Activities of unaccredited and fake travel agents in the country now account for the loss of travel fares and revenue in excess of 40 per cent of the total cash flow from passengers travelling international routes.
The loss, though borne by unsuspecting passengers, amounts to revenue deficit for accredited travel agents and agencies occupying the downstream sector of the air travel industry.
And except the regulatory authorities move to block loose ends currently explored by unregistered travel agents and their cohorts allegedly within foreign airlines local offices, stakeholders and the industry will continue to lose revenue amid customers’ low confidence in the system and bad image for the country.
The Guardian learnt that the growing trend of fraud in travel arrangements and ticket booking is fast-reaching its alarming proportion in Nigeria.
Though there is no official figure yet on the proportion, industry sources suggest that it is now as high as between one or two in every five ticket bookings made comprising about 40 per cent of the market share.
A travel agent based in Lagos, Adeola Ashiru, said the fraud was just one of many on daily basis, and there are a lot more than anyone can imagine.
Meanwhile, industry sources alleged that officials of some foreign airlines are accomplices in the fraudulent practices.
A chief executive officer of a frontline travel agency, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Guardian shortly after a closed-door meeting of airlines and travel agencies in Lagos at the weekend that it had been quite difficult to put an end to the illegality because “airline officials are beneficiaries of the fraud.”
He said: “These fraudsters are not ghosts; we know them. So, why are they not being tracked? Part of the problem is these foreign airlines. Their members of staff or local representatives are making livelihood from these fraudulent acts.”
Also, President of National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bernard Bankole, said that while the agencies are “bleeding and dying silently” due to fraudulent practice, much more at stake is the image of Nigeria that is being bastardised.
Bankole said the association had been unrelenting in restoring sanity in the system and it had begun to put the right regulatory framework in place to prevent non-International Air Transport Association (IATA) members from accessing the Global Distribution System (GDS).
He stated that the GDS platform, a network that enables automated transactions between travel service providers (mainly airlines, hotels and car rental companies) and travel agencies, must also have a buy-in to effectively tackle fraud in the air travel business.
Bankole said: “We are going to the NCAA so that they can stop the open access of GDS to non-IATA agents. That way, we will reduce the fraud by 40 per cent.
“Because the GDS are making money, they give access to everyone for it to be abused and it is killing all of us.”
It is like a foreigner coming into your country to steal and go away. You cannot hold them because there is no record of them.
“They damage our own name and tarnish the image of the industry. That is why we are insisting that passengers must patronise NANTA-recognised agencies. On our part, we are partnering on a NANTA uniform identification platform for all travel agencies and agents in this country to be registered. It is to give us a database of who and who is trading.
“If you are NANTA member and IATA recognised, you will have access to the GDS. If you now want to use the GDS but not IATA member, agents can partner IATA-accredited members to access the GDS without paying a dime. This is to help sanitise the system and create a win-win for the right people.”