Competition is rise among major travel agencies in Nigeria. But as operators in the downstream of the aviation sector, not many know about the critical role travel agencies play in connecting people to flights and hospitalities.
Statistics indicate that travel and tourism sector in Nigeria contributed about 2.9 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria in 2018 and this is projected to rise by 4.3 per cent per annum, from 2018-2028. By 2028, it is expected that the industry would be worth N3, 605. 7 billion.
THISDAY spoke to the Managing Director of Finchglow Travels, Bankole Bernard who is currently the President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA).
Bernard, said the downstream sub-sector of the aviation industry is not given the recognition that it deserves, considering the role it plays in air travel and tourism in Nigeria, adding that it is a multibillion naira sub-sector.
He spoke about his company, Finchglow Travels, which is currently number one travel agency in Nigeria in terms of sales and service.
Bernard explained how hard work and efficient service brought the company to the tops; that it was recently recognised by UK based Virgin Atlantic Airways as the travel agency with the best revenue growth and best overall revenue achiever, 2019.
“We came into the business 13 years and in those 13 years; we have been able to make our relevance known within the market place where we found ourselves. We have grown from the staff strength of five to 165. We have multiple offices around the country. We have five in Lagos, two in Abuja and one in Port Harcourt. Basically, we are in the business of distribution and in the business of distribution, it means the more locations you have, the better your opportunity of reaching your clients. This has really helped our growth,” he said.
To give travel agencies the prime place it deserves in the aviation industry, the Finchglow Boss said that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) need to engage the downstream by regulating it effectively and ensuring that interlopers who don’t have the requisite certification are not allowed to practice in the sub-sector.
“NCAA over the years has not really engaged the downstream sector like they should but the Directorate of Air Transport Regulation (DATR) has taken a new initiative by ensuring that the downstream sector is regulated as it should because on our own, we have pushed for sensitising and sanitising the industry on what we stand for.
“Now that NCAA is beginning to see the impact of what we are making, they are beginning to see the need to regulate it. That was why we called for a fresh registration of all travel agencies in Nigeria and they have given a deadline that everyone should meet. Our organisation has done that. We see better downstream sector in the near future,” Bernard said.
He said in response to the projections of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) that in the near future there would be dearth of aviation personnel, from pilots, engineers and others, if there is no significant effort made to train more people now, by establishing aviation training schools, where young men and women are trained.
Bernard, said with that effort by Finchglow, many youths have gained employment by operating their own travel agencies, or opened other related businesses in the sub-sector and future manpower for the industry is being created.
“I have had the opportunity to speak with the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika on why there should be a focus on the downstream sector of the aviation industry. A lot of our youths are not aware of the industry in which we play. Every time they talk about aviation, they refer largely to cabin crew and the pilots, forgetting that there are other areas youths could focus on. A youth can be a travel consultant. So, I had to set up a school to help them acquire the necessary skills for them to function. I can say that 80 per cent of our workforce is youths and they are happy.
“They are spreading the business idea to their friends, colleagues and families, telling them that there are other professions aside having to be a doctor or engineers. Travel agency business is for professionals, not for dropouts and there is a certificate that is recognised globally for the profession. They are travel consultants and you know what it means to be a consultant; he is a specialist in that field. With this, I think Finchgow as an organisation has contributed to youth empowerment and for creating relevance for the youths within the economy,” the Managing Director of Finchglow said.