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Executive travel: Ola Orekunrin’s India

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For Nigeria’s high-flying doctor, Ola Orekunrin, being a part of the booming global air ambulance services industry presents opportunities to save lives as well as visit places she hasn’t seen before.

Orekunrin, a medical doctor and helicopter pilot, is the founder of Flying Doctors, an air ambulance service launched in Lagos to transport patients from areas with low levels of healthcare to those with well-appointed facilities offering better medical aid.

READ MORE: Flying Doctor Shoots For The Stars

Over the years, the demand for her organization’s services has risen due to the healthcare challenges Nigeria faces. And there are many. On top of the list is the burden of infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, followed by non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The country has a high rate of trauma-related incidents such as accidents and violence.

According to national statistics, Nigeria has the highest number of deaths from road traffic accidents in the world.

For Orekunrin, her business presents an opportunity to fulfil her desire to serve. The motivation for the launch of her company, Flying Doctors, was the loss of her sister, who had tragically died for want of urgent care.

Today, Flying Doctors swiftly moves patients from across the African continent to some of the best healthcare destinations, saving thousands of lives in the process. The job means Orekunrin is constantly on the go.

READ MORE: Magda Wierzycka’s India

With so much time away from home and in the air, Orekunrin has become somewhat of an expert when it comes to the most exciting destinations to visit both for business and leisure on the African continent – and beyond.

“My favorite destination in the world right now is India,” she says.

“It is a place I spend a lot of time because we have a huge Indian diaspora in Nigeria and when they get sick, they usually request to be flown back home. So I have had a lot of experience with India. I think India is in the process of cracking healthcare. For example, they take the best medical students from the whole of India and put them in one hospital. This means the [number] of procedures that get done there are a lot and the advanced medicine that is practised there is equivalent or better than what you get in some first world countries,” she says.

But that is not the only reason Orekunrin is in love with the subcontinent.

“It is such a vast country that moving from state to state, you can find different types of productivity everywhere. In places like Bengaluru, everybody is running a startup and it’s like the Silicon Valley of India. You go to a place like Goa and that is like a beach resort and you go to Kerala and it is completely different like a spa resort with some sort of Indian medicine being practised and infused with conventional medicine. So it is an incredible country where you can find so much variety, culture, language, tribes and so many successful people coexisting together and identifying as Indians. I think that is another lesson that Nigerians can learn.”

Her favorite past-time in the country is getting her eyebrows threaded and going to remote oil and gas exploration sites.

Ola Orekunrin moves from state to state in India exploring cultures and languages. Photo provided.

“The companies there inspire me because I think about their [the companies’] history in terms of growing from a sole proprietorship to eventually growing into the biggest businesses in the world. It makes me think about Nigerian businesses; I run my own business but I also invest in other businesses as well,” says Orekunrin.

Within West Africa, Orekunrin’s favorite destination is Cape Verde. The country is particularly interesting for medical evacuations because it is made up of remote islands and the influx of tourists to that destination means medical logistics are in very high demand.

“It is four hours away from Nigeria and is a fusion of a lot of cultures; from South America, to Africa and European cultures all in one. I visit it frequently most of the time for work. I also really love the different food. I was born and brought up in England but always had a craving for Africa. My connection to Cape Verde is the closeness to Nigeria but also some of the similarities we share in terms of the food and the culture and the music and that is a strong connection.”

In the next few years, Orekunrin is hoping to grow her medical business into a pan-African player. She continues to look forward to the travel it will entail. For Orekunrin, the air ambulance business is all about saving lives. And being at the right place at the right time – for sick patients in need.

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Executive Travel: Kwesta’s Senegal

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The South African musician on how he finds culture and creative inspiration in the West African country.

