Most international travel from Nigeria since the resumption of international flights in September, after the nation’s airspace closed in March as part of measures to control the spread of the new coronavirus, has been for leisure to holiday destinations, most notably Dubai and Maldives, according to findings by Arbiterz.
The Nigerian travel industry, after taking a huge hit from the shutdown of international travel between April and September, is now gradually getting back on its feet.
While one would think Nigerians would be wary of flying in order to limit the possibility of becoming infected with the new coronavirus, a surprising number of people are deciding to go on holiday albeit choosing destinations with low rates of coronavirus infections. Others are traveling abroad to continue their education or return to their families.
“The majority of the travelers are going to Dubai and Maldives for the holidays. And then the rest of the travelers are going back to the United States and Canada, either back to school, work, or to meet their families,” a travel agent said on our visit to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport.
The visit follows our initial one on September 5 to witness the first day of the resumption of international flights in Nigeria. It turns out that many people are now traveling out of the country compared to the last time we visited. The numbers are higher.
The concentration of international travel to a few destinations is in part due to fears over the virus, which is still spreading fast in several parts of the world, another agent noted. “Most people are still scared to travel just anywhere for now pending the time the coronavirus disease is down. The only places they are still traveling to are top destinations such as the USA, Canada, Dubai, and Maldives,” he said.
It is not surprising that Nigeria’s usual travel destination, the United Kingdom, is not attracting many people given the very high rate of coronavirus infections. As of Saturday, November 28, positive Covid-19 cases in Britain stood at 1.59 million with well over 57,000 deaths, according to data from John Hopkins University.
Around 130,000 Nigerians are estimated to visit Britain from Nigeria for both business and leisure every year and between 2014 and 2015, global demand for UK visas from Nigerian nationals was 168,000. But a new surge in Covid-19 cases has sent the European country back into a lockdown with new restrictions imposed, which will most likely make spending the holidays in the UK unappealing to many.
Meanwhile, business travel has particularly suffered amid the pandemic as most people now work from home and don’t see the need to travel abroad because of the pandemic.
“I know of a businessman that goes to London and Germany frequently, ever since the pandemic hit, he has only traveled like once or twice and this is because he does everything through Skype with his team over there,” one agent said.
An average of 100 people book tickets for leisure travel daily, both online and physically, according to estimates by the agents, and nothing less than 1,000 people travel out of Lagos to holiday destinations every day. According to one of them, Emirates, the premier UAE carrier, takes about 350 passengers to Dubai daily.
The figures pale in comparison to numbers recorded before the pandemic gained a foothold in Nigeria around March. The airport has been busy but the industry is still seeing poor patronage and low turnout of passengers compared to pre-pandemic levels, despite the easing of movement restrictions and bonus offerings from several airlines, they said.
As it stands, airlines have been decimated by the impact of the coronavirus on the travel industry, and continue to lose billions of dollars in revenue. Passenger air travel fell 70% in August compared to the same period last year, according to recent federal data.
Industry lobby the International Air Transport Association (IATA) this week said it expects the global aviation industry to lose up to $157 billion this year and the next due to the pandemic, reflecting heavier losses than the previous forecast in June.
“It (the Covid-19 pandemic) has really affected things a lot, the numbers are not what it used to be like despite the fact that a lot of people are travelling. The airport is not as busy as it used to,” one of the agents said. The other added that they often have to “put a call through to potential clients just to let them know we care about them and tell them about discounts that are currently going on.”
After months of turbulence brought on by the pandemic, industry players are ramping up incentives to travelers, with major airlines including Emirates, British, and Qatar Airways attempting to coax Covid-wary passengers into returning to the skies by offering deals and other creative promotions of up to 15% discount.
There are a series of sales promo going on. Emirates for instance has a discount of up to 10% on ticket fares for students, whether travelling for school or headed for a getaway at any of their over 80 destinations. Travellers also get one free date change within 7 days of departure date and 10kg more or 1 extra piece on top of their generous baggage allowances.
Mary, a travel agent who works with Travelstart said: “There has been a massive turnout of passengers booking tickets with us and there are also various international flight deals going on right now on our website to top travel destinations like London, The Maldives, Dubai and the like.”
“There is a fear of flying right now unless there’s an urgency. So airlines are hoping they can break the fear by offering good incentives and lowering the ticket prices,” one of the agents said.
Such incentives bring in a small amount of revenue, but the true goal behind the deals is to get people talking about flying again. Airlines are hoping that recent passengers will tell friends and family how clean and safe their trips were and slowly eat away the fear of flying that has taken over as a result of the pandemic.