The demand for tickets for foreign trips has surged as travellers eagerly await to resume their international engagements,
Despite the concern that the stringent conditions given to foreign travellers under the COVID-19 protocols, and the high cost of travel would discourage many people from travelling, the demand for tickets has risen.
The immediate past President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) and the Group Managing Director of the biggest travel agency in Nigeria, Finchglow Limited, Mr. Bankole Bernard, who confirmed the development, however, expressed reservations over the conditions given to travellers, including the high cost of COVID-19 tests.
He said there was concern that the stringent conditions and the high cost of travel would discourage many from travelling despite the surge in demand for tickets.
It was gathered that while waiting for Nigeria to reopen the airports for international travels, many Nigerians had been travelling through the country’s neighbouring countries such as Equatorial Guinea (Malabo), Togo and Benin Republic.
It was learnt that with the use of those alternative routes, the travel agencies had been selling tickets of international carriers despite the ban on international flights.
Bernard, however, said since the federal government announced its definite date for flight resumption, the demand for tickets has surged.
Bernard who is also the Chairman, Airline and Passenger Joint Committee (APJC), said the International Air Transport Association (IATA) also expressed happiness that flights would resume in Nigeria from tomorrow.
He, however, expressed worry about the charges and the stringent COVID-19 protocols.
He said against $20 charged by other countries, Nigeria is charging $150 for compulsory COVID-19 tests, which would cost $300 when the passenger returns to conduct another test to certify himself free from the pandemic.
He said: “The plan to resume flight operations by September 5, 2020, is sacrosanct and we are happy about that but the COVID-19 protocols introduced by the government will reduce passengers.
“However, ticket sales have risen by 15 per cent and this will continue to rise as days go by.
“But the difference is that while other countries charge $20 for Coronavirus test, Nigeria is charging $150. This has increased the cost of travel. And when you return you will do another test so that you will be certified COVID-19 free to be allowed to go home. Imagine travelling to Accra you pay $150 for test and when you return you pay another $150.
“That is outrageous. So, we look forward to resumption.”
Tourism Consultant and Vice-President (South-east) Federation of Tourism Association of Nigeria who also operates Zigona Travels and Tours Limited, Ms. Ngozi Ngoka, also confirmed that ticket sales have increased.
Ngoka, however, said the federal government’s policy of limiting the number of passengers that arrive in Nigeria means that each airline cannot carry more than 150 passengers because of the capacity of the airports so that there would be enough social distancing.
She added that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has been briefing the travel agents.
She noted that while there is no ceiling to the number of passengers the airlines could take out of the country, the airlines could only bring in 1, 280 passengers to each of the two airports in Abuja and Lagos, which would be the first to resume international flights.
She said most of the people travelling out include students studying overseas, some citizens of other countries trapped in Nigeria and others.
She added that there is no leisure travel yet.
“Many of the persons, buying tickets are students who are studying overseas. The first flight that will operate into Nigeria on September 6, a day after the resumption, is likely to return with a full load factor. I alone have about 25 passengers there and that is Emirates. As a Nigerian who promotes local tourism, I am not happy that fewer passengers are returning into the country while the airlines are taking more passengers away. Anyway, the foreign airlines are willing to return to Nigeria,” she said.
A senior NCAA official said the cost of COVID-19 test was determined by Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), adding that the high cost has nothing to do with aviation agencies.
On the readiness of foreign airlines to operate to Nigeria, he said that about 20 of the airlines, including the major carriers, have gone through NCAA Standard of Operation (SoP) checks and are ready to fly to Nigeria but this would be determined by each country’s policy on COVID-19 because some countries have policies that do not allow Nigerian citizens to enter their borders.
“Airlines are ready, but the problem is not with the airlines, but countries that are not allowing Nigerian citizens into their borders. But that is Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ issues; not that of NCAA. Airlines have done SoP. About 20 airlines have done that and are ready but airlines like Royal Air Maroc has not gone through the process because their country has not opened for flight operations, but I am sure that even big airlines like Delta, most of the European carriers have gone through the process,” the NCAA official said.