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Entrepreneurs

Living Like Mandela

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Tourists in Soweto, the township southwest of Johannesburg in South Africa, now have more options for staying in the same neighbourhood that was once home to two Nobel laureates, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Here, through accommodation app Airbnb, locals are increasingly turning entrepreneurs throwing open their homes for visitors wanting to savor Kasi life. As many as 20 Soweto homes are listed hosts on the Airbnb search engine – and the list is growing.

Take Nelson Tiko Mashele, a 33-year-old born and bred in Soweto, who founded Vilakazi Backpackers on the famous Orlando West street with his father, and which is located five minutes from the homes of Mandela and Tutu, and 10 minutes from the Hector Pieterson memorial.

Mashele is one of the youngest Airbnb hosts in Soweto, and his establishment one of the newest in the area. He says 70% of his guests are locals, the rest international, and business is looking good.

READ MORE: The Sharing Economy: 400,000 Guests At Home

The day we visit, we are ushered into his spotless living room. A coffee table in the middle of the foyer is laden with sightseeing pamphlets. Hip hop music is playing in the background. The seven-bedroom house is well-appointed and Mashele charges R299 ($25) a night.

A room at the Vilakazi Backpackers costs R299 ($25) a night. Photo by Karen Mwendera.

That’s not a bad bargain for the local life that his guests, who he says are mostly from America, Germany, Brazil and France, want to experience.

According to Airbnb, most guests choose to live like locals. Mashele says they would rather walk to tourist destinations and buy local food from the outlets on the famous Vilakazi Street.

One of Mashele’s partners is Soweto Outdoor Adventures run by Kgomotso Pooe, also his long-time friend. Their collaborations offer his guests quad-bike tours, paddling and boating rides, trips to Orlando Towers and indulging in local cuisine such as magwenyas (deep-fried dough balls) with atchar and white liver and kota (half loaf of bread filled with curry), ending the day with a shisanyama (meat cooked over an open fire).

On the opposite side, in Orlando East, is a bed-and-breakfast in operation for over 16 years. TDJ’s BnB is a home-owned business catering for local and international visitors. Their aim this year is to start using the Airbnb services to help increase their profits.

“We are looking forward to getting new guests from all over the world,” says TDJ’s manager Nomthandazo Ntshingila.

READ MORE: Staying In Hotels

She says joining Airbnb will give her an edge moving her numbers higher than the average 30 visitors she receives per month. Currently, a room at TDJ’s costs R454 ($38) a night.

For a more authentic experience, tourists can taste African beer brewed at the guest house. Another hotspot guests can visit is Sakhumzi, a Sowetan shisanyama restaurant and bar.

A key difference between Mashele’s and Ntshingila’s businesses is that the former has Wi-Fi on site allowing him to stay active on social media.

“One of the requirements to host with Airbnb was to offer Wi-Fi services to potential clients. We then got Wi-Fi before listing on the app,” says Ntshingila.

Hosts need to be constantly connected to an online platform and keep the most updated information on their availability and business.

The accommodation hosting platform tells FORBES AFRICA they are working on refining their offerings and making “regular updates to ensure people get exactly what they are looking for”. It’s clear that for the app to take off in townships like Soweto, homeowners need to be empowered with technology.

Airbnb says it’s planning to invest $1 million from 2018 to 2020 to promote and support community-led tourism projects in Africa. The project aims to support training in hospitality and technology for township residents.

Indeed, such investments will also help upskill those living in less-developed areas within Soweto such as Kliptown and Pimville, and as a result, reduce the barriers for entrepreneurs wishing to rent out their homes and bring in precious tourism dollars, much-needed in today’s difficult times.

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Magda Wierzycka’s India

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Magda Wierzycka

Magda Wierzycka, CEO of Sygnia Asset Management, is known for her leadership style, her controversial Twitter feed and her no-nonsense take on politics and business.

She also loves to travel.

For over a decade, she and her husband bundled their two sons up four times a year and whisked them away: to the steamy Amazon, over rocky seas to Antarctica (“the glaciers are the most amazing things one could ever see in a lifetime”) and even the last refuge of the strange and wonderful; the Galapagos Islands (“I’d go back in a flash”).

