Nigerians are well-travelled people. Long before the recent japa trend, many Nigerians have been living and working in Europe and the Americas. And this has created a large diaspora population who usually seize the opportunity presented by the Yuletide season to visit home.
Nigerians’ love for traveling has also inevitably made the country a top aviation market, even as airlines (both local and foreign) positioned themselves to take advantage.
Direct flights to Nigeria: Until recently, some Nigerian airlines were operating direct flights from either Lagos or Abuja airports to many foreign destinations.
For instance, Med-View Airline was flying directly from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos to the UK, Dubai and Saudi Arabia, operating three frequencies to each of these routes per week. In the same vein, Air Peace flew to Dubai, South Africa and some regional routes in West Africa from its base in Lagos.
Apart from these Nigerian airlines, some foreign airlines like United Airlines, Emirates, South African Airways and Etihad also operated direct flights to the country. This gave Nigerian travellers choices of routes, cities and airlines to fly with.
Available statistics from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) show that arrivals into Nigeria usually peak in December, especially for passengers coming from the UK and US. For instance, the 2021 statistics from FAAN revealed that about a million travellers arrived at the international airports in Lagos and Abuja in December last year.
Fewer tarvels this Yuletide: However, the 2022 experience may change slightly for Nigerian travellers due to many reasons. First of all, most of the aforementioned airlines like Med-View, Air Peace, Etihad and Emirates no longer operate direct flights into Nigeria and vice-versa for many reasons. Also, most of the airlines that currently fly to the country do so through connecting flights.
Impact of visa bans: Visa bans on Nigerians by some top tourism destinations like the UAE will also impact travel for Nigerians hoping to spend Christmas abroad.
Just this past October, the UAE imposed a visa ban on Nigerians for the umpteenth time in the last year. Many applications from Nigerians hoping to visit the country were also rejected.
The ban, which was conveyed in a notice issued to the country’s trade partners in Nigeria, said persons under the age of 40 would no longer be issued tourism visas. Many Nigerian travellers to the UAE are less than 40 years.
To worsen the situation for travellers, Emirates announced in November that it has suspended flights for Nigerian travellers due to the challenges it has been having repatriating its trapped funds from the country. The airline vowed not to return to Nigeria until at least 80% of its trapped fund are released.
Meanwhile, Air Peace had also suspended flight services to Dubai, citing the decision of the UAE Government not to issue Nigerians entry visas to its country.
Travellers react to challenges: Mrs Shade Akinyemi, a frequent traveller to Dubai, said the suspension of visas by the UAE Government would affect the throng of travellers to the UAE during this festive season. She however told Nairametrics that many Nigerian travellers may have to find alternatives to Dubai. She said:
“The suspension of UAE visas to Nigerian travellers has opened new vistas to Nigerians who are bent on travelling for tourism and leisure. For instance, Rwanda unlike most African or European countries does not require entry visas. The country is open for anyone to spend his or her money.
“That alone has diverted a lot of travellers from Dubai to that part of the continent. And available statistics show that tourism is booming in Rwanda and Ethiopia at the moment despite the mini civil war in that country.”
Travel agents affected: The President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agency (NANTA), Mrs Susan Akporiaye, said the suspension of visas for Nigerians by UAE has affected their performance.
Akporiaye in a recent interview with journalists in Lagos confirmed that some of the travellers are seeking alternatives to Dubai, but said the traffic had reduced in recent weeks unlike in the past.
She appealed to the governments of the two countries to resolve the diplomatic row between them for easy tourism, leisure and business travel.
Besides, she urged the Nigerian Government to ensure the quick release of trapped funds, which as of November 30, 2022, had increased to $550 million. She said:
“However, Emirates has yet to receive an allocation of our blocked funds to be repatriated. Without the timely repatriation of the funds and a mechanism in place to ensure that future repatriation of Emirates’ funds does not accumulate in any way, the backlog will continue to grow. And we simply cannot meet our operational costs nor maintain the commercial viability of our operations in Nigeria.
“We have officially communicated our position and attended multiple hearings with the Nigerian government, and we have made our proposed approach clear to alleviate this untenable situation, including a plan for the progressive release of our funds.
“This included the repatriation and receipt of at least 80 per cent of our remaining blocked funds by the end of October 2022, in addition to providing a guaranteed mechanism to avoid future repatriation accumulation challenges and delays.”