Travel

How Kenyan attracts New York City tours big spenders

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An aerial view of New York City. PHOTO | POOL

One of New York City’s iconic symbols of strength, the charging bull or the bull of Wall Street, is so famous that everyday visitors flock to the statue in droves just to take pictures touching or even rubbing the bull’s testicles.

It is believed to be a good luck charm for those searching for financial growth and prosperity linked to Wall Street, New York and America.

This is one of the places where Naomi Ogutu recommends for her guests. One of her clients, she says, had a streak of good luck after rubbing the bull’s bronze testicles.

“She ended up dining with a billionaire. Another client went to the casino afterwards and won $14,000 just like that, and she confesses to being on a good luck streak ever since,” she recalls.

In the last seven years, Naomi created a brand that draws big spenders who want personalised tours of the city nicknamed the Big Apple and is also considered the world’s financial capital.

With a budget of $20,000 (approximately Sh2 million), a Kenyan can get their own personalised itinerary in four states for two weeks and spend nights in high-end hotels.

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The Central Park in New York City. PHOTO | POOL

But tours of the five neighbourhoods, also known as boroughs of NYC- Brooklyn, Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island - are much sought after by her clients.

Her company of six tour guides offers a personalised 10-hour package that begins at 10 in the morning and ends at eight at night to the neighbourhoods mainly concentrated in Manhattan.

The Financial District is one of her personalised itineraries for travellers interested in learning about the stock market.

“I tell my clients that if you are single, New York is the only city where you will likely kiss a dollar millionaire. It is the only place where we have the only American Express Centurion lounge where you can book an appointment and dine with billionaires. You only get a chance to meet billionaires once in life,” she continues.

For $228, Naomi also charters guided helicopter rides for clients who desire to catch a glimpse of the magnificent views of New York from the skies for 15 minutes.

Where it all started

When she left Kenya with her three children on February 28, 2012, Naomi vowed to remain in the concrete jungle and work smart to be one of the many Kenyans who have made it abroad.

“Every day I crossed the Hudson River, I’d assign a dollar sign on every head I saw. I would ask myself, ‘how can I get these dollars without engaging in criminal activity?’ I vowed to be an employer by my 10th year, and I’m happy that the dream has finally come to pass as I am thriving and daring in New York City,” she says.

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Naomi Ogutu who owns a personalised tour firm in New York City stands next to one of her company vehicles. PHOTO | POOL

Before resigning as an Uber driver, Naomi says she first ensured she understood how the business works by researching and talking to Uber drivers. Unlike other states where registering an Uber business is as easy as buying a car and registering, she had to get the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission Licence or TLC licence.

This called for enrolling for a three-day, 8-hour class at the Master Cabi Academy, where one is taught how to be a taxi driver in New York.

“The education entails understanding the geography of the New York state. We were also taught customer service and financial management, and the last class is a test you must pass before being given the licence,” she explains.

After the lessons, her vehicle was inspected, and for a while, she was doing better financially than in her previous job. But, she says, it always troubled her that it was a risky job in an industry dominated by men.

Nonetheless, this did not deter her. While taking people to their various destinations, she realised their need to explore the city.

“Every time I picked people from the airport, I would show them around New York, and they would marvel at my knowledge of the city. They would then request me to give them tours around the city, and that’s how the idea of sight-seeing tours began.”

She adds, “I began minimising my driving for Uber, and most of my driving became sight-seeing. In 2018, I was fully in the business. I would give you my business card if you are a great client. If you needed tours, I would take you.”

Her trips have made her meet several celebrities and personalities like Anderson Cooper from CNN. Her challenges include managing people’s expectations regarding trips, high operation costs, and dealing with refunds.

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The St. Patrick's Cathedral. PHOTO | POOL

“Refunds and booking at the last minute would make me go at a loss since I would have to pay guides even if the clients have cancelled. Nowadays, I don’t give refunds but credit for future travels. I also ensure that clients pay upfront or 48 hours after booking.

She plans to purchase a boat with three decks to take 300 people across the Hudson River.

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