Native Creative Concierge: A Conversation with Abigail Ekue
This month, we’re interviewing women from all over the world who started their own tour company. We had the privilege of speaking with Native Creative Concierge founder, Abigail Ekue, about her experience in the travel industry. Here’s a glimpse into our conversation.
Tell us about yourself! What do you do when you’re not traveling the world? Where are you from? Where do you currently live?
I’m a native New Yorker still living and working in the Big Apple. I lead personally curated tours for my travel clients through my company, Native Creative Concierge. I’m also a photographer and a writer. So when I’m not planning an excursion, I’m shooting, working on photos, promoting my book and my natural hair t-shirt line or I’m wandering the city for my own enjoyment and envisioning my trips to Paris, Sao Paulo, Thailand, Big Sky Country, and the Okavango Delta.
What first inspired you to start your tour company? What’s your company’s mission?
My mission is to give travelers memorable experiences in New York that include events, places, sights/sites they wouldn’t find on their own or know how to “get into” and to connect them to people they wouldn’t readily meet. Their trip to NYC should be THEIRS. I want to show people that New York is not just Manhattan south of 59th Street or (now) Williamsburg and Bushwick in Brooklyn.
I started Native Creative Concierge when I was laid off from my job. Taking into consideration my interests, what I’m good at, my desire to not go back to a traditional 9-to-5 job and what enterprise I could make money from, the idea of Native Creative Concierge came to be.
What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced in running a tour company? What are some of the highlights?
The biggest challenge has been gaining recognition and a steady clientele. It’s easy to get lost in the sea of tour companies in New York. Then once you gain the visibility, you have to gain the trust of the traveler to book a tour with you.
But I’ve had many highlights! Early on, I was hired by a group of hearing-impaired poets from Germany. They needed an ASL-interpreter and I was able to hire the interpreter from the New York Mayor’s office to work with us on the tour and while they were filming their time in NY for German TV. I took a couple from Australia to a rooftop garden. That may not sound like much, but they didn’t tell me they had an interest in gardening or agriculture or being on a roof… it was me taking clues from our excursion up to that point and deciding they’d enjoy it – and I was right! At the end of one excursion I took my client to a where we were visited by the head chef throughout the meal and received dessert on the house. The successful run of my Boozy Treats Tour is still a great memory.
A highlight that never gets old is when I client is legitimately excited and impressed while exploring NY with me and those first time subway rides for my clients are priceless!
How have you spread the word about your tours?
As soon as I decided to start the tours, I created a website. It was rudimentary but it did the job. But I’ve since updated the website, making sure that it’s mobile optimized. I’ve used Twitter, Instagram and my mailing list.
Early on, I was so fortunate to be listed on NYC.com. Since then I’ve been listed on travel activity websites such as Viator, Vimbly and Vayable. I have also been introducing myself to hotel concierges, and writing guest posts on travel and lifestyle blogs.
What do you wish you knew before starting your company?
I wish I knew how much harder it would be to gain the trust of travelers. I knew it would be a challenge having to overcome the worry about travel scams and the preconceptions that New York is dangerous and full of hustlers in the bad sense.
I also wish I knew to seek out partnerships and affiliations when I first started Native Creative Concierge. Being aligned with a reputable brand would have helped tremendously in the beginning. I also wish my rates weren’t so low in the beginning. I made money but nowhere close to my true earning potential. I didn’t want to scare away potential clients with my prices but it was a client who gave me the nudge when they made the comment, “That’s IT? You’re CHEAP for NY!” It’s so important to remain competitive with my rates and not to sell myself short. A lot of work goes into planning excursions for my clients and I should be compensated accordingly.
What are some of your company’s upcoming tours/trips?
I’ve considered running the Boozy Treats Tour again but in the ever-changing climate of NY, some of the stops on the original tour are out of business! So I’d have to find new businesses that fit the theme of the tour and are in the same neighborhood so that we could get through it in 2 hours by foot. If I can’t relaunch the Boozy Treats Tour, I will do an exclusive food and drink tour or event.
I also have the preliminary idea to do a sexy New York excursion. With my work as an erotic author and with colleagues in the erotic and sensual arts, wellness, music communities, I want the tour to be an experience for all of the senses. I will also seek out partnerships and sponsorships for the excursion. The logistics are the biggest hurdle.
Are there any tips you’d give someone else considering starting a tour company?
Find your niche. Don’t be discouraged if you see other companies running a similar tour to the one you want to do. What the other tour companies don’t have is YOU and that’s the selling point. There are millions of tourists and travelers traversing the world so there are enough clients for everyone. Gain visibility – seek out affiliates that have a similar mission. You can’t be too visible or too known; you want there to be a demand for your service.
Photo by: Anthony Quintano