The Financial Secretary of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agents and Chief Executive Officer of Dart Logistics Limited, Mr Yinka Ladipo, has called on foreign airlines operating in Nigeria to make available lower airfares to Nigerians.
In a telephone interview with our correspondent on Monday, he urged the Federal Government to make the foreign exchange to available foreign airlines to enable them to repatriate trapped funds and encourage them to lower their airfares.
According to him, the inability of foreign airlines to repatriate their funds has seriously affected the travel agency business, resulting in a hike in airfares.
Recall that Dubai-based Emirates Airlines had recently announced the suspension of its flight operations in Nigeria indefinitely due to the blocked funds.
Travel operators had predicted that other international airlines could also halt services.
Last year, the International Air Transport Association disclosed that the top five markets with blocked funds (excluding Venezuela) were Nigeria $551m; Pakistan $225m; Bangladesh $208m; Lebanon $144m and Algeria $140m.
IATA, however, called on governments to remove all barriers to airlines repatriating their revenues from ticket sales and other activities in line with international agreements and treaty obligations.
The Director General of IATA, Willie Walsh said, “Preventing airlines from repatriating funds may appear to be an easy way to shore up depleted treasuries, but ultimately the local economy will pay a high price.
“No business can sustain providing service if they cannot get paid and this is no different for airlines.”
Meanwhile, Ladipo noted the trapped funds of airlines had adversely impacted the travel business, saying, “It has affected us badly because we do not sell as much as we used to because it is not readily available as it used to be. We do not get fares and when we eventually do, it is too exorbitant. It is almost three times high and in some cases four times what we used to sell.” According to him, Nigerian travellers go online or to neighbouring countries to purchase air tickets at cheaper rates, abandoning local travel agents.
“Our sales have really gone down in terms of individual travel. For example, maybe you usually sell about 10 tickets in a week, but now you hardly sell one. It is that bad.
“I think I would blame the foreign airlines and the FG for the issue of the hike in airfares.
“I will blame the FG to start with because I know we have a short supply of dollars and how we came about that I do not know. They have had an arrangement for a long time. How they have been making money available so that they can repatriate their funds I do not know. At some point when that fund was not available the government did not really do anything to help the situation.
“On the other hand, I will blame the airlines because even when you have that kind of situation, it has not always been like that. The current situation is not something I think the airlines should have taken undue advantage of, which is not good for business.”
He further noted that the airlines were using this as a strategy to exploit Nigerians because it was not only Nigeria that had the challenge of trapped funds.
“These airlines made sure Nigerians do not have access to lower fares, not that they increased their fares. This will only worsen the situation because they will now have more funds to repatriate.
“I will first of all appeal to the FG to make available some money to the airlines and we appeal to the airlines to make available some lower fares for us so that what the FG would be owing in terms of foreign exchange won’t be as much,” he counselled.