
o Nigerian Institute of Surveyors Conference
o Nigerian Society of Engineers National Conference and AGM
o Management Sciences for Health Conference
o Association of Female Lawyers in Nigeria
o Maersk Management/Team Building Retreat:
o Paradise House Holders Retreat
o CBN Banker’s Committee Retreat
o Free Mason/District Grand Lodge of Nigeria
o United Nations World Tourism Conference
o Federal Ministry of Agriculture Retreat
o Federal Ministry of Finance Retreat
o Senior Members of the Nigerian Customs Service Retreat
o Association of Female School Owners, Delta State
o First Bank Calabar Summit
o Eastern Bar Forum
o Centre for Integrated Health Programs Conference
o New Era Capital Corporation New York Management Retreat
o Gideon’s International Convention
o Athletic Federation of Nigeria
o CBN Banker’s Committee Retreat
o General Electric (GE) Ground Breaking Ceremony, Calabar
o CBN Banker’s Committee Retreat
o Sainte Barbe Party (TOTAL EXP, PORT-HARCOURT)
o Athletic Federation of Nigeria
o Association of General Medical Practitioners of Nigeria
o Nigerian Law School Executive Management Conference
o NLNG Executive Management Retreat
o Paediatric Association of Nigeria Conference
o Southern Leaders’ Summit
o Nigerian Aviation Awards
o NLNG 137TH BOARD/25TH AGM & DIRECTORS SEND OFF DINNER (PORT HARCOURT)
o MTN Network Team Building
o National Economics Student’s Association
o Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF)
o CBN Banker’s Committee Retreat
o Nigerian Association of Nephrology
o Institute of Human and Natural Resources
o Presidential Campaign Rally (Bayelsa Community in Cross River State)
o People’s Democratic Party Campaign Organisation
o Calabar City Church
o Living Faith Church aka Winners Chapel
o Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)
o The Infrastructure Bank (TIB) PLC
Being a victim of our dysfunctional economic system where unemployment thrives, I have made it a point of duty to carry as many young people along both on part-time and full-time employment basis. My business constantly provides opportunities and platforms for young people to legitimately earn a living from the works of their hands. From Tour guiding, to Event Support Staffing (ushers, meet and greet hostesses) to Arts and Entertainment (performers, artistes, artists, and comedians) among others, we constantly create opportunities for young people to be empowered and inspired.
TOURISM DEVELOPMENT IN THE STATE:
Over the years, without any government partnerships or sponsorship funds) we have created platforms and opportunities that benefits service providers and recipients. We have produced and hosted events and tourist packages that attract thousands of visitors to our recreational centres and tourists facilities in Calabar and Obudu in form of holiday packages and entertainment shows. One of many examples will be our contribution towards increased activity and footfall toTinapa Water Park and Tinapa since inception. In the past 4years starting from 2010, we have hosted a minimum of four (4) entertainment shows/tropical themed events every year at the Tinapa Water Park facility.
Successful event brands we have produced over the years include BIKINI SPLASH, EASTER FAMILY FAIR, EID-SUMMER FEST, WET ‘N’WILD, GREEN ‘N’ WHITE CARNIVAL, NOVAROSTA CAL-FEST MILLIONAIRE among others. These events have served as platforms for many popular entertainers today, some of whom have migrated to bigger cities after being showcased at our events.
Our events are usually themed and patterned around our seasons and we have been able to conceptualise and produce event brands that appeal to a varied audience including families, religious groups, students, and corporates.
NovaRosta planned events attracta minimum of 1,000 visitors including families with children from in and out of Cross River including locations like Uyo, Port-Harcourt, Ebonyi State and sometimes Kaduna.
In December 2013, we hosted a Customer Reward Event that introduced the first and only edition (so far) of the NovaRosta Cal-Fest Millionaire; where we single handedly brought in local and international acts that performed at this four days event series.
The grand finale of this event which was on Christmas Day of that year, had one lucky winner go home with One Million Naira Cash Prize among several winners of consolation prizes ranging from TV sets, to Water Dispensers, Washing Machine, Christmas Hampers and so on.
The NovaRosta Cal-Fest Millionaire event recorded a footfall of over 5,000persons in Tinapa Water Park over a four days period with Christmas Day recording an average of 3,000 persons in attendance.
Till date this record is yet to be reached by any other and has remained the highest visitor attendance the Water Park has ever recorded in its history and also the most attended private sector event organised outside of state government planned events during the Calabar Festival.
Unfortunately, after our last Event outing in April 2014, we have been unable to continue hosting our quarterly themed events as a result of the enormous financial constraints we have been faced with since the arrival of our Double Decker Bus. As a result, quality and innovative leisure events in Calabar have been on the decline with a lot of stereotypes flooding the city.
As a growing entrepreneur, I constantly challenge myself to higher learning and make it a point of duty to get certified in something new every other year (bi-annually). To ensure my skills are constantly sharpened to meet the daily demands of my business, I acquired a Masters in Events management in 2014; from the IIEM (International Institute of Event Management) in California, USA; alongside a GCPE (Global Certification in Professional Events)added to my list of qualifications amidst the local expertise I already have which no degree can replace.
MY KEYS TO SUCCESS:
– Will Power and
VISION FOR THE FUTURE:
To expand and deploy NovaRosta Double Decker services across Nigeria and Africa.
Cross River State has so many tourism potentials, most yet untapped. With the right plan and the right team in place, both government and the private sector will smile from the ripple benefits that can be derived from the sector.
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