Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Nigeria lacks consistent, coordinated tourism marketing – Ngozi Ngoka


Ngozi Ngoka, the CEO, Zigona Travel is passionate about the travel trade business . As the Publicity Secretary of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), she believes that the internet can’t take the place of a travel agent.
In this interview, she talks about the travel trade business in this country and other issues relating to tourism. Here is an excerpt by JIMOH BABATUNDE

On the challenges of marketing Nigeria as a leisure destination
Before you can market a product, the product first of all, needs to be properly packaged and branded. We need to develop a strong, recognized and consistent brand and image for Nigeria before we can promote it as a Tourist Destination.
The Nigerian .Brand should be based on our values and build upon what makes us different or our unique selling point. Another challenge we face is that we do not currently have a coordinated and consistent approach to positioning and promoting Nigeria as a destination.
Although we have quite a few tourism initiatives in Nigeria, some of which have evolved without any planning, we need to be aware that effective destination management relies on an iterative and continual planning process that integrates tourism into our country's social, economic and environmental aspirations. Policies need to be put in place to harness all the Tourism initiatives
We currently have, our hotels are not properly rated and strict standards are not enforced. Our airports and transportation systems need to also be standardized. Strategic planning for tourism must be developed and should align and integrate with national and state policy and plans. When all these measures are adequately addressed, we can then talk about marketing.
On in-bound travel into Nigeria
Nigerian inbound tourism is mostly skewed towards business travelers. Lately, however, the Abuja and Calabar carnivals are beginning to attract visitors from outside the country. But these are just a little fraction of our Tourism potential as a country. We need to look at other areas such as Religious and Cultural institutions and see how we can secure and improve on their locations in order to attract more tourists.
On Nigeria participation at travel fairs
I think that Nigeria should suspend further participation in any Tourism expo outside our shores until we have improved upon what we have to showcase to the outside world. We need to channel our resources towards creating and sustaining our own brand before we showcase it to the outside world.
Home grown trade shows like Akwaaba Travel Market, which is held yearly in Nigeria should' also be encouraged so that they are able to bring Tourism buyers into the country.
On what the country needs to develop the tourism industry
We need to develop on our existing Tourism Policy at the national and state levels in order to provide a framework for tourism development and management in Nigeria. In doing this, we should identify the different tourism stakeholders and understand the linkages between decision making and government institutions and the tourism plans at the national, state and local government levels.
We also have to consider other relevant plans such as economic development, infrastructure, environment, sport, culture and of course, transport, tourism involves a complex interaction between all these sectors
Furthermore, strong public /private sector partnerships are essential to providing the tourism industry with the opportunity to influence and inform tourism policy and planning and also provide the certainty needed to encourage investment in the sector.
I am pretty confident however, that the current leadership at the Ministry of culture and Tourism are on top of all these as we are already seeing some changes.
On the relevancies of travel agents in age of ICT
There are several good reasons why you should use a travel agent but the bottom line is that travel agents know much more than you can possibly learn after a few hours of looking for deals on the web.
We are better connected and have access to benefits you can't possibly get on line; and the best part is that travel agents provide you with a safety net during your trip that you simply can't get by booking on line. If you ever had an emergency while on a trip, one can only hope that you made your travel plans through your travel agent.
To be honest, not everyone needs a travel agent these days. If you need a cheap flight and accommodation and don't really care much about comfort, you can easily find that on line.
If you are flying in premium class (or private jet); staying in 4 or 5 star accommodation, planning complicated itineraries with multiple stops, planning complex airline routings or taking any trips using guides/drivers or local experts, any trip to a destination where you do not already know, or any cultural travel or safaris, you would be making a costly mistake not to use a travel agent.
When I say travel agent, I mean real professionals. The best travel agents are essentially travel consultants because it is their advice, expertise and connections that are of value, not the ability to print air tickets for you.
Some of us have become hyper specialized and in some cases like booking a cruise, golf vacation, destination event planning, you will want to seek out a niche specialist. But for most travelers, it is better to find an excellent travel consultant and stick with them, because a big part of the equation is that we get to know you, your likes and dislikes and make suggestions accordingly.
Among the many advantages which agents bring to the table is personal connections and clout. A number of our agents are very well traveled and know a lot of people in the travel and tourism business.
Consequently, we are able to get our customers rare deals at very short notice even when the facility on demand is "sold out". Also your agent books lots and lots of rooms, tickets and tours so the airlines and hotel management are bound to bend over backwards to please them.

On how the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies {NANTA) has been able to protect the interest members
NANTA as a body has ensured that many agents that would have closed shop by now, have remained in business by ensuring the introduction of the Billing Settlement Plan (BSP) into the Nigerian market.
Those of us who have been in the business for some time now, know how difficult it was to be a travel agent in the past, With the BSP, things are so much easier.
NANTA is also working with our relevant trade partners to introduce more insurance companies into the scheme. Last year, we negotiated with our principles to allow our members to choose between Default Insurance Policy and Bank guarantee options for BSP. All these are our more recent achievements.
We have also engaged Airlines , sometimes with the help of the NCAA, when the former have engaged in unfair practices like publishing disparate fares on line and in the GDS's Fare disparity portends a huge problem for our members because our customers never understand why they can obtain disparate fares from the agent/airline office/on line.
We even took our case to the National Assemble, where we made useful presentation to the Senate Committee on Aviation. NANTA has set up a monitoring committee to ensure that all the airlines comply.
All our activities are aimed at creating an enabling environment for our member's businesses to prosper. We are creating a brand that will make our members the preferred choice for travellers. Our brand is now known and valued for providing quality and reliable service.
On fake travel agents and what is NANTA is doing to forestall future occurrence
Yes, we issued a press statement after series of reports had gone out in the electronic and print media about how some "travel agents" had collected money from intending hajj pilgrims under false pretences and was now at large.
We informed the general public that all legitimate Travel Agencies are registered with the National association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA). We also advised the general public to visit the website of National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) in order to ascertain the authentic list of Licensed Tour Operators for Hajj and Umrah.
NANTA blacklists Travel Agencies that default on their responsibilities to passengers, airlines and financial institutions and actively conducts periodic checks on all registered Travel Agencies.