Nigeria lacks policy to make aviation and tourism sector profitable – Uko

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Through Chinelo Obogo, [email protected] 07064781119

More Over the years, aviation and tourism experts have attributed the lack of development in both sectors to the failure of governance and the lack of political will to implement sound policies. In various forums, airlines, ground handling agents, private investors and other stakeholders have often cited what they call “political summersaults” of the federal government, claiming that even when such policies are formulated, those who would be most affected are generally excluded.

Aviation and tourism expert Mr. Ikechi Uko says the two sectors are not developing as they should because the country does not have a coherent national policy to make them profitable. He said that even when there have been policies, there has not been consistent implementation.

Inconsistent policies

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I wouldn’t want to cite Ethiopian Airlines as an example of how airlines can promote aviation and tourism, but I prefer to use Middle East countries because Ethiopia has no oil but Middle East countries – East have it and they have invested their oil in the aviation and tourism sectors. So what is expected of Nigeria is for the government to do what the Middle East countries have done i.e. invest in tourism, aviation, services and make it possible. It’s my own understanding of what went wrong.

There is no national policy and even when there has been, there has been no consistent implementation. We don’t have a national policy that covers tourism and aviation because they are all one product. If you see the countries in the Middle East that do aviation and tourism, Ethiopia is trying to copy the same. They did aviation well and now they know that without tourism aviation would just be on hold, so they are investing in it. I think it is this lack of a national cohesion policy and successful implementation that is the missing link in Nigeria.

What do we want to achieve with aviation? Is it just to move people from place to place? You listen to different people and the general manager of an airline says he creates an airline to create jobs, you can also create jobs in other ways if that is the problem. Others have created airlines for national pride, to spread the flag, as one soft power project among others. So, there must be some reason you started an aviation business. Do we have a national consensus on why we have our aviation? No, we don’t. Do we know why we need to invest in tourism and aviation and link the two? We see that Dubai is a hub of freight, passengers and tourism, it is a national policy and it is the same for Nairobi, Johannesburg and others. Nigeria has to be a hub for freight, passengers and what makes one work, makes the other work, but I’m not sure if there is a policy that ties these visions together. In Nigeria we just carry passengers and move them from point to point because there is no integration of any kind.

There are experts in different fields and we need to be able to bring these experts together to discuss where we are going. If we know the destination then it is easy to make a plan on how to get there. We heard someone say that by 2035 they’re going to get 10 million tourists, which is a plan and that’s what we’re going to do to get that number and we can work on it. What is our plan in Nigeria? The first thing we need to do is get some experts together and form a plan. We can come up with a plan to say that we need to be able to move 20 million passengers through this airport in the next five years and of those 20 million at least five million should be non-Nigerians.

Why many airports are not viable

How many airlines do you have? How many planes do we fly in Nigeria? Are they up to 40? If you have 22 airports and your country has 15-20 planes, they cannot fly to those places when there is no national plan to distribute them. What is happening in Nigeria today is that we have surpluses in some areas and shortages in others. So there is no uniform distribution of virtually everything. Anyone can afford to fly because the cost of the road is higher than the cost of the plane. Why are banditry and kidnappings on the rise in Nigeria? It is because there is money. Why don’t we use this money to steal and be safe? But there are no flights because there are no planes. Airports need planes to fly and that is why we need a national policy. How many seats does the Peace Mass Transit bus carry and connect to all cities in Nigeria.

If there is a policy that we can have an airport in every capital and there are incentives available to people, the airport would become viable. There are people in every city in this country and Nigeria has at least 10 to 15 cities that have up to two million people and of that number, if 10,000 people can afford to fly, c is enough to keep an airline afloat. A simple 20-seater plane that carries 10,000 people has done a lot, but an ABC bus carries more passengers than an Embraer 145. Luxury buses carry more passengers than airplanes and they are cost effective, but travel by road is much more dangerous than traveling by plane.

Why Nigerian Airlines Fail

This is because there is no national vision, so people who have airlines are not considered development agents. If the government sees them as agents of development, they will help them succeed. Why do Nigerians understand when ASUU goes on strike? This is because Nigerians believe that these people are contributing to the growth of the country and you are depriving them of the small reward they receive. So if we start to see our airlines as agents of development, our attitude towards them would be different. Everyone should help airlines succeed because without airlines there is no movement.

We demand a lot from them, but they face fluctuating foreign currencies, inefficient airports and other challenges. I know of an airline that only has eight planes and flies to over 20 destinations, but there are airlines in Nigeria that have more planes but don’t fly to more than 14 destinations. Airlines outside of Nigeria fly for 24 hours unlike local airlines in Nigeria, so why wouldn’t Nigerian airlines fail? Infrastructure and the environment are also a problem. I’m not saying the guys who run the airlines are good businessmen, but they are investors and they should be treated as such because without the airlines there would be no aviation activity.

I don’t own an airline but I have read and run conferences where people who should know how to chat and everyone says the model used by most of the airlines in Nigeria is copied from each other and that is why they fail. Most people would copy what the last person did and fail like the last person did. That’s what the experts say and I see people doing it. I don’t really know what they are doing wrong, but we all agree that something is wrong.

How Airlines Can Generate Revenue From Tourism

The problem with Nigeria is that tourism is orphaned. No one owns tourism and no one makes any effort for its development. Tourism in most countries has been driven by airlines because it is resilient and generates large numbers. One billion people travel every year and if you can get some of that number around your airport and use your plane, you’re in business. But in Nigeria, airlines are interested in sending passengers to Abuja and bringing them back. We have had very successful experiences with certain airlines. The highest cost of sightseeing packages is transportation, so once someone comes to take care of the transportation, a sightseeing package is easy to sell and it is the role of the government to buy buses and give to tour operators.

Most of the airlines in Nigeria have not seen the value of working with tour operators as it is not urgent. The tour operators in Nigeria weren’t built big, they are all small organizations, so if, for example, an airline says that for every trip they plan to Calabar you pay N25,000 and we spend 10 percent of our seats to that, they would benefit a lot down the line because they would help grow a business. FAAN was involved in the growth of Carnival Calabar because the airport was not getting business. FAAN wanted the airport to do business, so it supported tour operators and the Cross River State government to launch the carnival and it turned out to be the most successful event in Africa.

When the planes are empty, can the airlines call the tour operators and say, for example, “Saturdays and Sundays when we are flying at 50% we can offer 20 seats at a particular rate”. Every hotel in Abuja has what they call the weekend rate, which is 50 percent, but most airlines would say tour operators want to use them to make money, but what they don’t understand is is that they need the money to market the program because they are the ones who attract the customers. Most people who start airlines don’t know how airlines operate in other countries. The people who understand are Nigerians who worked with Virgin Nigeria, so they saw how an international airline works. The same thing happens to hotel sales managers; many of them have never worked in an international hotel, so they don’t know how things are done. Our biggest problem in Nigeria is the lack of exposure. There are well established charlatans in Nigeria who occupy positions of authority and power, but they really don’t know much. When you are already successful with ignorance, why do you want knowledge?

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