Mr. Segun Adewale, Managing Director, Aeroland Travels in this interview with Travel Mate said the advent of the internet coupled with the altruistic manner in which the superhighway is used by some foreign carriers could scuttle local travel agencies and put them out of business – a scenario he warned poses grave danger to jobs. Excerpts:
Q: What informed the establishment of Aeroland Travels and the choice of travel brokerage?
A: I started Aeroland Travels in 1997 upon graduation from the University of Ibadan, Oyo State and the Lagos State University where I did my Masters Degree in Public Administration. The idea came streaming when I couldn’t get a job three years after graduation. I then decided to go into entrepreneurship. However, I’d always loved the aviation sector, which immediately informed the choice of business travel. At that point, I went to do a certificate course in Travel Management which lasted one month. Before I started Aeroland, I worked briefly with a couple of travel agencies but did not derive satisfaction because of the way these agencies are managed. I then made up my mind to go it alone. How do I name the company again became an issue. But before long, I settled for Aeroland among many other options.
Q: What are your viewpoints about the Nigerian travel market?
A: The travel market in Nigeria is shrinking as against the global market that is waxing and growing bigger. This largely because of the advent of the internet which is not regulated and as such, we are losing more market to the internet which of course is also relieving us of our jobs. What this thus implies is that the agencies have to compete with the internet. In most cases, the Airlines quote lesser fare on the internet than the travel agents could offer. For instance, an Airline could offer travel agents Lagos – London at N150, 000 and quote lesser fare on the internet thereby driving more traffic to the internet and undercutting travel agents. If the use of the internet by Airlines to sell air ticket isn’t regulated, more and more people would continually lose their jobs. And if traffic is consistently driven to the uncoordinated internet, travel agents would be forced to cut jobs. Mind you, this issue has been raised times without number and nothing has been done to assuage the pains left for British Airways that offered agents same price published on the internet. Nevertheless, Emirates and Ethiopian Airways are our chief undoing. They still undercut us thus remaining our biggest problem in the industry.
Q: What impact does the recent influx of foreign carriers into the country have on the local travel trade?
A: It is a welcome development. It makes room for flexibility and choice. It also encourages the demand and drive down price unlike in the past when the market was controlled by three or so airlines. So, the influx of more airlines would prompt competition, which to a large extent brings down price and creates more jobs and enhances the GDP.
Q: And what can be done to enhance travel trade and possibly grow the Nigerian market into an appreciable hub?
A: The onus still rests on the government to regulate the use of internet. Yes, internet is good and fantastic but it still needs to be regulated for coordination. You can’t give the travel agent X amount say N10 and turn out to also sell the same product at N8 to the public through the internet. By so doing, the travel industry will be losing money – a condition that may stifle jobs’ creation. But if the internet is regulated such that if you are buying through the internet you are made to pay tax of N2 thus grossing N10, then a healthy competition is created. We wouldn’t want the airlines to undercut the travel agents by transmitting our interest to the public through the internet.
Q: Does this explain why most travel agencies now include tour packages in their business?
A: Yes. That is the direction of air travel now. We have to do tour because ticket can be gotten easily on the internet for the airlines but with travel, we can make additional money on ticketing, travel, tour and hotels thus augment our loss to ticketing that is already ceded to the public through the internet. Interestingly, the initiative is paying off. Right now, we are packaging tours to the Holy City; Jerusalem and this is where we hope our emphasis would be in future.
Q: Have you been able to resolve your differences with the banks who also act as agent to some of the airlines?
A: That has been our contention. We say for you to sell ticket you should be licensed by IATA (International Air Travel Association) but the banks are not licensed and they still sell tickets.
Q: You seem to be comfortable with the foreign carriers as against the local ones?
A: Oh yes! The local carriers don’t go to where customers mostly travel. How many local airlines travel to the UK, USA and the likes for instance? So, we do 99% of foreign and perhaps one percent of local.
Q: How many branches have Aeroland Travels as yet?
A: We are growing. At the moment, we have 13 branches one in Accra, Ghana, two in Ikeja, ASPANDA branch – along Lagos–Badagry Expressway, Alaba, Ikorodu, Ibadan, Kano, Port-Harcourt, Aba, Asaba and Benue branches.
Q: Looking back these years and the accompanying awards, how do you feel?
A: I give God the glory. I started this business without a kobo and couldn’t get one naira from anyone. It was like passing through the Biblical eye of a needle to pay N24, 000 to Corporate Affairs Commission for the registration of Aeroland which I invariably paid in three instalments.
Q: What does the future portend for the travel industry in Nigeria?
A: The future is bright but we need government legislation to regulate the industry for efficiency. Due to unregulated use of internet, the business of travel is affected thus causing the market to shrink unlike in recent past when the bulk of the business is from travel agencies to the airlines. The internet in this business is the channel of distribution of products and services offered by the airlines. So, when the support is tilted towards a particular direction or channel, the other suffers and that is what the travel trade is experiencing right now, which explains why many of us are going into the tour business to assuage the importune loss.
Q: And what are the prospects for incomers?
A: There is hope for the young ones coming into the business. However, emphasises should be on travel management and business travel. Here you do not compete with the internet, you only supply tickets to the corporate account and you get paid for what you supply either per month or quarterly. That is the trend.