House of Representatives’ appeal to foreign airlines to reopen cheaper layers of fares for the Nigerian market, while trapped funds are being resolved, has gone unheeded – and much to the pains of international travelers this festive season.
Indeed, more airlines are offering only premium fares to intending travellers buying in the country. Comparatively, the premiums cost about 200 per cent higher than average fares, whether on Economy or Business Class cabins.
The implication is that a six-hour Economy Class ticket that erstwhile sold for an average of N600,000 now sells at between N2 million and N3 million. The Business Class variants sell for between N3.5 million and N5 million, depending on destination and airline of choice.
The reign of higher inventories, which is peculiar to the country, has forced some Nigerians to ditch travelling this season or opting to buy tickets from overseas (in foreign currency) and at cheaper rates.
International Air Transport Association (IATA), the clearinghouse for over 290 global airlines, this week, listed Nigeria in the top five markets with foreign airlines’ blocked funds (excluding Venezuela). Nigeria is estimated to hold the lion share of $551 million; Pakistan, $225 million; Bangladesh, $208 million; Lebanon, $144 million and Algeria, $140 million.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, had, in October, mediated in the stuck fund crisis involving the airlines, Ministry of Aviation and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Gbajabiamila acknowledged that inability to repatriate funds led to harsh consequences for both Nigerian customers and their travel agencies.
Going forward, the Speaker said: “We need a two-way solution. On our part, we will find a way, by intervention or others, to have the funds released. While we are looking for that solution, I will also request the foreign airlines to exercise good faith by returning to the status quo (of affordable airfares) for the sake of your customers.”
A top official of one of the airlines, yesterday, however, told The Guardian nothing has changed. He said: “The Speaker only gave a word of assurance that is yet to yield any result. More so, the CBN Governor has been speaking to the contrary, saying foreign airlines are not his priority. Sirika has also said foreign airlines can quit just like Emirates did. I think those are unfortunate comments to throw in the faces of your business partners. So, it will be difficult, if not impossible for any country manager to present mere words of assurance to the home country and expect positive feedback. Technically, we are still where we are, and that explains why we cannot open promotional inventories in Nigeria. It is a standard commercial practice; if your environment does not favour my investment, then I should keep my operation at the premium, to manage potential loss.”
Travel expert, Sunday Olumegbon, said the “high fare pandemic” has refused to go away and has left many traditional holidaymakers and travel agencies in difficulties.