As dollar shortage in the Nigerian economy continues to hit the air travel industry harder, foreign airlines flying into the country have stopped local travel agencies and firms from selling tickets to intending inbound Nigeria passengers
The carriers also barred Nigerian travel agencies from selling tickets to intending passengers whose travel itineraries neither originate nor terminate in Nigeria.
This is known in air travel parlance as SOTO ticket, meaning Sold Out, Ticketed Out.
The move is currently affecting many Nigerian students abroad who are seeking to buy tickets from Nigerian travel agents to come home for the Yuletide.
Majority of them are now being forced to consider buying their tickets from travel agencies based overseas.
The latest move by the international carriers follows their inability to repatriate their ticket sale proceeds running into several billions of naira in the last one year.
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 dollar to international airlines and other sectors of the economy as the country battles to meet dollar demands.
However, economic and financial experts have queried the rationale for the CBN’s rationing of the greenback when the nation’s external reserves are still above $40bn.
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.
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 take similar decision in 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.
The President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agents, the umbrella body for travel agencies/companies in Nigeria, Susan Akporiaye, could not speak with our correspondent because she was on air transit as of press time.
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 Nigeria routes that are priced in naira had increased considerably.
The development came amid struggles by foreign airlines to access forex from the CBN to repatriate ticket sale proceeds running to over $208m.
Investigations revealed that the naira had fallen against the dollar last month on the IATA ticket pricing template from 415/dollar to 444/dollar, forcing travel companies to sell tickets at higher prices.