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Recently re-elected as President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bankole Bernard, who is also MD of Finchglow Travels, started his career as a banker.

Despite a very successful career in banking – Bankole even admits he had dreams to become the Central Bank Governor – he shifted his focus to travel. “I interacted with a cousin who ran a travel agency and was able to transform his travel agency into a successful airline. I found this very inspiring and it led me to try out travel as a career. When I got into it, there was no looking back because I found out it was something I always wanted to do. I went in fully and established myself in a different aspect of the travel industry.”

And establish himself he did. Today, Bankole runs one of the most successful travel agencies in Nigeria as well as being at the head of NANTA, the umbrella for all travel agencies in Nigeria. He says: “My role at NANTA gives me the opportunity to be a spokesperson in terms of travel development, travel initiatives, airlines as well other stakeholders in the industry. It creates a platform for self-expression in an area I’m passionate about.”

Bankole has ambitious plans to transform NANTA into a 21st century association to be reckoned with, not only locally but also internationally.

“The NANTA I desire for the future is an association of the 21st century that is IT-driven and that can stand proudly with any other association around the world,” he tells us.

One way Bankole wants to transform the industry in Nigeria is through the identity card scheme, which will capture the biometric data of genuine members of the travel industry. These data can then be easily verified by passengers who want to make sure they are dealing with a reputable travel agent.

“I believe the ID scheme is going to change the face of travel agency business in Nigeria. This is a project in which I firmly believe and hold dearly to my heart,” says Bankole. “I believe this will bring some form of sanity to the industry and provide regulation for everyone who desires to work in the industry.”

Bankole adds that as it stands there are no barriers to entry in the industry, which is problematic as it opens up travel to fraudsters. “People move into the industry and don’t have a clear understanding of what the industry is all about. They perpetrate fraud or they misuse airline inventories. When they exit the industry, the serious and hard-working bona fide travel agencies suffer,” he explains.

The ID programme is coupled with a legislative backing, ongoing right now in the House of Assembly to ensure full compliance of members as well as the general public on how and who a travel agent should be in the conduct of their business.

There is a lot for travel agents to look forward to in Nigeria in 2018.

Bankole tells us: “Travel business in Nigeria has greatly evolved in the past year thanks to the fantastic relationship NANTA has built with IATA. We’ve been able to fast-track several new technology-driven developments. IATA intends to drive in this market. Nigeria has for example been one of the pilot countries to benefit from New Gen ISS.”

Bankole adds that by the end of this April, the global Default Insurance Programme (DIP) will take effect. “This will bring to three the financial instruments that can be used in the market: the Global DIP, the bank guarantee and the local DIP.”

“We’ll soon also start with the possibility for travel agents to have bi-weekly payments, weekly payments and daily BSP payments. Different travel agencies will be able to opt for the most suitable measure of payment for their business, instead of before when they were faced with a ‘one size fits all’ model. Finally, thanks to the IATA e-Wallet, travel agents will be able to make instant payments if they so desire.”

The travel industry is an exciting place in Nigeria where hard-working people can make their mark.

For Bankole, Mr Femi Adefope is his role model. He says: “Mr Adefope is extremely focused and has been able to take travel to another level, beyond the shores of Nigeria. His legacy in the industry is one every young or new entrant into the travel business should desire. I have the opportunity of calling him an older brother and a good friend.”

What is Bankole’s advice for young and ambitious travel professionals who want to forge their path in the industry?

“One thing I would say is: travel is not a business where you make quick money. It’s somewhere where you will have to invest your time, your resources and your love for the industry if you’re going to make a reasonable impact. It’s not a quick fix, you have to be in it for the long haul.”

However, once you’re in the travel industry, it’s definitely worth the hard work, according to Bankole. “I am glad I discovered travel. I don’t see myself doing any other thing apart from travel. Life is all about your passion and the moment you discover it, nothing else matters.”

What is the one thing Bankole won’t leave home without when he travels for business or leisure?

My socks. I won’t be able to sleep after a long journey without my socks being handy.