For our latest inspirational blog we sat down and spoke to Agnes Mirembe, Owner, at Umoja Motherland Tours Ltd. Here’s what she had to say to us!
1. What inspired you to work in the travel industry?
Honestly speaking I always thought I would be a lawyer, but as I joined university I was given tourism as a course to do and there I thought I would be an air hostess all things fancy, flying around the world and all that stuff. But during my third year at university, I was offered a job in one Tour Company here, they taught me everything there is to learn about tourism in Uganda. Which included trips across Uganda and on traveling to my first national park which was Bwindi impenetrable national park was the turning point in my life. That’s how I knew that there is beauty in tour operation and that planning people’s tours and letting them see all these beautiful places in my country was my calling. This is not just a career it’s my passion, I find joy and satisfaction in planning trips for people. I find it very fulfilling when clients go onto trip advisor and write reviews about their safaris and how I made their dreams a reality.
Also, most of the leadership roles, tour guides, office managers and tour operators/company owners were not filled by the youth but rather the older people. Most young women were in reservation roles, waitress etc. It is because of this that I was inspired to put up my own tour company one day and make a difference. If you want change be the change and with my company am all about women I feel so blessed that at 28years I am able to do amazing things as a woman. And I know I inspire some young women in the industry to go for what their dreams are. I started this with an open mind, I had nothing but my passion for it and my knowledge about tourism. I took baby steps because I knew that it was not going to be easy. I am a true believer in humble beginnings. In order to build an empire, on has to start small and from scratch. It is known that most successful entrepreneurs started the same way
2. How did you begin working in the travel industry and what was your first role?
I was offered a join at Around Africa Safaris and that was my starting point. I was working as a Reservations assistant Manager.
3. How did you get to where you are in your career today?
To be honest, I did not get to where I am now on my own. It was also because my place of employment at the time, did not see value in whatever I did or tried to do for the company. This made me get to a point where I started questioning my ability to work in the industry. They always thought i was this young girl that could not handle anything and to a certain point i got inferiority complex. I reached a point where i thought i was not good at anything, thinking that maybe they were right with all they used to say about me. I could come up with creative ideas and they were trashed, and on other instances they would credit somebody else for my work. That is when i was like I need to put up something of my own where i would be appreciated. I met Julio Brathwaite my now mentor, business partner and a good friend. By then he was a stranger, i told him about my dream and he believed in me and he saw potential in me when nobody else didn’t. I was 27 years and very determined that is how the birth of Umoja MotherLand Tours came into play. He pushed me, gave me tips of how the business world works. And with 1 laptop and internet working from home it all started. I planned and executed my first trip with a group of 6 women which was very successful, and this made me think I can do this after all. I was so happy. With more mentorship and guidance from Mr. Brathwaite Julio and learning from failure and success I have grown into a great trip planner/tour operator. I now plan and execute trips across East Africa, something i never knew I would do. One of the things that inspire me and make me worker harder, is when I take my clients on tours and I am awed by the joy in their eyes because of the tour experience. I cannot say that my 6years of employment were a waste. I believe that they were a hard stepping stone to my now future. Ever since I started my company, I have done incredible things and I know that better things are ahead. As many businesses usually referred to as a man’s World, I am determined to get and stay at the since the sky is the limit.
4. What attributes would help someone aspiring to your role?
- One need to be well learned with at least a diploma or degree in tourism.
- Product knowledge about Uganda’s tourism and all the attractions. Be so well informed, learned, and cultivated that people are drawn to you for their own enlightenment. Clients love to work with people who have knowledge about what they sell and current affairs in their destinations.
- Develop courage in the face of risks and bad outcomes. Any business person needs to have these qualities because not every day is good some are bad. And tourism is seasonal, any can happen –a client may get an accident during tour or fall sick, a car can break down during tour. So as a leader you need to be brave enough to fix such problems
- Be genuine and reliable, trustworthy, and always the same person and deliver on your promises. These are very important qualities, when someone entrusts you with their huge sums of money you need to deliver and not run away with it. You need to make your clients feel safe working with you. Don’t be greedy and after money rather work with honesty to a professional brand that everyone would want to travel and work with.
