International and domestic airlines operating in Nigeria are gradually losing passenger traffic to Ethiopian Airlines over the East African carrier’s relatively cheaper fares, easy connectivity and most recently, concerted efforts by the country at becoming a one-stop-shop for tourists in Africa.
BusinessDay’s investigations show that an economy class return ticket to Dubai on Ethiopian Airlines, costs N161,408, while same goes for N260,534 on Emirates Airlines.
Furthermore, an economy class return ticket to London by connecting flight on Ethiopian Airlines, costs N159,840 it goes for N502,884 on British Airways, and costs N317, 767 on Etihad Airways.
Atlanta, which is also a frequent destination for Nigerians, costs N452,125 for a return flight, using Ethiopian Airlines. The same destination will cost a passenger N577,180 on British Airways and N505,330 on Emirates Airline.
The obvious price discrepancy gives the average Nigerian customer the choice to opt for relatively cheap African carriers, especially Ethiopian Airlines.
The airline, which is the most connected in Africa, with 54 African and 94 destinations worldwide, is further consolidating on its efforts at becoming the largest aviation hub in Africa, with the attraction of tourists and corporate businesses from across the continent to Ethiopia’s hospitality and tourism offerings.
The efforts at increasing passenger traffic have resulted in a growing preference of the airline by many Africans, especially Nigerians, for overseas trips and connection, and is further highlighted by a 17 percent increase in the number of passengers that used Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, between January and August 2016, with the airport’s capacity sitting at almost 6.2 million absolute airline seats.
The record is expected to increase this year, with many more Africans who are seeking cheaper destinations and venues for holiday and corporate meetings.
According to a study by Forward Keys, an outfit that studies global airline traffic trends, besides beating Kenya to become the regional hub in East Africa, Ethiopia is set to outdo Johannesburg this year in the overall volume of international travellers, as it relentlessly seeks to capitalise on its thriving national airline and airport infrastructure.
Ikechi Uko, a travel expert, said Ethiopian Airlines is one of the few airlines which operates to Dubai, the UK, European, Asia Pacific destinations, four destinations in America, China, and several others, except Oceania.
“Again, Ethiopian Airlines has one of the most modern aircraft operating into Nigeria, they fly the Airbus A350, which is among the latest aircraft in the world. They have about 16 Boeing 787, which are also the latest. Also, as an African carrier, the connections are shorter and because of the conversion rate, the fares are not as high as you will find in other currencies.”
Uko further explained that before now, European carriers had better equipment and better connectivity, but now African airlines have better aircraft and great connectivity, adding that Ethiopian Airlines is part of STAR alliance, which is the biggest alliance in the world.
“Most European countries just want to fly to Abuja and Lagos and collect Business Class and First Class monies but Ethiopian Airlines is willing to fly anywhere. They are willing to suffer losses. When Abuja Airport was closed, it was only Ethiopian Airlines that sacrificed to go to Kaduna, the alternate airport. People saw the sacrificial spirit and have decided to reward the airline by way of patronage,” he added.
Chioma Ogbonna, a business woman and frequent passenger of the airline, explained that the pan-African airline enables her connect many other destinations within a short period, shop and follow up on her other itineraries in a one-stop-shop.
“I prefer to connect flights through Ethiopian Airlines to Dubai, rather than taking a direct flight using other international airline because the fares are relatively cheaper and there are many other things I could buy from Addis Ababa, as a business woman,” she told BusinessDay.
Beyond cheap flights and easy connections, the Ethiopian Tourism Organisation is partnering key travel agencies and tour operators across Africa, including Nigeria, to lure tourists to their breathtaking historic and natural attractions.
According to Yohannes Tilahun, chief executive officer, Ethiopian Tourism Organisation, Ethiopia’s immense cultural, palaeontological and natural wealth is reflected in its tally of nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the most of any country in Africa, aside five other sites that are currently under consideration by UNESCO as Tentative World Heritage Sites.
From Aksum; the land of the Queen of Sheba, Gondar; the Camelot of Africa, Harar Jugol, Konso, Lower Omo Valley, rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, Simien Mountains National Park add to the countries many attractions. The tourism CEO who assumed office early this year, said Ethiopia has exciting offerings for all classes of visitors, hence the concerted efforts at marketing them to the world, starting from Africa.
Currently, Ethiopia has taken her tourism campaign to Nigeria, with the recent launch of Destination Al Nejashi /Lalibela, its two foremost tourism destinations, targeted at Nigerian tourists.
With the collaboration of the Ethiopian Embassy, Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopian Tourism Organisation and Motherland Beckons, their Nigeria partner and owners of La Campagne Tropicana Resort, Lekki Lagos, the tourism packages are already gaining ground with soaring patronage by Nigerians for the summer holiday.
Speaking on the increasing appeal of Ethiopian destinations, Wanle Akinboboye, president, Motherland Beckons, said promotion of tour packages to Al Nejashi and Lalibela was due to the strong attractions the two destinations have for many Nigerians.
Both Samia Zekaria Gutu, Ethiopian Ambassador to Nigeria, and Solomon Begashaw, general manager, Ethiopian Airlines, Nigeria, are keying into the efforts at wooing the whole of Africa to go beyond using the airline for connection to stopping over to see her tourist attractions.
While the airline maintains its cheap flights and plans to expand from four destinations in Nigeria to five, the embassy is promising hassle-free visa and eas-of-doing business for the Nigerian tourists and corporate visitors to Ethiopia.
If all the parties in the tourism campaign deliver accordingly, Uko thinks Ethiopia is likely going to be the most visited destination in East Africa, in the nearest future, while maintaining its position as Africa’s aviation hub.
OBINNA EMELIKE and IFEOMA OKEKE
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