Dollar scarcity: Nigerian travelers buy tickets from abroad – Punch

Muhammed International Airport in Lagos. AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)

By Olawunmi Ojo

As the scarcity of dollars continues to affect operations in the Nigerian aviation industry, travel agencies are devising creative ways of remaining in business.

Specifically, Nigerian travel agencies are now collaborating with their counterparts in China, United States of America and Europe to buy flight tickets for intending international travelers from the country, investigation by our correspondent has revealed.

The development follows the acute scarcity of dollars, which has forced foreign airlines to raise airfares by over 200 per cent, with some now accepting only dollars as the means of payment for flight tickets.

In the last one year, over 25 foreign airlines flying into Nigeria have been unable to repatriate over N300bn ticket sales proceeds to their home countries, as the Central Bank of Nigeria continues to ration foreign exchange to commercial banks for sale to users.

In order to mitigate the forex risks, the foreign carriers have raised their airfares sharply, with an average return ticket to Europe now going for between N600,000 and N800,000 instead of the previous N180,000 to N250,000 depending on the season.

An average return flight to North America now costs over N1m, from between N300,000 and N400,000, while the Middle East carriers are still relatively cheap.

An official of one of the travel agencies, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, said, “Most travel agencies now partner other agencies in North America, China and Europe to issue tickets to our customers here in Nigeria.

“In other words, most of the tickets Nigerians traveling overseas are carrying were issued in America, China or Europe by travel agencies in those countries. All we do is to give the travel agencies abroad the names of our customers, and they write the tickets and send them to us. We will then print and give to our customers.”

Elderson Osakwe, who works with a Lagos-based travel agency, told our correspondent that the agencies resorted to this new method of partnership with overseas-based travel firms in order to overcome the difficulties of obtaining tickets for their customers locally.

Findings revealed that buying the tickets from partner travel agencies overseas made them a little bit cheaper than those issued in Nigeria.

However, the development is coming few weeks after Delta Airlines and United Airlines, the two American carriers flying into Nigeria, stopped ticket sales in the country.

The US airlines said their tickets would be sold in Nigeria only by travel agencies that could sell them in dollars.

The Head of Press, Europe, Middle East, Africa and India, United Airlines, Kevin Johnston, said in a statement confirming the development to our correspondent, “United Airlines is temporarily suspending point-of-sale ticketing in Nigeria. United will continue to operate flights between Lagos and Houston, and will allow tickets to be purchased outside of the country.

“This action applies only to tickets issued by United. We have reluctantly taken this step because of difficulties in repatriating proceeds from ticket sales in Nigeria.”

Similarly, a spokesperson for Delta Airlines in Africa, Europe and Middle East, Olivia Cullis, said in a statement, “Delta continues to work with the travel agency community in Nigeria to find travel solutions for our mutual clients. Delta customers can purchase tickets using US dollars either directly from Delta’s reservations or from travel agents selling in USD.

“Delta has served the Nigeria market since 2007 and is committed to operating non-stop between Nigeria and the United States. Delta does take steps to remain competitive in the market and maintain the viability of its operations.”