Plugging trust gap between agents and air travellers

JULIANA AJAYI, in this piece, writes about the growing mistrust between travel agents and the flying public 

Air travellers have, over the years, depended on travel agents to book their tickets, make hotel reservations and ease every burden that comes with travelling, especially by air.

Though some members of the travelling public have benefitted from the services of travel agents, impostors in the travel industry continue to swindle people and bring distrust between travel agents and passengers.  

In a recent poll conducted by Darltech Institute on  Instagram, 130 out of 194 participants indicated that they would use an airline’s website to book their flights, while 64 said they would rather book their flights through a travel agent. This means that 67 per cent of the air travellers would rather book their flights using the airline’s website, while 33 per cent would rather use a travel agent.

Similarly, in a Facebook poll of 237 people, 135 (57 per cent) chose flight bookings on the airline’s website, while 102 (43 per cent) went for travel agencies.

Financial Street gathered that the value of travel agencies to the Nigerian economy before the Coronavirus Disease wave stood at N347.10bn.

However, due to the impact of COVID-19, the figures plunged below N200bn. The decrease caused by the pandemic made Nigeria rank as the second hardest hit country in Africa.

Joy Benson (not real name), a  frequent traveller,  explained that based on her personal experience, she would rather use an airline’s website to book her tickets.

Her words, “Travel agents are not always to be trusted. If there is flight cancellation or any issue regarding the flight booked, the travel agent will not refund, and even if they do, it will not be full refund. But the airline itself would give you a full refund and further assistance.”

Aderinkomi Oluwatosin, a Nigerian music producer, said if when flying to a country one is acquainted with, it is better to use the airline’s website, but if it is a new destination, using a travel agent is better.

Germany-based Victor Odebunmi said he would rather use the airline’s website in Nigeria. However, in Germany, using a travel agent seems better.

“I would rather use the airline’s website in Nigeria. Agents’ fares in Nigeria are too expensive, and they are usually unresponsive when flights are cancelled.

“This is different in Germany, as the agency fee is affordable and they respond to issues regarding flight cancellations,” he said.

Another frequent traveller said he would rather use the airline’s website to book his flight tickets, as it saves him money and has proved to be convenient.

“I don’t have to spend more using the airline’s website when I can actually spend less by booking myself. Not only is it cheap, it is convenient to book the ticket myself,” he said.


Can travel agents be trusted?

Findings by Financial Street show that as in 2021, there were 2,336 registered members of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agents. To become a member of the association, registration must be made with a N2m share capital inclusive.

One of the travel agents told our correspondent on condition of anonymity that air travellers do not see travel agents as very important. “Victims of these acts are sometimes shy to share their experiences. However, after being duped, they run back to a trusted travel agent to lament their experiences.”

According to a study, use of the Internet for ticket reservations and distribution is what most airlines do now to reduce cost, by limiting the involvement of travel agents in the distribution of tickets.


Travel agents and imposters

Nigeria is not exempt from imposters, who pose as travel agents to defraud unsuspecting travellers.

Founder/Chief Executive Officer of Finchglow Group and immediate past president of NANTA, Bankole Bernard, described the battle with impostors in the travel industry as a continuum.

According to him, measures are being put in place to limit the challenge with impostors.

His words, “We have put measures in place, one of which is to get the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority to regulate the market.

“We created an identity card to regulate our members. My successor is following that footstep to ensure that we eliminate fraudulent agencies or agents. Anything that involves cash, you will see these kinds of people there because the nature of our business has a lot of cash involvement. Innocent people are being duped everyday.”

He highlighted that during one of his visits to the Presidency to discuss challenges in the travel industry, it was discovered that some people were posing as travel agents to defraud people in the Presidency. However, before having a way with their fraudulent acts, they were caught.

“These people will always look for how to make quick money. We just continue to put measures in place to make sure we eliminate them.”


Addressing ticket fraud

The Lassen News, the online edition of Feather Publishing’s Lassen County newspapers, recently reported that the BBB Scam Tracker, an online tool, which helps users to report scams to prevent recurrence, had been receiving reports of con artistes creating fake airline ticket booking sites.

On how the scam works, Lassen News noted that while doing an online search for cheap flights, the fellow comes across what seems like a great deal with a major airline. They book the flight – either through the website or by calling a customer support number – and receive a confirmation message.

However, when one looks more closely at the email, one notices that the ticket was actually not received. 

It also said another way in which the scam works was that one books a flight on a travel website offering deals on airfare, pays with credit card like normal. But shortly after making the payment, they receive a call from the company saying there’s been a sudden price increase or an extra charge to finalise the booking.

These processes are signs that the travel agency is not legitimate. 

One of the air traveller’s rights listed by the NCAA include the right to book and confirm tickets with an airline of one’s choice.

NCAA also notes that booking and confirmation of tickets is strictly between airlines and their passengers. However, in the event of dissatisfaction in services, the authority steps in to address it, to ensure that people get value for their money.

NANTA says there are signs to be identified by air travellers when dealing with a fraudulent agent, as he awareness is not just on the travel agency, but on the flying public as well.

“If the person gives you a personal account for payment after claiming he works for a particular company, that should be a red flag.

“The difference between a travel agency and an airline’s website should be between N10,000 and N20,000. But when you see a difference of N50,000 to N60,000, that should tell the traveller to beware. When an air traveller sees a N100,000 difference between a travel agency’s air ticket and that listed on the airline’s website, they should know that the price offered is not genuine,” NANTA’s president, Susan Akporiaye, disclosed. 

The CEO, Nola Travels and Tours, Olubiyi Oluwajoba, said what the flying public did not know is that travel agents provide assistance to problems regarding flight delays and cancellations, among others.

“The travel agent is accessible anytime you reach out to him to change your flight ticket in case anything comes up.

“But when booked online, the level of attention given by the airline would not be as rapid as a travel agent, due to a large number of passengers having the same issue,” he said.

Whenever there are issues, he added, travel agents are the first people air travellers run to for assistance.

His words, “Imagine someone in Owerri (Imo State) travelling to the United States, that person has to fly to Lagos or Abuja. But if there is a problem, the traveller can easily call the agent and tell them to change the ticket until the traveller makes it to the airport for the next trip.” 

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