Partnership between government and travel agencies is key to growing the sector – Sani
Ahmed Mohammed Sani is the Managing Director of Amco Travel and Tours Limited. In an interview with Ifeoma Okeke, Sani speaks on why partnership between the government and travel agencies is needed to grow the sector. He speaks on how Amco is making a difference in the travel industry through its exceptional service delivery.
Are you a member of NANTA? If you are, what do you think the association needs to do to grow businesses of its members?
I am a member and a member of International Air Transport Association (IATA). There are a lot of things that the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) is supposed to have done. Most of the agendas of the leadership are never achieved. They abandon it as soon as they get to office. For example, across the world, you hardly see an airline operating within a city. NANTA rule prohibits airlines from setting up offices in the city. They are expected to operate within the airport area and no travel agent is allowed to have an office in the airport but vice versa. What is happening in Nigeria is different. You see the airlines competing with agencies in the city. Most of the leadership had promised to change this. However, they have introduced some good initiatives but we need more.
How can the airline and the travel agency collaborate to build the industry?
Some of the airlines are trying. If there will be tremendous collaboration, it must be championed by NANTA. If NANTA perform as they should, it will give room for collaboration. Like i told you earlier, the world is moving on with a sanitised market but there are inherent challenges that proper enforcement by NANTA could address to reposition the industry.
The travel and tour industry has been viewed as one that is not properly regulated, as people easily set up travel and tour businesses even in the comfort of their homes, thereby breeding unprofessional practices. The sector is not well regulated in Nigeria compared to other countries in the world. You don’t just own a travel agency if you’re somewhere in the US, Asia or Europe. To operate a travel agency, you have to follow due process and regulations and obtain necessary documents. Without an office, some practitioners go around with their laptops and issue tickets. These are the people that are likely to defraud clients. They have nothing at stake.
How do you think these challenges can be addressed so that the right people are the ones running the industry?
The leadership of NANTA may consider taking measures to address this challenges including publishing the names of their members. This will safe their image. National Hajj Commission has always done this. They list accredited agencies who are ready to operate Hajj and Umrah. Before you are listed, they would have requested for necessary documents including taxes and previous license that will qualify you to be screened. After screening they will check your office to be sure you own one before they give you a license to operate Hajj and Umrah. So I will want NANTA to apply the same rule.
How has the outbreak of Coronavirus affected aviation business, especially ticketing?
The impact has been very massive across the world, not only in the aviation sector but every aspect of the global economy. Meanwhile its impact on domestic travel in Nigeria is very limited. Though a case or two has been discovered in Nigeria, local flights have not been witnessing challenges as much as international route, particularly countries with high cases. There is need to continue to collaborate to find a lasting solution because no country is left out on the outbreak and its implications.
How can we develop tourism potentials in Nigeria?
There is a need for government to partner with tour and travel agency to grow the industry. A lot of things are left untapped in Nigeria and it is really affecting the tourism industry. If you go to Jabi Lake in Abuja today, it is a location that could add significantly to the revenue of government if handed over to private sector to manage. If those resources are in others countries like Kenya, South Africa, Egypt, it would be a money making business but our government left it to rot. I will advise the next leadership of NANTA to look into something like this. Tourism could improve the economy of the country as the Federal Government is looking at measures to diversify.
Government is not really taking the sector to global standard. Most Nigerians travel as far as Dubai just for tourism. Forty years back, Dubai was just like a desert but Dubai today is a tourist centre. We have more resources than them. There is no part of the country that doesn’t have a tourist attraction. In plateau, there is water fall, in Kogi there is also a water fall. In Enugu we have hills. In Benin, Sokoto and Maiduguri there are tourist attractions but government is not investing in the tourism sector. Go to US today, we have the Disney World, it is a place being caved out for tourists. It is public and private sector initiative. We need to pool resources to develop the sector.
One of the things people look at when they embark on tourism is security, what is your take on security situation in Nigeria and the implication on the tourism sector?
I may not say much on insecurity because I am not an expert. But I can tell you that there are a lot of saboteurs that are sabotaging the nation’s security architecture. Though people blame the military for the current situation, the problem emanated from the citizens, especially the politicians. Politicians recruit thugs and use them to gain what they want. After election they abandon the thugs, who have been armed including giving them Ak47. This is invariably creating criminals. What happened in Kogi recently remains a good example. Where are the guns after election? Do they ask? The people fuelled the security challenges in one way or the other.
It is only when our leaders realize to do the needful that the industry will develop. We can address the situation by looking at the implications of our actions.
What does your company offer differently from other travel and tour companies?
Tourism and Travel Company have been limited in Nigeria to issuing of tickets. This is not the case at Amco travel and tours. We offer more services apart from ticketing. We help people plan their travel adequately and with integrity, knowing how critical the sector is to businesses and indeed the Nigerian economy. For businesses to thrive, reliable travel and tour companies are needed to enable people move from one location to another. At Amco, we go as far as offering charter aircraft for local or international engagements, though we are primarily focused on local charter for now.
We run airport services like cargo and ‘pick up’. You can equally agree with me that it is not all the traveling agencies that do those. We equally provide training to boost capacity for public and private sector.
More importantly, we are committed to honesty and integrity. We are known for that. We don’t compromise integrity. My staff prioritises integrity. If you are issuing ticket to a client, for instance, don’t offer promo tickets in place of another. We always insist that clients either put it in writing or send a message as proof that they are aware of the implications that come with promo tickets. Why I don’t like promo ticket is because of the consequences; while it offers low price, you must be certain that you won’t request a change in your travel schedule. So some people will go for promo ticket but eventually lose the entire money if they have to change their schedules due to unforeseen situation. Promo tickets are unchangeable, non-refundable and not transferable. But the average Nigerian will look at the immediate benefit.
So basically, Amco is into ticketing and reservations, hotel booking, chartered aircraft and we equally handle cargo. We also specialise in Hajj and Umrah. We are at the edge of launching a platform that would enable customers book tickets at the comfort of their homes. We also offer Visa assistance. We don’t procure visa. We assist people in getting visas. Only the embassy can offer you visa.
Apart from tourism are there other things you do?
Yes. Our group is into engineering and real estate. These are more like family businesses. My father has been into real estate and I have been committed to growing the sector. I have a background in engineering and that has helped in offering customers the best as construction consultant and real estate manager. So this is not a matter of business but a passion.
From the records, AMCO Travel and Tour Limited prides itself in delivering various travel packages to its customers promptly. How have you done this over the years?
From the start of our operation, we know that for the tourism sector to grow in the country, indigenous operators must be ready to boost investment and concentrate on a sustainable plan to harness the potentials in the sector. That is what South Africa and Kenya have been able to do. So, our basic focus is to treat customers with all respect and handle them like they are all we have got. We are not in business to just make money but to improve customer experience, build trust and integrity and show that we can live up to our expectation sustainably.
How costs effective are your services compared to that of competitors?
Our prices are affordable because we have in mind the higher class, the middle class and the lower class. Our prices are more flexible than others. For those who can afford higher services, we have affordable services for them. Those in the lower class still have benefits they enjoy. We can put two or three persons in a classy hotel and room, so that they can also enjoy the benefits those in the higher class enjoy. We also give discounts on air tickets for clients. Sometimes we give customers discount from the commissions the airlines give me.