International airlines are seeing full flights to Nigeria but travel agents are not being patronised as passengers book their return tickets from other countries as a result of high fares in Nigeria.
Airlines have since blocked low ticket inventories, leaving high ticket inventories to be sold in naira only while the low ticket inventories on most airlines’ websites can be bought with only dollar cards. This is in a bid to prevent more of their funds from being trapped in Nigeria.
The situation has seen Christmas travellers bypass local travel agents to book their return tickets from other travel agents outside Nigeria, using their dollar cards.
Most airlines operating the Lagos-London route and Lagos-USA route and Lagos-Paris route are now fully booked for the festive season.
For available airlines, a return ticket from Lagos to London costs an average of N1.5 million as at Wednesday as against N800,000 last Christmas.
A return ticket from the United States to Lagos costs an average of N2.3 million as against N1.2 million last year.
“A lot of people are still travelling back for Christmas but sadly, the tickets are not being issued by us. We are not selling tickets, yet flights are fully booked for Christmas. We are really losing out this period,” Susan Akporiaye, president of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), told BusinessDay.
Akporiaye said that in the past, parents would contact her to book tickets for their children coming back to Nigeria from the US, Paris, Poland and UK for the festive season.
She said that is no longer happening because she cannot issue tickets originating from outside Nigeria and if she has to do this, she will have to partner travel agents outside Nigeria, making the tickets more expensive for the customers.
“If we must issue tickets emanating outside Nigeria, we have to work with travel agents outside Nigeria. We also have to add our charges to these tickets. Travel agents outside Nigeria charge in dollars and pounds; so, we have to get the naira equivalent of the foreign currencies charged. This would make the tickets very expensive because of the naira-dollar exchange rates,” she said.
In the last nine months, foreign airlines have been finding it difficult to access their funds from tickets sold in the country as a result of foreign exchange scarcity and have resorted to buying dollars from the black market for as high as N700 to a dollar, compared the Central Bank of Nigeria’s rate of N429/$1.
The trapped funds have since February grown from $100 million to over $464 million in July, according to the International Air Transport Association, making it very difficult for airlines to operate seamlessly.
While the central bank has been able to release part of the funds, airlines have since deployed measures to mitigate effects of the trapped funds, such as selling higher ticket inventories and restricting local travel agents from selling tickets emanating from other countries.
Bankole Bernard, managing director/founder of Finchglow Travels and former NANTA president, said: “People are travelling back to Nigeria, even though our sales are not showing the volume, it is cheaper for people to buy tickets outside Nigeria than buying from Nigeria because the naira exchange rate is very high. The airlines are opening cheaper ticket inventories outside Nigeria but closed these inventories in Nigeria.
“If you enter the aircraft coming into Nigeria, they are still full. People are coming home and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority is losing five percent on every ticket that is not bought from Nigeria. If we are losing five percent and the plane is full, it means Nigeria is like a dumping ground,”
He said a return flight from Lagos to London cost over N1 million, adding that even though airlines have opened up more inventories, ticket prices are still high and airlines do not want to add to their funds already tied down.