They’ve visited over 80 countries together, including Wierzycka’s birthplace, Poland, which she describes brusquely as “not a mainstream tourist destination”. Compared to the descriptions of her other trips, it’s clear Poland is not a country of happy memories for her; in 1981, her family escaped the communist regime and found refuge in South Africa.

Many of the moments Wierzycka plans for her children are a foil to the experiences she had growing up. Their trips are also crucial parent-child bonding time, especially with Wierzycka working demanding hours as a CEO.

She says in a telephonic interview with FORBES AFRICA: “When you’re traveling with kids and then taking them to exotic locations, it means they are very reliant on you. If you go to a beach they couldn’t care less. They’re on their iPads or phones most of the time. But if you travel, they have nowhere to go except where you’re going. So they have to have every meal with you, they have to interact, there are a lot of things to discover: you hike, you canoe; which means you spend a lot of time together.”

The family’s five-week trek across India was one of their more significant and meaningful trips, with the bulk of their adventure taking place across The Golden Triangle, comprising New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur; the most visited tourist spots in northern India.

It’s named ‘golden’ for the cultural and historical richness of each city. The Wierzycka family started their 2013 trip in New Delhi with their then 13- and 15-year-old sons.

“The first time we were thrown into India, and the very first thing we did which petrified the living daylights out of us – you couldn’t have had greater exposure to anything – we did a bicycle tour of New Delhi… There were monkeys and there were cows and the four of us on bicycles. I just remember being petrified of absolutely everything about it,” she laughs at the memory.

“It was kind of the most bizarre thing we’ve ever done and in hindsight, a very dangerous thing, because you were thrown into chaos, absolute chaos.”

But it wasn’t the chaos that made India memorable for Wierzycka. It was traveling from temple to temple, and consciously demystifying religion for her children.

“I was brought up very strict Roman Catholic, and I had only had my kind of ‘aha!’ moment when I learned the truth at the age of 12 or 13, when suddenly instead of thinking of Jesus Christ as a God, I read a book which portrayed him as a man, and prophet, and I just thought I don’t want my kids to grow up to the age of 12 to realize [only then] that there is more than one religion. I never wanted them to have that moment I had,” she explains.

Magda Wierzycka with her sons in front of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India (Photo supplied)

After this experience in her teens, shaking away institutionalized thinking was a pressing priority for her as a mother; the one way she had done that, years before, was by taking her children to Vietnam to see the other side of the famous war.

“If you’ve ever been to India, you learn that there is a religion about everything. [India] is effectively a way of learning where religion originates from, and it’s kind of demystifying religion for everybody.

“[I noticed that] all religions started in the same way: it might have been thousands of years ago, but it always started with someone who had a particular vision or theory and then created a following around a particular concept. [My sons] have a deep understanding of different cultures and different religions, and a very high level of religious tolerance. The only thing we don’t tolerate in my house is intolerance! You don’t have this kind of religious intolerance.

“Because coming back from Poland, growing up in Poland, there was only one religion – and that was Roman Catholic. There was no such concept as not believing – we had to go to church every Sunday, we had to go to confession, and God was always looking over you…

“And so… giving [my children] diversity was essential to me. First of all, that they grow up in a completely tolerant household that stretches across every boundary…”

Wierzycka’s disillusionment with the indoctrination of her youth drives much of her excursion planning.

“I think all of our trips have been a way to show them the reason ‘why’. All our trips have had that built into them, whether that is looking at museums, or going to Cambodia and looking at the Khmer Rouge regime and looking at the atrocities committed. I want my children to learn not to take things at face value. Analyze things.”

Now, with one child in Columbia University and the other hopefully headed to Harvard, family trips are going to be harder to coordinate, but they’re not going to stop. Their next destination? Alaska.

READ MORE: Cosmas Maduka’s Japan

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