The National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA) Act is expected to be passed into law before the end of the year. This is according to Bankole Bernard, NANTA CEO.
He told Inside Travel that the Act is currently under revision at the House of Assembly after which it will be passed to the Committee for review and it will undergo a public hearing. “By the end of this year, the NANTA Act should be passed into law,” he said.
Currently, the travel trade business in Nigeria has no legislative backing. Bankole explains travel falls under the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCA), which is one of the government parastatals. “This parastatal deals with airlines as well as with safety and security of the airport. Dealing with travel agent issues is the least of their priorities,” he says.
Although travel trade associations in other countries, such as South Africa and Kenya, prefer to remain voluntary instead of regulated by the government, in Nigeria the situation is different, says Bankole.
“Where there are strong laws governing travel such as consumer protection and trade protection, it is possible to have a voluntary association. In Nigeria, this is not the case. We see airlines in Nigeria coming to hotels and opening kiosks to sell tickets, or opening kiosks in banks; there is simply no trade protection. If we don’t protect our industry – nobody will protect it for us.”
Bankole explains Nigeria currently struggles with ticketing schools that are not even IATA registered. He says: “They take people’s money but they teach them nothing. We are trying to regulate all these things, but currently, we are not empowered to regulate it because we don’t’ have a law.”
The introduction of travel agent ID cards
In order to sanitise the industry, Bankole is working on the introduction of a travel agent ID card, which he expects to be launched in the coming months. He explains: “Every Dick, Tom and Harry in Nigeria can wake up and say: I’m a travel agent. Nobody questions them. This needs to change.”
The identity card scheme will capture the biometric data of genuine members of the travel industry. These data can then be easily verified by passengers who want to make sure they are dealing with a reputable travel agent.
Bankole explains there are currently 6 000 Nigerians working in the travel industry, but only 2 000 of them are registered with NANTA. He says: “People move into the industry and don’t have a clear understanding of what the industry is all about. They perpetrate fraud or they misuse airline inventories. When they exit the industry, the serious and hard-working bona fide travel agencies suffer.”
The travel trade in Nigeria has welcomed the ID card scheme, saying it will professionalise the industry. Bukola Aliu, CEO Rock Springs Travel and Tours, told Inside Travel: “The Nanta ID card is a welcome idea and it will differentiate the real agents from the fraudulent ones. People will also start seeing us in different light: we are professionals and people should see us as such and accord us the respect due to us.”
Aliu explains that the ID card will see embassies start recognising NANTA travel agents as a body; which in turn will give agents access through to the airport to assist their clients (protocol). “I’m so excited about the ID card,” she says.
A growing industry
According to Bankole, last year, travel agents in Nigeria sold airline tickets to the value of $1.4bn, which represents roughly 3 to 4% of the GDP in Nigeria. “And yet, nobody pays attention, because the industry is not regulated,” he says. “Somebody needs to take responsibility: that’s what we at NANTA are doing. We’re trying to ensure that our business is done in a professional way.”
Once the industry is regulated, the banks and the government will take note, says Bankole. “Once we are seen as an organised trade body, both the government and the private sector will want to work with us and invest in us,” he says. “The opportunities for the travel industry in Nigeria are truly endless!”