- Determination and daring, you need to be able to make wise decisions. For example you need to know “When to say Yes or No”. When client’s budget cannot fit the tour requested for, learn to respectfully say “No” instead of agreeing and delivering terrible experience. If you are brave in your thinking and daring in your actions, you can accomplish anything.
- You need to be humble. Leadership with humility means service to others, ownership of your own mistakes and failures, and openness to learning.
- Good leaders speak; great leaders listen. When you’re listening to others, you’re learning from them. The listening also works well in trip planning, you need to listen well and pay attention to the client’s details in order to have successful safaris and make clients happy.
- Always choose quality over quantity; hold company brand, workers and yourself with the highest standard. Do not ever compromise on good service delivery and professionalism.
- Show people/clients they can count on you in good times and bad by living up to your word. Be dependable and consistent. People are reassured by dependability, reliability, credibility and competence. Have faith in those you work with, and they will have faith in you.
5. Describe a typical day at work in 100 words?
I set my mind to waking up at 6:00 in the morning, I have to be up and preparing for my day. I have exactly 1 hour and in this time I take a bath, dress up, fix my makeup and then prepare and have breakfast. By 8:00, am stepping out of the house and heading to office. Work- I work from 8:30 to 6:00pm in the evening with breaks in between- I follow up on clients emails, check if there are new inquiries and follow up with my office stuff on some bookings with in that period. By 1:00 I take a lunch break for about one hour and after that I get back to work till 6:00pm when I roll out and go back home.
6.What is your most memorable moment working within the travel industry?
The first time I executed my first safari which was success. This was a turning point in my life. Seeing clients happy and thanking me for the great work. Made me feel that I was born to do this after all. I can never forget that.
7. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in your role and how did you overcome this?
Being a woman in this travel industry, does not make the beginning easy for you to find the right people to work with. Most of them think that you are gullible, naïve, can take advantage of you and get away with it. Luckily, after a few bad decisions, I learnt from my failures and also learnt to choose who to worth with and who not to.
8. What drives you to succeed?
The slight thought of being one of the most powerful and top female tour operators one day, kicks me to overdrive. All this drive and encouragement is partly because of some successful women in the industry that I admire and aspire to be.
9. What would be your top three tips for women who are interested in starting a career in the travel and tourism industry?
- The first statement that I always tell my fellow young women in the tourism industry, is that the best time to start following your dream is now. It’s better to work harder when young and be independent and successful. In order to be able to take vacations when you grow older with your loved ones. Than to be lazy when young, and start struggling to follow your dream when older and with less energy for it. We can’t always wait on the government to help us with our non-existent ideas. Support is easier when you have something already started, running and just need a boost to make it better.
- When you have a dream of starting up a company in tourism start and work within your means. Your focus should be on learning how operations work in the industry in order to make money, than to invest a lot of money when you have no idea on how to run a tour company. Start small with an aim of growing into a big brand. Passion drives the arrow that flies.
- “As women, most times society thinks we can’t make it. Therefore, many a times people want to take advantage of us under the pretence of helping us”. Most of all, hard work pays a whole lot when you are reaping the benefits. So do not give up. Don’t fall for such people, do research and learn to do things on your own so that people don’t take advantage of you and never be afraid to say NO to someone when they try forcing you into doing something you’re not comfortable doing. Most of all don’t give up working and working because hard work pays.
10. What one change could help more women become leaders in the travel industry?
Most women in the travel industry have a weakness of low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence that’s why they are afraid of taking up leadership positions in the travel industry because they fear competing with men or out smarting them, and also fear what society will think or say about them. I think as women if we work on our self-esteem and self-confidence and adopt the culture of positive mind, we can achieve anything. For example even when people say tour guiding and driving the long extended land cruisers on safari is for men, I have a woman guide called Grace that I work with on my female safaris, she got out of that shell and decided to go behind the wheel, driving extended land cruisers while guiding tourists on long safaris in Uganda and Rwanda and she’s earning a lot form it. Self confidence and self-esteem are very important elements that any good women leader should have in order to succeed in the travel industry.
Even me it’s because of Self confidence and self-esteem that I was able to start up my tour company and those elements have guided me a lot in growing my company. I am happy that I get to inspire other women to do the same
11. How do you relax when not working
I like to take a trip somewhere beautiful and relax my mind. It’s very rejuvenating and love traveling to relax my mind