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SAA caters for Nigerians’ extravagant tastes

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SAAIN “status conscious” Nigeria, people want to be seen flying business and first class. The South African Airways (SAA) daily flight from Johannesburg to Lagos and back fills up from the front, says the airline’s regional manager for North, West and Central Africa, Ohis Ehimiaghe. “Elsewhere in the world, people are very conscious about price, so economy usually fills up before the front.”

These first-class flyers are not typically corporate executives, however. Nigeria’s market traders are frequent flyers on the SAA flight to Johannesburg and are therefore platinum members of its voyager programme.

They are usually connecting to a São Paulo flight to purchase items such as hair products and costume jewellery for resale back home.

Baggage allowance is particularly important for traders and SAA has made a special baggage concession for the flight to Lagos.

Passengers are allowed three pieces of luggage of 23kg each in economy class and three 32kg bags each in business class. On other flights, passengers are only allowed two pieces of luggage.

Passengers on the flight to Lagos are also allowed 50 bags of excess luggage each, charged at $90 apiece — a price tag they have not complained about. This charged baggage limit is specific to the flight to Lagos, for which SAA uses the A340-600, the largest aircraft in its fleet.

Mr Ehimiaghe says the baggage allowance is still “not ideal” for these travellers, who are known to drop luggage off in Lagos and get on the next flight to Johannesburg for more shopping in São Paulo.

The airline is not considering increasing the bag allowance but is considering increasing the frequency of flights to Lagos.

SAA started flying the Johannesburg-Lagos route with four flights a week in 1999. This increased to seven times a week and the airline now has 60% of the total market share on the route, Mr Ehimiaghe says.

About 50,000 round-trip passengers fly the route annually with the airline. The closest competitor is Nigerian operator Arik Air.

SAA is also working with South African Tourism to create a spin-off for South Africa’s tourism industry from these travellers. Mr Ehimiaghe says that through marketing by SAA, Nigerian corporate and trader travellers are being encouraged to spend time on holiday in South Africa, and to bring their families with them to enjoy holidays in the country.

“We say ‘that increases your baggage allowance, so you can buy whatever you want to buy’,” he says.

In an effort to grow tourists from Nigeria and the rest of the West African region, South African Tourism opened its first West Africa office in Lagos this year. On average, a Nigerian tourist spends R11,000 when in South Africa, the body says. Last year, this amounted to a R700m contribution to SA’s total tourism revenue.

The number of tourists visiting South Africa from Nigeria rose 15.4% to more than 84,000 last year — 11.7% of Nigeria’s total outbound travel market.

Shopping, wining and dining, and South Africa’s urban nightlife, are of interest to these tourists when in South Africa. Personalised treatment, such as concierge services, are important.

“The Nigerian traveller wants an easy-to-do destination that elevates their status in life and one that will make them proud to share their stories with friends and colleagues,” says South African Tourism CEO Thulani Nzima.

Nigerians have a taste for luxury goods and food. In Lagos, hosts will offer guests tea, coffee, water or Champagne, which has to be French. A Euromonitor International report found that Nigerians spent nearly $60m on Champagne in 2012. Shoprite Holdings says its seven Nigerian stores sold more Moët & Chan-don champagne than all its liquor stores in South Africa combined, in the past financial year.

Tsogo Sun is also gaining from a keen understanding of the Nigerian traveller market. According to CEO Marcel von Aulock, the Southern Sun Ikoyi hotel in Lagos is the only hotel the group has outside South Africa where locals make up nearly 50% of guests.

In its hotels in countries such as Mozambique, Zambia and Kenya, foreigners make up the bulk of guests.

“In the rest of Africa, our hotels are very much (based on) foreign inbound business,” says Mr von Aulock, adding that this is also representative of the magnitude of the Lagos economy compared with most other African economies.

The hotel hosts Sunday Champagne brunches to appeal to locals who like hotel food. In Nigeria, being able to dine at a hotel is a sign that you have made it.

With 11 other branded hotels in Lagos, including City Lodge, The Radisson Blu and Hilton, hotels have to compete for a piece of the affluent Lagos market.

The GM at the hotel, Mark Loxley, says the Nigerian guest is well-travelled and knows the difference between three-, four-and five-star hotels and service. Mr Loxley says they expect quality and service commensurate with what they spend.

Nigerians are also getting a taste for expensive wine. Osayaba Giwa-Osagie, director of the Nigeria-South Africa Chamber of Commerce, says companies looking to tap into the Nigerian market need to bring unique offerings and an understanding of the Nigerian consumer. “If you start off with a niche market, a product that is not available in Nigeria or a service that is not available in Nigeria, and you package your product very well, (you are) likely to do very well.”

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