Emirates Airlines, British Airways and most of the international airlines in Nigeria have renewed their public relations war of words and action with the government. In the process, Emirates may have suspended their Nigerian services and stopped operating flights from Lagos and Abuja to Dubai.
The claim of over $500 million of trapped funds is at the center of the ongoing public relations storm.
Some of the international airlines have repeatedly threatened to suspend operations to Nigeria over the non-payment of their trapped funds.
Emirates Airlines, probably the country’s favorite airline on the Dubai route had briefly suspended its services in September, but resumed flying when it received some payment from the government.
Emirates may now have made good its threat to stop flying from Nigeria.
Any attempt to book a flight from Abuja and Lagos on the Emirates portal, yields a negative result and an automatic non-availability message.
Emirates couldn’t be reached to confirm whether this meant a final exit from the lucrative Nigerian market.
Who’s telling the truth and what’s the problem?
The Central Bank had in August promised to release $265 million to the airlines; $110 million on the spot and the rest in 60 days. The CBN Governor again recently promised to release $120 million to the airlines.
The International Association of Travel Agencies (IATA) said most of the international airlines have still not been paid as promised.
The public relations battle between Government and the international airlines is also being fought in otter dimensions – routes allocation, flight fares in dollars and funds remittance. Both parties are singing different tunes.
Why Emirates’ exit will be a public relations blow to government
The Nigerian market is highly lucrative and the airlines would not be in a hurry to leave despite the challenges. An exit by Emirates or any of the airlines will take a heavy PR toll:
Any exit by the airlines will dent the image of the country and send a message that the atmosphere is not conducive for business.
Public morale and sentiment
It will dampen the mood of the traveling public. Given the “party spirit” of many Nigerians, the airlines’ exit will affect their travel plans and general feeling of well-being.
The country is facing what is probably its biggest foreign exchange challenge of all time, following the new currency plan and the unprecedented demand for dollars. Emirates’ exit will further muddy the waters and increase the public relations challenge.
If Emirates exits the market, it will have multiple implications for the local travel industry and the tourism ecosystem.
The public relations reputation damage will be the biggest blow of all. Meanwhile, the hide and seek between Emirates, the international airlines, and the government continues.