Mr. Bernard Bankole, National President, National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) spoke with journalists in Lagos recently on the efforts of the association to rid Nigeria’s travel industry of fraudsters and touts who dupe unsuspecting members of the public, giving the association a bad name. Bankole also sheds more light on the Nigerian Travel Practitioners Identification Card (NTPIC) which NANTA is introducing. POSTERITY MEDIA was there.
Q: What really is the Nigerian Travel Practitioners Identification Card(NTPIC) which NANTA is introducing all about?
A: We are so grateful for the support we keep getting from you gentlemen of the press. We decided to embark on the Nigerian Travel Practitioners Identification Card(NTPIC) project because we found out that one, we are in the downstream sector of the aviation industry and the government does not really understand our worth or know the total number of travel agencies within the country. Two, because it is so porous and there is no entry or exit barrier. It has become an all-comers business even for fraudsters. Three, we realized that some are now using travel agencies as a means of human trafficking, as a means of defrauding intending passengers, and as a means of bastardizing our names with the embassies because there is no record. And we are saying to ourselves, we will not allow these anomalies to continue. Rather, we are going to show to the rest of the country and the world that a private sector can get itself well-organised and other sectors can learn from it.
This particular product which we intend to launch is coming up on the 26th of June at Landmark, Lekki. But before the launch, we are embarking on an awareness programme. Today, on the social media, we’ve had over 33, 000 viewers which have looked at the banner we posted and we are not working in isolation on this. We are working with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. This particular product is not a NANTA card so that people will not get it confused. It is an industry card to keep proper data which the government will eventually rely upon as well as international bodies on the total number of travel agencies we have in Nigeria.
I was in South Africa two weeks ago and I mentioned it to our counterparts in Kenya. As it is, NANTA works in collaboration with other travel agencies around Africa. We work with the Kenyan Association of Travel Agents to cover East Africa. We work with ASATA, Association of South African Travel Agencies. We are in the West and we have Morocco Travel Agency in the North. Basically, what we are trying to do is to create a strong force for travel agencies in Africa, that we are not just relegated or not reckoned with at any point in time. When this was mentioned to KATA, they said it’s a laudable idea. We are going ahead to implement it.
Can you imagine if we are able to track the total number of travel agencies in Nigeria? That means empirical data can be gotten from it. Government can say you know what; this is what we want to do for this sector. And the good thing is that the government of the day is showing a lot of interest in the SMEs. How can they plan for the SMEs of this sector? We are doing all these, not because we just want to issue an ID card but because we are concerned about bringing sanity to the industry in which we have found ourselves.
Sometimes in the past, we called for a press briefing and announced that in 2017, all the travel agencies in Nigeria sold tickets worth N503 billion. That contributes to Nigeria’s GDP but the government is not even aware. The government is not moved because there is no data for them to run with. And the figure we have is so reliable because we control our market and there are facts to back it up.
I think that the type of project we want to do is one that should get the support of everybody. More than ever, we need your support on the project. We are going to ensure that the project is well-publicised in all the six-geopolitical zones of Nigeria. The good part of it is that NANTA has presence in 5 zones. We are in Abuja to cover the North Central zone, we are present in Kano for the Northern zone, we are present in Port Harcourt for the Eastern zone, we are present in Ibadan for the Western zone and we are in Lagos.
So, we are well covered and we believe with the support of the media, we will be able to push this to everybody. The truth is that after we’ve launched this ID card, no intending passenger should buy ticket without demanding to see the ID card. Seeing the ID card means that such person is an authentic travel agent. After we are done with the launch, we are going to proceed on training of our members. That is critical. When we train more members, they bring professionalism on board and we work just the way other travel agencies around the world are working. The movement that NANTA has brought onboard has made a strong body like IATA to work closely with us in all ramifications. They work with us closely now because they see the vision of the leadership of NANTA and they are willing to go all the way with NANTA as it is now.
In the past and even now, we’ve had incidences of fraudsters duping intending travelers to the tune of millions of Naira. When we went to the Presidency to solicit for support for this ID card, we were made to understand that even the office of the Presidency was defrauded by a travel agency. And they caught the travel agent in Benin. When we visited the Emir of Kano, we found out that one of his aides was also defrauded. And the question is that these fraudsters are everywhere because nobody has been able to pin them down and that’s because they’ve seen the vacuum. And that vacuum is what we are out to close.
In launching this ID card, we intend inviting the second citizen, Professor Yemi Osinbajo to be the Chief Launcher of the product. He is going to be with us by the Grace of God. We are in full support of the anti-corruption crusade that the President Muhammadu Buhari government has embarked upon because it would cleanse our industry of all forms of fraudulent malpractices. Even if the ministry of aviation decides today that they want to set up a National Carrier and they want to know the distribution channel in terms of travel agencies that will help sell the tickets, they will have credible record they can rely on that is truly authentic. There is nothing like somebody collected ticket and absconded because they have the details. And the good thing about the ID card is that the BVN of everybody that has it is tied to it. The record is clean. You cannot forge it. We know that some elements may still try to tamper with it but we intend to continue improving on its security features.
Q: You explained that the card is an industry card and not a NANTA card, could you please clarify that statement?
A: When I said it is an industry card and not NANTA card, it is a known fact that travel agencies are established under the NCAA Act. When you check the NCAA Act, there is a regulation that covers NANTA. That makes NANTA the umbrella body for all travel agencies in Nigeria. So, anybody that is into domestic tours does not really need to take the card because you are into tours, not travels. But as long as you are into travel and tours, then, you need to have this ID card.
