Bernard: I’ve always loved everything about flying and traveling
Mere looking at his dress sense and poise, one could easily tell that the current president of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) Bankole Bernard cut his teeth in the corporate world. Indeed, the Economics graduate of the University of Lagos spent a better part of his youthful days in the banking hall
“I worked in three banks; I was in Ecobank, then to Metropolitan Bank, before I moved to First Atlantic Bank, which later became First Inland Bank,” he said.
Though he had a successful career in banking, things became boring for Bernard, who wanted new challenges. “It was becoming too monotonous; no new ideas. So, I got tired of it and decided to go into what I consider more interesting,” he revealed.
Of all options available to him, Bernard resolved to settle for a career in travels, with particular interest in aviation. “I’ve always loved everything about flying and traveling. Growing up, my father worked with a construction company; they were doing a lot of construction works up north. Since he was always there and we were here, he would send the driver down with a car to pick us. We used to drive from one state to another till we get to wherever he was. A couple of times, on my own, I went to Cotonou, Togo, Ghana… just to have a feel of what travel is all about. I think that was what actually necessitated the idea of joining travels,” he said.
Though passionate about travel, Bernard needed the consent of his wife, who was a bit concerned over his decision to leave certainty for uncertainty. “I remember when I said I was going into travel, my wife asked me, ‘is this what you really want to do? You have a child and a wife to feed, how are you going to cope having to leave a paid job?’ But I’ve always been one person that loves to chase my dream, so, she knows that part of me,” the noted.
Just like every other small business, Bankole Bernard’s Finchglow Travels Limited started with an office at the then Folomo Shopping Complex, Ikoyi, Lagos. Though a tough beginning, the break came when the company sold its first ticket.
“My first ticket then was Arik; a guy bought a ticket from me to London on Arik. When I look at what the income was then, it was just about N6000. It was quite interesting, the fact that, ‘yes, the dream has become reality’ in the sense that what you were dreaming has now happened; reality has set in now,” he enthused.
From selling one ticket at Falomo, the company has grown by leaps and bound today, with offices at different locations. Currently, the company holds the franchise of FCM Global in Nigeria.
“I’ve been in this line of business in the last 11 years. It was very interesting journey because, I started from having one small office in Falomo Shopping Centre, which has now been demolished, then to having a second office, the third office, sixth office, seventh, eight… like that. I read economics in school and I understand the game of numbers and its multiplier effect. I know that what one office will give me will be different from what to offices would give me; I know that if I have more offices, my income stream would double. That was how the growth kept on coming until we became the second biggest in the market today,” he boasted.
Looking back to his days of humble beginning, Bernard said, “I’m just grateful to God; I don’t think I could have done it all by myself. You see, passion is what drives our lives, but a lot of people don’t get to discover their passion. As long as you are not chasing your passion, it’s extremely difficult for you to survive in life; you are just going to be struggling for the rest of your life,” he said.
To the travel consultant, passion is what makes you happy doing what you are doing without thinking about making money from it or not. “A lot of people don’t understand it; they just do it because others are doing it. Ask them why they work; they don’t know. So, your passion will drive your hard work and give the result that’s expected.”
Today, a lot of young Nigerians are caught up in that web of chasing money, as against passion, which eventually leads to loss of identity. “If you go and check, there’s a reason your DNA is different from mine; that’s the identity each an every one of us is carrying. If it’s not your passion, you will be making some level of progress, but your full potential will not be achieved. I think that we the older generation have failed; we’ve failed to let young people understand that their passion is what they should chase, not money,” he lamented.
Meanwhile, assuming office as the national president of NANTA has opened new vistas in Bernard’s career as a travel consultant. “Different aspects in my life have just been developed in the sense that I came to consciousness of things in another world. I’ve been the CEO in my own company; the CEO takes decision on everything. When it comes to you being a public servant, everything does not lie with you; you have to learn to carry others along. Whether your pace is far higher than others, you don’t have a choice but to constantly remind your self that, ‘hang on, I’m moving too fast; I need to carry them along.’ So, I was confronted with that challenge and forgetting that this is not a one man business but a public officer where I’ve just been elected to serve.”
Gradually, the Unilag-trained Economist is bringing some level of positive changes to the association, which has been in existence in the last 43 years.
“I was too conscious of making great changes within a short period. I sat back to ask myself, ‘how can an organistion that has exited for 43 years be like this? It’s not possible, something is wrong.’ So, first, I drew up a strategy that I’m going to restructure the secretariat; I’m going to rebrand the association and reposition it; I’ve been working with those three key factors.”
Part of the restructuring at NANTA includes employing more people to come into the association, as well as bring some level of professionalism to the industry.
“We had to ensure that things are functioning the way it needs to do; documentation are properly done now. All those ministry approach to things were completely eliminated; everything became standard. We went on talking to all stakeholders in the industry on our plans.”
He continued: “The aviation industry too hasn’t been so great as well; the practitioners there, who are the foreign airlines, they can’t talk because of the sanction that might probably come from the government. The government agencies’ staff can’t talk either because of them being punished. But NANTA is a pressure group and we are the downstream sector of the aviation industry, there’s absolutely nothing stopping us from talking. We would talk and the government would have to listen,” he said.
According to Bernard, the government has paid little or no attention to the aviation industry because they don’t consider it as one of those lucrative industries that give them the kind of money they want.
“So, we went on talking, picking on vital issues. How do we develop the aviation industry because it has not really been developed as well? When you look at the players in the industry, we do not have the likes of Dangote and Otedola because the return in the aviation industry is very small; those there are there because of passion,” he said.
Currently, NANTA is creating awareness to let the government understand the opportunities that lie in the travel industry and see how the country could take advantage to grow the economy.
“Ever since we started doing that, the Ministry of Aviation, the Airlines Association are beginning to come to terms with NATAN; they could see that we have a voice and we are speaking in the right direction. If you don’t speak and you think it’s just going to be left vacuum, no; something else would speak on your behalf. Whether it’s positive or negative, it just stays; nobody hears your voice, something takes over your voice.
He continued: “Ever since I took over in the last one year, we‘ve been talking, creating new ideas. Right now, we have NATA TV; we have our own press crew where everything we do, we put it out online and on TV stations just for people to be aware of what we are doing. To the glory of God, our members are beginning to have sense of belonging. If we do not attach some level of professionalism to our business, people will just see us as touts. I’m a travel consultant and I’m proud of it,” he enthused.
On his dream for NANTA, Bernard said, “I’m grateful to God that we’ve been able to reposition NANTA to have fantastic relationship with IATA (International Air Transport Association); it’s an international association, just like the local association. But because IATA has been professionalised, everybody sees it as a big deal. That’s my dream for NANTA; that everybody will see is as an association to reckon with, an association that will continue to promote professionalism in such a way that everybody around the country can say, ‘oh, I want my child to be a travel consultant or destination manager.’ We are doing all that now and it will help us to create the desired awareness; I will be fulfilled if I achieve that,” he said.
Somehow, it seems the dream is gradually coming to life, as IATA has decided to use NATA as a case study for other association around the region.
“They saw the sort of relationship we’ve built with IATA; they saw the sort of visibility and awareness NANTA is doing. So, right now, IATA has partnered with us, that certain courses are going to be done every year to train and re-train our members to be knowledgeable about the industry,” he said.