‘Post COVID-19: Stakeholders‘ll need improved quality of service at reduced cost to survive’

Susan Akporaiye is the newly elected National President of National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) and the second female president in the history of NANTA. In this interview with WALE OLAPADE, she speaks on the hardship experienced by stakeholders in the travel and tourism industry in Nigeria and beyond, issues with IATA, impact of digital conference on travel business and why FG must include industry stakeholders in its post COVID-19 policy review.

HOW has the lockdown affected your members, considering the weight it has on the travel and tourism industry?

For us in the industry it’s not just been easy, in the last four or six weeks lockdown it’s been a total shut down of business for our members even before the lockdown was imposed by the government. Our industry worldwide is the most affected by this pandemic, now that the lockdown has ended some businesses will resume and they will be making income. But for us in the industry there is still no business until the skies are open again and people regain confidence in travelling again, till then it’s still zero income for us that’s how badly affected we are.


Before the advent of lockdown/epileptic flight schedule, your members envisaged a stringent action from IATA on the issue of remittance which your association promised to speak with the management of IATA to relax their action. Did it actually work?

Yes, we had several conversations with International Air Transport Association (IATA) and they came out with an open letter to the travel agencies community on April 3, 2020, which was not satisfactory because it didn’t meet up with our demands. It was rejected by UFTAA  and our demand was re communicated to IATA. This led to IATA sending second letter to the agencies community on April 14. This time, we were a bit okay with the position though it was not exactly what we asked for but It was a position that we could do with. One of the things we asked for was that IATA should suspend remittance till the lock down is lifted and it was not granted but we were told by IATA in their second letter that members should pay what they have that no default action would be taken against the agency in which it was okay by us, but IATA never kept to the agreement as a few of our members where placed on default this is so unprofessional.


What is the update on your save our soul advocacy to the CBN and FG on palliatives for NANTA members in terms of interest free loans?

The SOS to CBN and FG on palliatives was done collectively through the umbrella body of all Nigerian private sector tourism business operators, Federation of Tourism Associations Nigeria (FTAN), this body was set up by FG to serve as the go-between government agencies and private tourism industry stakeholders. I am a firm believer of doing things together in unity, we cover more grounds and achieve more rather than individuality in which divide and rule method sets in, leaving some people with nothing at all and even those that think they have gotten some form of deals, it will be nothing compared with the kind of deal that would have been gotten if they had worked together. So, let’s not forget the saying ‘united we stand, divided we fall’.

As NANTA, we were requested by the FTAN to send in our position paper which we did likewise other associations under FTAN, collectively FTAN came up with one position document that has been sent to CBN and FG for the private sector travels and tourism stakeholders. So we are very expectant that something good will come out of our proposal to CBN and FG. My slogan remains; Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM).


Were your members able to secure any loans?

None that I’m aware of as no member has reported that they have been paid yet, but quite a number have applied.


Do you have post COVID-19 measures for your members to bounce back, following the business trauma experienced in the past weeks?

We have been doing that via various Whatsapp groups, zoom and skype meetings, engaging our members, encouraging ourselves and praying we all pull through and remain in business after the pandemic. We have equally been receiving quality feedback from members, some of such post COVID-19 engagements are but not limited to the need for members to have full understanding of the situation. we are in and not be in denial because it will help in strategic planning for a comeback as things will change and we must be ready to adopt to change in order to remain in business. There will be the need for improving quality of service at a reduced cost, however, there has been an increased confidence in technology by the emergence of virtual meetings, conferencing, trainings, sports and tourism etc, adapting to the new trend will help to keep you in business.

We encourage our members to know that it’s going to be a new beginning, a fresh start, a second chance for everyone, an opportunity given to us to do things differently in our business, family and our lives in general. Now, the question that nobody can answer for you but yourself alone: is how do you want to steer this wheel of life and to what destination? To find a way of engaging their clients with the happenings and updates in the industry, will go a long way to boosting your clients’ confidence on the travel agent/consultant.

We have also concluded to engage our members in training via zoom conferencing on ways to go about doing our business and remaining profitable in this new reality that we live in. In the meantime, we have encouraged our members in webinars around the world to help give insights on strategies being adapted in the tourism space which have availed us the opportunities to learn from one another.


From your assessments of things on ground, how long do you think it will take for core travel trade and allied business to come back to normalcy, is this year feasible?

There have been a lot of permutations by economist, and scholars in the industry but the truth is, no one really knows the exact time it will take for things to come back to normalcy, but there is going to be new norm after all the dust settles, Though UAE is saying they are set to open their doors to tourists in July but for this year, it may only be business travels. For leisure, I don’t see that happening this year and if it does, it maybe towards December


What will be the fate of those that bought tickets before the lockdown and could not travel again, will they be refunded if they want or can they use it in future and will there be rate disparity or their initial rate remain valid?

We tell our clients please do not cancel your trip just postpone, this is our way of encouraging tourism after the COVID-19. We have been able to negotiate and are still negotiating with the airlines several options for our clients, such options are, but not limited to extension of ticket validity from the usual one year to two years. Date change fee will be free but any difference in fare as a result of tax or rate of exchange increase will be paid. Refund is allowed if all options have been exhausted still the passenger cannot make the trip and also change of destination is allowed.


In concrete terms and figures, how much have the travel agents and the industry in Nigeria lost so far?

From the last update given by IATA on April 23, 2020, there is going to be 4.7 million fewer passengers travelling resulting to $3.02 billion revenue loss, risking over 125,000 jobs and $0.89 billion in contribution to Nigeria’s economy.


Finally what is your suggestion for the FG in order for the travel and tourism to have a safe landing back to business after covid-19?

My advice to FG will be to seriously consider making available separate funds for the travels, tourism and hospitality industry as requested by FTAN and not merging all SMEs irrespective of the industry in the N50 billion because the travels, tourism and hospitality industry is capable of kick-starting any world economy in the shortest possible time including Nigeria’s if given the needed attention and funding. I will advise FG to consider the travels, tourism and hospitality industry as one of Nigeria’s major economy drivers by investing big in the industry because the industry has the ability to be one.

After COVID-19, there is a need for the review of industry policies. It will be necessary for the FG to include travel and tourism policy in this review and when they are doing it; they should include the private sector players to assist in giving a more holistic approach to the policy that will be beneficial to all.





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