Mr. Bankole Bernard, is the Managing Director of Finchglow Travels and immediate past President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA). In this interview, he spoke about the effects of COVID-19 pandemic in the aviation sector and his company’s journey so far.
How will you describe the 15 years of Finchglow Travels?
It has had its ups and downs in terms of changes in the industry and changes in the mode of doing the business. And at every point in time, we subject ourselves to change because we believe it is only change that can bring about business growth and change will make you become dynamic in your approach to business and that is what we have done in the last 15 years.
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After leaving the bank to pursue my passion in travel, I realized that it would be very necessary for me to understand what travel is all about. So I got myself extremely involved in it and I attended a lot of travel.
We started off with five staff members and we realized that we needed to increase the number in order to grow the business. From five staff from one office, we changed to two offices, then moved to the third, the fourth. Today, we have eight offices and we have a staff strength of over 100.
What is your overview about downstream regulation in the aviation sector?
The regulatory agency didn’t see us as a sector that requires that much supervision as it were. For me I realized that the level of awareness of the travel trade was equally very low. So we had to make ourselves known through the association. We are important in the value chain and we add a lot of values to the GDP of the country. When we started creating that awareness, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had to ensure that we are regulated to an extent and now the NCAA has made it mandatory that all International Air Transport Association (IATA) accredited agencies must register with them.
But it would have been a good idea to have everyone trading within the industry, operating within the country to register. In that way, we will know who is who and we don’t have charlatans doing business as it were.
What is the GDP contribution of the Nigerian aviation industry?
The data is available with IATA to even capture what we do with the international airlines. As at the last count, we are doing close to $1 billion which is about N400bn-plus business. For a sector that can turn over N400bn per annum, I don’t think you would say that sector is not adding to the GDP. Likewise the sector employs over 30,000 workforce which is quite commendable. And the sector pays taxes to the government. So when you look at all these and the volume of tickets we sell, you will know that the sector contributes to the GDP.
Are you not worried that a huge chunk of this money is for the international airlines?
This is part of the knowledge and information that the Minister heard that made him propose a national carrier to stop this capital but other stakeholders are not seeing it from that perspective. They felt having a national carrier would be a waste of money or a white elephant project. But to us, it is not a white elephant project. It would help in different ways and different manners, for instance in regulating the air fares, in providing employment opportunities and finally in ensuring that we retain most of the money that we lose through capital flight.
What do you think is responsible for the fragile local airline business?
You see, airline business is capital intensive. When you look at the cost of financing an airline, such money is found locally when everything that has to do with the airline is dollarized. I will always compare the aviation industry with the oil and gas industry, a lot of support is coming from the government to enhance indigenous traders in the oil sector. If we position aviation the way we have positioned oil, trust me it would be a different ballgame. All we need to do is to formulate policies that support indigenous carriers in a way that they are able to thrive within the marketplace.
Do you see a recovery path sooner from COVID-19?
We are growing. We are not going to be talking about the pre-COVID era. We are going to be talking about the new normal that we have found ourselves in.
And I don’t focus on the losses because how do you explain that post-COVID, we have had more airlines spring up? Are you not going to conveniently say to yourself that I think this COVID was really necessary to make things get better because I have seen more domestic carriers now?
In business, the only reason why we have a profit and loss account is because there are instances where you make profit and there are instances where you make a loss. So if we made a loss in a particular year, it is not sufficient for us to kill ourselves as long as the business remains a growing concern.