Recognised by his peers as a Mover and Shaper in the travel industry, Bankole Bernard has been advocating tirelessly to rescue the fragile Nigerian aviation sector and to grow the travel industry in his country.
As the owner of one of the biggest travel agencies in Nigeria, Finchglow Travels, and the President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bankole says he is ideally positioned to take up this fight.
Since his election as President of NANTA in March this year, Bankole has liaised extensively with the government, with IATA and with the different airlines to discuss the issues in the travel industry. He has been outspoken in the media about the poor state of the country’s airports, and he has confronted the government with the fact that Nigeria could quickly and efficiently get out of the current economic recession if only the aviation issues are addressed.
“The government wants to grow tourism; therefore the aviation sector needs to flourish. I have approached the government to ensure they focus on aviation, as this is intrinsically linked to tourism. Aviation complements tourism, and it is important that the government sees this,” he tells us.
The recession in Nigeria, the forex issues, and the difficulties airlines have to repatriate their funds, have led to an international airline ‘exodus’ from the country. To restore the airlines’ confidence in Nigeria, Bankole decided a closer working relationship with IATA was essential.
He reviewed and strengthened the local Airline Passenger Joint Committee (APJC) team and approached IATA. “Nigeria is the first African country to have been welcomed in IATA’s head office in Amman. Since then, our communication level with IATA has changed dramatically, and we now work more closely with the association than ever before.”
His efforts with IATA paid off. Bankole met with the presidency, the legislatures and government agencies to ensure necessary audience is granted to the aviation industry, highlighting the existing issues and proffering solutions to them, one of which is to merge tourism with aviation. “Aviation would compliment tourism and increase the GDP of the country”, says Bankole. He uses Kenya and South Africa as examples of countries recording double digit figures on tourism from this merger.
Bankole tirelessly works with the government and agencies to bring about better policies and consistencies in the industry. Successfully, the government has now started listening to the airlines, acknowledging the existing issues. “Even though we have not achieved the milestones that we want, we can see light at the end of the tunnel.”
For the future, Bankole wants Nigeria to become a powerful aviation hub in Africa. “Nigeria is ideally located to become a focal point for Central and West Africa. At the moment, issues including forex and the poor state of our airports, still stand in the way of this. But, I am addressing these issues to make sure Nigeria will one day soon become a powerful hub.”
Growing professionalism in the travel industry in Nigeria is also high on the agenda for Bankole, as he has developed an IATA Aviation Training Centre in Nigeria. He explains that regular training and re-training of travel agents is essential to spread prosperity across board.
“I want to make NANTA the voice to be reckoned with in the industry,” Bankole says. Since his election seven months ago, Bankole rebranded the association’s image, designed a new website, and created social media platforms as well as a What’s App group to promote effective communication in addition to good relationships amongst travel agencies in the different regions. He also restructured the different NANTA offices around the country to make sure each office is properly coordinated.
“I have made substantial changes to the travel industry in the space of just seven months,” he says. “You can be sure that greater and more exciting things lie ahead in the coming years of my mandate as NANTA President.”