And somebody that is into tours can decide and say I want to register with NANTA and get the ID card. Such a person is free. So, I was laying emphasis on industry. When you do travel and tours, the travel aspect is covered by the NCAA while the tour aspect is covered by the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC). NTDC is a government agency under the tourism ministry. That explains why we are not laying much emphasis on tour operators.
Tour operators that are outbound-focused must have this. But if they are inbound-focused, they might probably not need it. All they will be doing is road transportation, water ways transportation and all these are within Nigeria. So, for those focusing on domestic tourism, they might not need to have it but those selling tickets for people travelling out of the country will surely need to have it.
Before, anybody can just say I’m a travel agent with nothing to stop such a fellow. With this, you must have the card. It’s like somebody saying ‘I’m a citizen of Nigeria’. Prove it. How can you identify yourself as a Nigerian? Do you have your international passport or your national ID card with you? That’s what we are doing. This is just the beginning. It is open to expansion. It is open to more people. If you notice the fraud level and the amount involved, it is usually those who are travelling outside the country. We want to start sanitizing from inside our little room and take it out as time goes on.
If you are going to buy your ticket online, it means you are going to buy from an IATA accredited travel agent. But you must be sure that such agency has the NANTA logo as well as the IATA logo. And just as the way we shop online, once you do your due diligence, I don’t think you will fall prey. Check all the securities to ensure it is safe. You are not buying the ticket from an individual but from an organization. And if you are not clear about the travel agency, you can always put a call across to NANTA whether it is a duly registered NANTA travel agency or not. And when you pay, your ticket will be automatically sent to you online and you can check.
Q: How many people have so far registered for the card?
A: Of all our members, we have over 1,000 members that have already registered to get the ID card. However, we don’t want to give it out until it is launched on June 26, 2018. The only reason why I’m able to display it is because I am the NANTA President and I have been going out campaigning over it. Even our BOT chairman doesn’t yet have it. We don’t want our members to feel we are partial, that some have it and others do not.
We are going to ensure that the Nigeria Police, the EFCC, are carried along including the Immigration Service and FAAN because we have a lot of touts at airports around Nigeria. Many of them lie that they are travel agents but they are not. They are not our members neither are they travel agents. NANTA is the only body as far as this country is concerned that is responsible for all travelling agencies in Nigeria. If you are going to be a travel agency in Nigeria, you must be a member of NANTA. If you are not a member of NANTA, then, you’re not allowed to be a travel agent. All our members are aware of this and everybody is waiting for the launch.
The card is N3, 500. But if you want it to be delivered to your office, that costs an additional N1,000. So, the total is N4,500. In Nigeria, it’s a matter of seeing is believing. I believe more people will rush to pay to have theirs when it is launched. There is deadline that has been set when everyone in the industry is expected to have the ID card and that is October 1st.
Q: How does NANTA intend protecting the security of the card so that it is not compromised or faked?
A: If you look at the card very well, there is a bar code on it that can be scanned. Someone can take the picture of the bar code and send to you and every information you need on it can be made available to you in seconds. We are aware that people may want to break the security barriers we have put in place but that is going to be prevented.
One of the first things we did to prevent such occurrence was to redesign our website and also make it security tight because if they see that they can’t break in from the front end, they might want to break in through the back end but the backend is now stronger than ever before. The bottomline and summary is that we are making it difficult for fraudsters to operate in this industry. We want to ensure that it is no longer a free-for-all.
Q: What is the procedure for those who operate in the industry currently but now want to become registered members of NANTA?
A: In our campaigns, we have been telling those that are not NANTA members that this gives them the opportunity to register with us. They can visit our website, nanta.org.ng, which is user-friendly and the registration can be done online. Once the registration is completed, we have our back office that will check all the information they’ve supplied. And there are some documents which we will ask from them. Once that is done, you’re not far from us for us to do physical visits to your office. Whichever zone you find yourself, someone will visit your office. Every information you need is there. Also, on the security behind the card, one of the things you need to provide is your BVN. Because before we got the approval for the card, we had an industry stakeholders’ meeting where people involved in the industry met with the NCAA director and decided on how to further improve security on the card. One of the things they came up with was that each member had to provide the BVN. And for you to be a NANTA member, background checks would already have been done. You will provide your CAC documentation; your directors’ details and all of these things are checked before you can become a NANTA member.
Q: Does NANTA have any partnership with the National Bureau of Statistics in providing reliable figure and statistics for Nigeria’s tourism industry?
A: No, we don’t. But if the NBS is interested in working closely with us, there is useful information we have that we can be able to offer them.
Q: People buy tickets from touts at airports. What is NANTA doing, working with FAAN, to address this?
A: Publicity, which we are doing now, is part of our efforts to curb that. We plan to have radio jingles in all the zones of the country. We will be visiting media houses to collaborate with them and have barter arrangements. Online, digital awareness is also being done. Nigerians get complacent until someone is defrauded and they learn. We don’t want that to continue to happen. We are in collaboration with NCAA. NCAA is in charge of flight safety and security at the airport. FAAN is to ensure that the personnel using the airport are the right people that have been allowed to use it. We are also going to be working closely with FAAN because they need to understand what the ID card is all about in the first place for them to now say ‘these are the measures that we are going to put in place’. We further plan to have a workshop with stakeholders before the launch of this card. It is going to be about enlightening them. Even after the launch, the campaign has to continue. We have over 200 million people in Nigeria. Who has been able to give us an exact figure? And it’s not like that everywhere in the world. Let us start at least from the private sector, that we will be able to say to you that we are sure of the total number of members. When we say that the total number of travel agents in Nigeria, is, for instance, 1 million, we don’t just want to say 1million but give it to the last number and that is what we want to achieve. We will be updating it on a regular basis so that when somebody joins the industry, the number increases and when somebody leaves, the number decreases.
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