The CEO of Zigona Travel and Tours Ltd and National Publicity Secretary of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agents (NANTA), Ngozi Ngoka, in this interview said that airlines that are not IT savvy are knocked out of business. She spoke to Chinedu Eze. Excerpts:
Travel agents have been accused of working with international carriers against the interest of domestic airlines, how true is this?
I must say that I have never heard this accusation before and can’t even begin to imagine why travel agents will have any preferences over whose tickets they sell. We sell what our customers demand for and leave marketing and advertising to the various airlines. NANTA, at several fora, has consistently called on all Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) certified airlines to standardise their booking processes and join the Billing Settlement Plan (BSP) scheme so that our members can sell them conveniently and efficiently. This is because travel agents are only able to sell what is available to sell through the Global Distribution System (GDS) since ticketing is now fully automated.
These days, most travel products like airline and cruise tickets can be bought online through the internet. How has this trend impacted the travel agency business in Nigeria?
Not so much. A few years ago when the trend first started, we lost a few customers but most of them are coming back to us. In Nigeria today, travel agents are still the leading distributors of travel products and services because planning a trip today can be confusing and time consuming. With the overwhelming number of sources of travel information out there –from Cable TV, newspapers, Internet, etc., it is no wonder the travelling public is confused! And it’s precisely for this reason that the service of a professional travel agent is invaluable. A travel agent not only harnesses the various modes of transportation, but also may be able to save you money with early booking discounts, special fares, hotel deals and travel advice.
Travel agents offer one-stop shopping for all travel arrangements. So you can book your flight, hotel, car, travel insurance, etc without having to check multiple Internet sites. Your travel agent will also explain the small prints to you and give you visa, health and safety information about your destination. Agents work for you and will do everything they can to meet your travel needs. Some agents literally go that extra mile to help their clients. Some even go to the airport during high season to ensure that their passengers on waitlist are confirmed. Travel Agents are also known to work from anywhere at any time so you are better off knowing one if you are ever in any emergency situation.
Every day, there are nearly 100,000 changes in airfares alone. Travel agents are the only unbiased professionals who can sort through these changes for you and get you the best deals. Experience, constant industry interaction and computer reservations systems make travel agents the only source savvy enough to wangle a relaxing trip out of the variable complexities that numerous airlines and other travel suppliers offer. So, you may want to save yourself time, money and frustration by using a travel agent. But the best thing your travel agent can do for you is match you up with a vacation that is right for you. This is because professional agents know their client’s interests and lifestyles as well as their dispositions. They listen to what you say and your body language and are able to suggest deals that are tailor made for you. No computer can beat that personal touch.
This is not always true. Travel agents have strong working relationships with travel suppliers and have the latest in computer reservations technology enable travel agents to access the most up-to-date information on how to get you the best value. If you are loyal to your travel agent, chances are, your travel agent knows your travel routine and preferences and will inform you when good travel deals are available. Sometimes airlines advertise offers but when you try to book, you find that those offers are no longer available. Some travel agents have dedicated staff on duty that fish all day (and night) to grab seats for their loyal clients as soon as they become available. Also
bear in mind that the cheapest fares are not necessarily the best. Your agent will analyze all current promotions and offer you the best one for your purposes. Having said that, there are some added services that travel agents charge for but these are usually explained to the customer.
What added services do travel agencies offer?
As the travel industry grows more competitive, travel agencies have increased the quality and type of services they offer. Travel agents can arrange all types of domestic and international travel, from hotel and resort accommodations to air and ground transportation, including car rental needs and tour packages. They can provide assistance with travel insurance protection, passport and visa applications, inoculation procedures and other foreign travel requirements. Some offer meeting planning and incentive travel services. Few of us have carved a niche for ourselves and have become experts in handling destination events and tailor made luxury travel.
Some travel agents maintain automated individual profiles that include the client’s frequent flyer number, airline seating preference, smoking or non-smoking designation and other specifications for a custom-designed trip. Your travel agent can also make arrangements tailored to suit business and vacation objectives, personal interests and budget concerns. Although most travel agencies provide a wide range of services, some agencies may specialise in areas such as family travel, group travel, cultural and religious travel, destination events, the over 50s market, teenage travel, budget travel, luxury travel, golf destinations, culinary travel, Safaris, sports travel, incentive travel or educational travel for children.
How do you find a good travel agent?
You have to choose a well-travelled and experienced agent. If you chose a big agency, be sure to get assigned to someone whom you
can always refer to. Choose one like you would a doctor or lawyer. Get advice from friends and relatives who use an agent they trust. Since travel choices are personal decisions that reflect individual desires and lifestyles, you will want to visit or call several travel agencies to find the one that best suits your needs. Consider everything from the appearance of the office to the travel agent’s willingness to listen and answer questions. The best agents want to establish a long-term relationship with a client, not just make one sale. Sometimes, customers talk a great deal about themselves to their agents and rely on them to help make choices so be sure to chose an agent that can help you make the right choices if need be. Make sure the agent is a qualified travel professional.
How can one determine if an agent is qualified?
Ask about your travel agent’s professional background. Many of us have had extensive training in travel agency and business management, travel and tourism and travel geography. Others have supplemented their agency experience with extensive education, FAM (familiarisation) trips and training courses. Most reputable agencies are proud to display their qualifications in their front office.
What should be the determining factor in choosing a travel agency?
First of all, your travel agency should belong to NANTA (National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies). With over 1,000 members, over the years, NANTA has become a very influential travel association. The customer’s best interests are the priority for NANTA Travel Agents. In Nigeria, NANTA has a long-standing record of fighting for customer protection when Airlines have not met up with their side of the bargain. For instance, the National President, Alhaji Aminu Agoha, recently called a press conference to highlight some of the sharp practices by some airlines operating in the country which has resulted in increased cost of air tickets for journeys originating from Nigeria. In addition, NANTA also lends its voice to issues about travel safety and has an active Committee that monitor’s customer complaints and help find solutions. They work closely with other travel organisations in the world to continually upgrade service and technology to better serve the traveling public.
NANTA members are required to adhere to a strict Code of Ethics so the general public is advised to deal with only NANTA travel agents. The association provides education, training and resource materials to its members to equip them with the tools to offer the highest quality of service. Membership is not an all comer’s affair. Although the headquarters of NANTA is housed in its own building at Ikorodu road, KYMs (Know Your Members) are continuously conducted by the zonal branches located in Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt, Ibadan and Lagos. Through its continuing education and training programs, NANTA prepares its members to operate high-caliber, competitive businesses. Due to the associations’ on-going educational programs, comprehensive agent management resources and stringent Code of Ethics, NANTA travel agents are known as dedicated, hard-working professionals who provide superior service to their customers. The association also organizes periodic FAM trips for their members to familiarise them with destinations and other products that they sell. NANTA travel agents keep up-to-date by attending industry events that offer educational seminars and networking opportunities.