Tour operators, airlines count losses as Saudi bans Nigeria | Dailytrust

Tour operators, airlines count losses as Saudi bans Nigeria

As many people have already paid for hotel reservations and other things, Ibrahim said it would be difficult to ask hoteliers for a refund...

The suspension of flights from Nigeria by the Saudi Arabian authorities on Wednesday has thrown tour operators, airlines and other service providers into confusion, Daily Trust reports.

Some of the operators in Kano, Abuja and Lagos said they have started counting their losses because the abrupt ban came during the peak of the December and Umrah seasons.

They told Daily Trust on Wednesday that apart from booking flights and hotels for thousands of passengers travelling to Saudi Arabia, they also spent a lot of money in procuring visas and completing logistics.

Some prospective travellers also expressed shock over the development, saying the ban had disrupted their plans and budgets.

 The Saudi Arabian authorities had on Wednesday slammed a travel ban on Nigeria because of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19.

Saudi Arabia was the latest country to impose a travel ban on Nigeria after the United Kingdom and Canada earlier restricted Nigerian flights citing the rising cases of Omicron variant.

Nigeria recorded three more cases of Omicron on Tuesday, increasing the total number of infections to five since the outbreak.

The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) in Saudi Arabia confirmed the suspension of flights to Nigeria in a circular to all airlines operating in Saudi Arabia.

 In the circular titled, ‘Suspension of Flights coming from and to the Federal Republic of Nigeria’, the GACA said, “Suspending all incoming flights and suspending entry to the Kingdom for non-nationals coming directly or indirectly from the Federal Republic of Nigeria, except for those who have spent a period of no less than 14 days in another country from which they are allowed to come.

“Home quarantine will be applied for a period of five days to Saudi citizens coming from the mentioned country, provided PCR examination on the first day and the fifth day regardless of immunization status.

 “Failure to comply with circulars issued by GACA is an explicit violation of government’s orders. Legal procedures shall be initiated against violators who would be held responsible.”

 The federal government had rejected the travel ban, especially from the UK as discriminatory, even as the global aviation body, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) had similarly imposed the travel ban.


‘A huge setback’

Daily Trust reports that December is always a peak period for the performance of the lesser Hajj by the Muslims.

Reacting to the development, the Vice President (North) of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Abdulrazak Ibrahim, said members of the association have started counting their losses just months after they resumed from the earlier ban.

He said it was difficult to put a figure on the number of clients or amount of money that they will lose to this development, but the passengers were in their thousands.

“To be candid, I cannot specifically tell you the total number of Nigerians that cannot travel, but I can only tell you weekly how many flights travel from Kano, Lagos and out of Abuja. 

“In Kano, for instance, we have a flight, Badar Air, that picks about 250 passengers to Jeddah twice a week. 

“We have Saudi Air that flies Kano route almost twice in a week with a capacity of about 450.

“We also have the local indigenous flights like Azman Air that flies once a week with about 380 passengers. That is just for Kano. Some airlines like Egypt Air and Ethiopian Airline are still on suspension.

“From Abuja, we have Qatar Airline, we have Turkish Airline. We have other airlines that also take passengers to Saudi Arabia weekly. So this is going to be a very huge loss that we cannot quantify immediately.”

On whether clients have started requesting refunds, Ibrahim said, “That is what I cannot say immediately because it is not a complete ban; it is only that you cannot travel from Nigeria.

“But not everyone would want to travel to Niger and spend two weeks before he can go to Saudi Arabia.” 

As many people have already paid for hotel reservations and other things, Ibrahim said it would be difficult to ask hoteliers for a refund at this moment because the ban was not universal.

“Hoteliers will say why not go to another country and spend two weeks and then come to Saudi,” Ibrahim said.

The Vice-President, Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHUON), Lagos Zone, Alhaji Qasim Alabi, described the development as a huge setback for the travel industry.

 “This is another huge loss and setback in the travel industry. I am aware many operators have made payment commitments for tickets and hotels.”  

 However, other tour operators said the communication from Saudi Arabia was not clear as they continued to monitor development and seek further clarification today (Thursday).

An official of Azman Air said, “With the development, we can only fly to Saudi Arabia empty to bring back passengers.

“Already, many tour operators who have made booking with us are seeking a refund but we are trying to explain to them that the suspension is temporary.” 


Gov’t should intervene – Passengers

An intending Umrah pilgrim from Bauchi, Mohammed Danyaro, who spoke with our correspondent last night, said he was not happy.

“Our flight to Jeddah is supposed to be on December 15, but here we are. I paid for myself, my wife, my mum and my stepmother. 

“All of them were upbeat that they would be in Saudi Arabia in the coming days. We plan to go for our PCR on Friday but it appears everything has been shelved.

“Honestly, I am still trying to find out why the ban on Nigeria and a few other countries considering that we always respect all the protocols.

“You cannot travel if you are not vaccinated and you go through tests before and after your arrival. I want to advise that Nigeria should vigorously engage Saudi Arabia to have a second thought,” he said.

Another passenger, Ibrahim Adamu, said his plans had been disrupted.

“I plan to travel with my wife for the lesser Hajj and we have all taken our annual leave from our places of work. It is a sad development that we cannot travel anymore,” he said.  

A pilgrim from Lagos said but for some minor issues, he ought to have been in Saudi Arabia since last week.

“This is unexpected. The mistake I made was that I should have entered Saudi since last week. I will be trying other means. It is a big shortage for everybody,” he said. 

A staff with the Saudi Consulate in Kano, who chose not to be named because he was not instructed to talk to the media, said the decision was because of the Omicron variant recorded in Nigeria and to prevent its spread in the Kingdom.

When contacted, the Head of Public Affairs of the National Hajj Commission, Hajiya Fatima Sanda, said the commission has not been formally notified yet.

She added that since the commission only licences and supervises Hajj operations, those who made plans for the lesser Hajj paid their money to tour operators and could not say what would happen.


Rescind travel bans now, IATA tells gov’ts

 Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on governments to immediately rescind travel bans they have imposed in response to the Omicron variant of the COVID-19.

 It instead asked the various governments that have imposed travel restrictions to follow the World Health Organization (WHO)’s advice which stated that travel bans would not curb the spread of the Omicron variant.

WHO’s advice for international traffic in relation to the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant states that:

 “Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.

“In addition, they can adversely impact global health efforts during a pandemic by disincentivising countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data. 

 “All countries should ensure that the measures are regularly reviewed and updated when new evidence becomes available on the epidemiological and clinical characteristics of Omicron or any other variants of concern.”

From Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos), Clement A. Oloyede, Zahraddeen Yakubu (Kano) & Faruk U. Shuaibu (Abuja)

Photo credit: Bloomberg

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