International airlines stop ticket sale to Nigeria-bound travellers

Many Nigerians abroad who are seeking to buy tickets from Nigerian travel agents to come home for the Yuletide, may not be able to do so as foreign airlines flying into Nigeria have stopped local travel agencies and firms from selling tickets to Nigeria-bound passengers.

Majority of them are now being forced to consider buying their tickets from travel agencies based overseas.

This is coming as dollar shortage in the Nigerian economy continues to hit the air travel industry, making international carriers unable to repatriate their ticket sale proceeds running into several billions of naira in the last one year.

Nigerian travel agencies have also been barred from selling tickets to intending passengers whose travel itineraries neither originate nor terminate in Nigeria by the foreign carriers.

This is known in air travel parlance as SOTO ticket, meaning Sold Out, Ticketed Out.

As of October, the International Air Transport Association (the global trade body for international airlines) said foreign carriers operating in Nigeria had been unable to repatriate about $207m in ticket sale proceeds to their various head offices abroad.

The Central Bank of Nigeria is rationing the sale of dollars to international airlines and other sectors of the economy as the country battles to meet dollar demands.

According to a report in a national media, The Punch, local travel agencies said that most of the foreign airlines stopped the sale of SOTO tickets due to the exchange rate problems in Nigeria, which they said had made it difficult for them to repatriate their revenues.

A staff of Peacock Travels and Tours, who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “Most airlines don’t want to sell SOTO tickets again because of the exchange rate problem in Nigeria, which is affecting them; they couldn’t move their revenue out of Nigeria.”

The official of another agency said aside from the difficulty in repatriating revenue, SOTO tickets might not pay the foreign carriers because of the international exchange rate among countries.

According to the report by the news media, British Airways stopped local travel firms from selling tickets to Nigeria-bound passengers about two weeks ago. It also barred the local firms from selling SOTO tickets.

Also other carriers including Lufthansa, Air France, and KLM had joined in barring local travel agencies from selling SOTO tickets.

According to foreign airlines and travel agencies, more international carriers are likely to take a similar decision in the coming days or weeks.

A British Airway official confirmed the development anonymously and explained that the decision was taken because IATA had told foreign airlines that SOTO tickets were putting more pressure on the Nigerian economy due to the increase in foreign carriers’ demand for dollars from the CBN.

“IATA confirmed to us that we (foreign airlines) are putting pressure on the Nigerian economy when we sell in naira tickets that are meant to be sold in dollars. An example is a London-New York-London ticket. That itinerary has nothing to do with Nigeria. But most passengers, especially Nigerians, prefer to buy those tickets from Nigerian travel agencies because it is cheaper. A lot of passengers who don’t even have business in Nigeria prefer to buy their tickets in naira because it pays them. So we had to take this decision to avoid putting more pressure on the naira,” a BA official said on condition of anonymity because there was no official approval to speak on the matter yet.

The lingering shortage of forex in Nigeria had forced the naira to crash against the United States dollar on the IATA platform last month.

As a result, airfares on Nigerian routes that are priced in naira had increased considerably.