Tortuous journey for Nigerian travellers to Dubai - BUSINESSDAY
OCTOBER 28, 2023
BY Iheanyi Nwachukwu
Stanley Tobechukwu (not real name) was to attend a global event in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).
After going through the hassle of getting his business travel document (visa) into the UAE, he could not find a direct flight from Nigeria to join his other 1,800 start-up owners from over 100 countries to woo investors.
The cheaper options the Lagos-based tech founder had were to fly to Accra in Ghana, and then to Dubai; to Istanbul, Turkey, and then to Dubai; or to Addis Ababa, before he heads to Dubai.
He could also have gone to Dubai through Cairo, Egypt.
Tobechukwu, who finally chose to go through Accra, did not envisage the struggles and transit time while making a connecting flight.
It takes an average of seven hours to take direct flight from Nigeria to Dubai and between 12 hours and 20 hours to connect flights to Dubai, depending on the airline and waiting hours before making a connecting flight.
Apart from the time Nigerian travellers spend while making connecting flights abroad to their destinations, there are also other challenges.
He said: “When I arrived at Kotoka International Airport Accra, before transiting to my final destination, the airport officials were insisting I produce yellow fever vaccination card at the main points of exit where I was to pick my luggage. Guess what! The yellow fever vaccination card costs $150 at Kotoka International Airport Accra. At Kotoka airport, there are also louts reaping off the innocent travellers.
“The cheapest flight ticket to Accra comes at $186 or $376 for return. This is in addition to the transit time at the airport where passengers have no option than to patronise the businesses at the airport within the transit time ranging from 3 hours to 7 hours. Note that at the Lagos Airport, the airline (African World Airline) had advised transit passengers to pick up their luggage at the Kotoka International Airport Accra.”
Like Tobechukwu, other travellers who decide to connect flights to Dubai through Istanbul in recent times have discovered that their passports no longer allow them to obtain a Turkish e-visa.
Several countries have stopped granting holders of Nigerian passport visas on arrival or e-visas, making travel options difficult for tourists and travellers from Nigeria.
Last year, Ethiopia, which some Nigerians pass through to get to various destinations including Dubai, stopped issuing visa-on-arrival to Nigerian citizens.
“The last time I tried to travel through Istanbul to Dubai, I was very surprised to discover my passport no longer allows me to obtain a Turkish e-visa. I had to travel back to Nigeria and cancel the business trip I had to Dubai. It was a traumatic experience for me,” Uche Maxwell, a business traveller, told BusinessDay.
Nigerians had expressed excitement when the Federal Government recently said talks were at the very top level to lift the visa ban on Nigerians and ensure the resumption of direct flights to UAE. They are still awaiting these to materialise.
The UAE had imposed the visa ban on Nigerians in connection with a number of diplomatic disputes. Dubai’s Emirates also suspended flight operations to Nigeria over its inability to repatriate funds.
“While the visa ban continues, a few Nigerians still get visas to Dubai, especially those travelling for business purpose or those attending conferences for few days. The visa ban really affects those travelling for vacation or tourism and these constitute over 80 percent of travellers to Dubai,” Chika said.
She said the few people being granted visas to UAE have to pay more to connect flights and also face challenges accessing visas and yellow cards to countries to pass through connecting routes.
The UAE has discontinued the issuance of three-month visit visas. Visitors to the UAE now opt for either 30-day or 60-day visas.
According to travel agents, Nigerians love to travel and Dubai continues to be one of the top destinations visited by Nigerians for summer, holidays, medical and recreational tourism and to see family and friends.
According to the latest inbound tourism data for Dubai, 144,000 Nigerians visited the Emirate between January and August 2019, marking a year-on-year rise of 33 percent and making Nigeria Dubai’s fastest-growing visitor source market that year.
Travel experts say this number must have doubled after airlines increased flights and frequencies to the UAE.
Susan Akporiaye, president of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies, said travel agents and tour operators are eager to sell tickets to Dubai again.
“Travel agents and tour operators have expectations that these airlines sell the lower fares but if that is not the case, then selling Dubai will be too expensive for clients to afford,” she said.
Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air, Etihad, Rwanda and Air Peace fly directly or connect passengers to Dubai.
BusinessDay’s findings show that before the ban, Emirates operated a daily return flight from Dubai to Lagos and Abuja, processing an average of 600 arriving passengers and 600 departing passengers on Lagos and Abuja routes.
Seyi Adewale, chief executive officer of Mainstream Cargo Limited, said Nigerians spend a lot of money in Dubai.
He said: “Dubai is also a transit point for thousands of travellers from Nigeria weekly but there are alternatives for Nigerians as they can transit from Addis Ababa, Egypt, Kenya and other African destinations to Europe and United States.
“Nigerians who were affected by the visa ban were the rich who always love to shop in Dubai, and the political juggernauts who hold frequent meetings in Dubai.”