BusinessDay

Dubai luxury stores miss Nigerians for festive sales

Egypt, Seychelles, Mauritius seen as alternatives

Luxury retail stores in Dubai are having to face up to the absence of many Nigerians this festive shopping season following the recent ban on the issuance of visas to Nigerians by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Before now, Dubai was one of the most visited destinations by Nigerians during the festive season.

Many Nigerians who often buy huge volumes of luxury goods such as gold, assorted jewelleries, wristwatches, clothes, fabrics, shoes, hair extensions, other accessories and electronics, are now seeking other destinations to shop for Christmas and New Year and enjoy tourist attractions.

“Business is a little slow this period for me. I used to have a lot of customers from Nigeria who come here during the festive season to buy from me but they haven’t been coming because of the visa ban,” Amin, sales director at Atlantis Trading, which deals in human hair extensions, told BusinessDay on phone.

He said Nigerians’ purchases were always critical to his revenue during the festive seasons but sales have dropped this year.

Chima Njoku, a trade agent in Dubai who would not want his business name mentioned, said traders in the market are really complaining because the absence of Nigerians is affecting their businesses.

“You know Nigerians love to shop during festive seasons. The markets this year look scanty without Nigerians. While there are people from other countries who have been coming to shop, their impact has not been like that of Nigerians who spend so much on luxury items,” Njoku said.

According to him, the general goods and gold shop owners really wish that the ban would be lifted so that Nigerians can come to Dubai.

Two months ago, the UAE stopped issuing visas to Nigerians. All applications submitted since October have been rejected, with fees being non-refundable.

While there was no official statement from the UAE government, Destination Management Companies (DMCs) licensed to issue electronic visas to UAE announced in a statement that Dubai immigration authorities had stopped approving visas for Nigerians.

“All previously submitted applications are currently on hold. Kindly note this is beyond our control. We will update once visas start getting approved,” the DMCs said in the statement.

Uche Udoka, a textile trader who used to travel to Dubai to buy textiles in bulk, told BusinessDay that while the UAE government has become stricter with visa issuance, business people who buy in bulk liaise with agents in Dubai who buy and the goods are shipped to Nigeria.

Udoka hinted that Nigerians with resident permits are, however, allowed to go to the UAE as they don’t require visas to travel. She said some of these people help business people in Nigeria to buy things in the UAE.

Seyi Adewale, chief executive officer of Mainstream Cargo Limited, said the ban on visa issuance and suspension of Emirates flights to Nigeria will prevent Dubai from achieving its pre-Covid festive sales and its aspiration to get back to normal business (sales) level.

He said: “One would notice, for example, that we rank third or fourth in UK Duty-Free at Heathrow and even major UK malls like Selfridges, especially during festive seasons. I expect this to be similar to an even better ranking because Nigerians used to enjoy visa-free going to Dubai/UAE before their shocking exclusion of Nigerians.

“Furthermore, they lose significant revenues from cargo because they used to be the hub for shipments from Canada, China, Ireland, Singapore, India, etc. for hi-tech gadgets and other high-value shipments. You may recall that they have a vast and vibrant duty-free zone that makes them the central hub of choice for shipments into Nigeria. This status is definitely lost as at present, presenting potential opportunities for Qatar and even Ethiopia.”

According to him, Emirates is desperately looking for alternative markets such as Kenya, as they are hoping the Kenyan market could mitigate their perceived loss.

“Questions like: Does Kenya have the vibrant travelling population of Nigeria? Does Kenya import as much as Nigeria? Even the exports of flowers and other agricultural products, what revenues does it generate or constitute compared to Nigeria? Time will tell,” Adewale said.

In 2016, when Nigerians found it difficult to travel to UAE as a result of economic downturn, dollar scarcity and high airfares, Bilal Chaouch, sales manager, Paul Smith, a unisex luxury fashion clothing outfit in Dubai, told BusinessDay that purchases by Nigerians made up about 18 percent of his market share.

Chaouch explained that between September and November, the fashion outfit usually bought clothes in bulk, in anticipation of the influx of Nigerians who would come in to shop for the festive period.

“Over 50 percent of Nigerians going to the UAE travel for business and about 30 percent travel for tourism. The truth is that Dubai shops are really feeling the absence of Nigerians, no matter how they try to shy away from this truth. Nigerians are huge spenders and they have the culture of spending on luxury products during festive seasons,” Susan Akporiaye, president of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies, said.

Akporiaye said what has happened this year is that visa restrictions in other countries are discouraging Nigerians from seeking alternate destinations.

She said another major reason why people travelled to Dubai was because of the ease of getting the visas, adding that it took about three days to get Dubai visas.

She said: “I know Nigerians are changing plans to go to Egypt and Morocco but then these two countries require visa processes. The demand for an alternate destination is not as high as the demand for visas to Dubai. Other places that people are also considering are those with visa-on-arrival like Seychelles and Mauritius.

“Egypt has made it a bit easier now. If you have a valid US or UK visa, you can also get your visa-on-arrival in Egypt.”

Bernard Bankole, managing director/CEO of Finchglow Travels Limited, also confirmed to BusinessDay that Nigerians who used to travel to Dubai have started going to other African countries such as Egypt and Mauritius.

“Dubai is the one losing. I am sure they are trying to remove the ban and put in tougher measures for Nigerians now. They will likely tell us to start applying for visas physically,” Bankole said.

Nigeria’s exports to the UAE stood at $88.92 million in 2021, according to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade.

The Dubai route was one of the top business and holiday destinations for Nigerians, with weekly passenger traffic estimated at about 10,000 passengers, and Emirates had the largest chunk of the traffic.

Emirates was bringing about 900 passengers (about 300 in each of its arrivals in Lagos and Abuja on its A380 aircraft) from Dubai on a daily basis while other airlines brought other passengers through connecting flights.

Other airlines transiting to Dubai from Nigeria include Qatar Airways, Egypt Air, Ethiopian Airlines and RwandAir.

With an average of N300,000 per ticket, the airline is estimated to be losing close to N270 million or $650,000 or 2.5 million UAE dirham weekly from ticket sales alone.