‘Beware! Fake travel agencies, agents on the prowl’
President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bernard Bankole, in this interview with WOLE OYEBADE, draws attention to the perennial challenge of fakery and air ticket fraud in the industry, but with a new initiative that may nip the nefarious activities in the bud.
You were re-elected about two months ago for the second-term as president of the association. What was the first tenure in office like and what are your plans for the second outing?
The first two years of my tenure was not easy but we were able to focus on one critical issue. We embarked on creating awareness for the association that has been existing for over 40 years yet it is not recognised by the government or people within the system. So, we needed to create awareness and this we did not only locally but also internationally to the point that NANTA and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) work closely together now.
NANTA has built a robust relationship with the Association of South African Travel Agency (ASATA) and Kenya Association of Travel Agencies (KATA). So, within Africa, NANTA has also gained a level of exposure and recognition. Within the two years, it was more of creating awareness and bringing more of our members onboard letting them understand some critical things.
First is that NANTA is the umbrella body for all travel agencies in Nigeria. Second, NANTA is the downstream sector body that is responsible for all travel agencies in Nigeria. Having known these, it makes it easier for members to start associating more with NANTA. We structured the secretariat and make it more vibrant. We worked on our website such that the payment of membership subscription can be done online without anyone having to come to the secretariat.
We ensure that all the five zones of NANTA – Western, Eastern, Northern zone, Abuja and Lagos – are all empowered and now waxing strong and our membership keep increasing. We now have close to 7000 registered members in NANTA and many more are still registering because they believe in the leadership of the association. They have seen that NANTA, as a body, fights their cause with the airlines as well as others within the industry. We had instances were banks have taken over issuance of tickets, which should be the primary duty of travel agencies in Nigeria. But as it stands today, they have corrected that and whole lot of them have stopped it.
Now, passengers are developing confidence in buying tickets from travel agencies. Travel agencies are becoming more of General Sales Agencies (GSAs) in Nigeria to some airlines. For instance, Kenya Airways is now a GSA in Nigeria and it is being operated by a travel agency who is a member of our association. Same thing with Delta Airlines that is a GSA in Nigeria. Ditto for British Airways also.
More of the airlines are beginning to convert as GSAs in Nigeria. When you become a GSA, your cost of operations reduces because you don’t need as many staff as things are put in the hands of travel agencies to sell on behalf of the airlines since they see that we have the capacity to distribute on their behalf. All those changes and more are seen happening under this administration.
We have also been canvassing for the ease of getting visa into Nigeria. Now, the country has started issuing visa on arrival and that is really helping. I foresee in not too distant future that visa into Nigeria, for Africans, might become free. That will help the country and promote brotherliness with the African countries. I heard some days ago that Ethiopia is willing to implement free visa for all Africans. That is the seat of the African Union. So, if Ethiopia can practice it, then I see more African countries follow suit. We have seen Lagos showing concerns that they want to be the choice destination when it comes to tourism.
All of these we have achieved under this administration and they are due to our clamouring for the things that are necessary for the industry. So, by and large, I will say that NANTA has grown.
How serious a problem are the activities of fraudsters among your members?
The truth is that the industry is so porous and there is no entry or exit barrier. So, it has become an all comers’ affair even for fraudsters. We realised that some are even using travel agency to cover up for human trafficking and defrauding intending passengers, bastardising our names at the Embassies because there is no record of the real practitioners.
Till date, we are having incidences of fraudsters defrauding intending passengers to millions of naira. We went to presidency to solicit support for the new ID card initiative, and we were made to understand that even the office of Presidency was defrauded by travel agency and they later caught the fellow in Benin.
We went to Kano to meet the Emir of Kano, only to found that one of his aides was in fact defrauded. The point is that they are everywhere because no one has made move to arrest them. They have seen that there is a vacuum and that is what we are about to close.
How do you hope to do this and when?
We have looked at the whole matter, telling ourselves that the great work we have done in making NANTA a pressure group, by ensuring that some of the policies of government are favourable to the industry, will be defeated when some of the members within the industry are not been checked. It is based on this that we have introduced an industry Identification Card. It is an industry ID card not NANTA card. It is called the Nigeria Travel Practitioners’ Identification Card (NTPIC).
This card was an idea that we worked closely with all the stakeholders in the industry. The only difference is that it is NANTA that is spearheading it. On this ID card, we got the foreign and local airlines, the GDS networks, for issuance of tickets also involved. We got the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (their legal and finance teams) involved, to ensure that we are in line with what we do, so that no member is feeling exploited at the end.
So, the ID card we are introducing and set for launch on June 26, 2018 in Lagos, which we hope the Vice President will honour our invitation to launch, will transform the way things are done among our members. The already existing confidence that the airlines have in us and in this administration of mine, we do not want it to erode. We are ensuring that the ID card will be a means to checkmate fraudulent people that will see that the industry is booming and will want to come and tap into it to derail the good work that has been put into it. We are using the ID card to control what is being done by our members.
You said this is an industry-based ID card. What did you mean? Does it mean that non-NANTA practitioners can apply for this card?
The thing is that is it an industry ID card. Non-NANTA practitioners can apply for the ID card only after they have registered with NANTA. The travel agency will register first as a NANTA member then the ID card will be issued to individuals of that travel agency. You must understand that NANTA is the recognised body for all the travel agencies in Nigeria. We are recognised by the NCAA that statutorily regulates and oversees all the activities in the air travel sector in Nigeria.
What happens to non-NANTA members that do travel and tour?
They have a choice in this matter. First, let me say that people often mix things up. When it comes to tour, there is what is called inbound tourism and outbound tourism. Inbound tourists are those coming to Nigeria, to whom we want to sell Nigerian domestic tourism. Those ones are being handled by some travel agencies and the Nigerian Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) members. Travel agencies have their businesses in different scope. There are some that focus on both inbound and outbound. As long as you do inbound and outbound, you must register with NANTA. And if you check the membership of NATOP, 80 per cent of their people are our members. They only join NATOP to be able to participate in domestic tourism. The moment you engage in issuance of airline ticket, then you must register with NANTA and you must possess the ID card.
How are you ensuring that your customers are aware of this initiative to ensure that it serves it purpose?
We have a masterplan that we have started rolling out. We have already engaged the media in this direction to fill them in on what the plans are. After that, we are going into full scale publicity that will be on national radio, televisions and social media platforms for us to create awareness. The NCAA, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Police, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are all carried along and the general public too, so that they can all know what to look out for.
After the launch of this ID card, no intending passenger should buy ticket without first demanding for the ID card of the travel agent to verify that he or she is genuine. The ID card has a barcode that is connected to the holder’s Bank Verification Number (BVN). That way, passengers can tell that the agent is genuine or not. Once you scan the barcode on your mobile device, you will immediately receive a message that is in line with the card that you are holding. So, it is a bit difficult to duplicate.
After the launch, we are going to proceed on mega training of our members because it is very critical that our members are trained, to bring professionalism on board and work the way other travel agencies around the world are doing.
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