Georges Sangang Simo, president of the Cameroon National Union of Travel and Tourism Agencies (SNAVTC).
How is business like at the moment and how has Covid-19 affected the sector?
The tourism and air travel agencies have been one of the hardest hit sectors by the Covid-19. Like all over in the world all carriers were grounded in Cameroon. After the governmental measures all over the world, most of the airliners went bankrupt. Most of them are out of services till date. Generally, the business is worst at the moment. Most boarders are still closed, therefore there is no flight, no passengers and there is no business.
When decisions of closing the boarders were taken, we had to stop automatically. At the moment we are still trying to refund clients who bought their tickets before the shutdown but the airliners couldn’t refund the money, Passengers do not want to know what is happening between the airliners and the flight ticket agencies and they want their money. The International Air Transport Association- IATA which is in charge of all travel agencies has said that no more refund until further notice. It is a difficult situation for travel agencies. Till today, the airliners have not given us any money, and passengers do not want to know what happened to their money all they want is a refund. Air flight ticket agencies are small enterprises and most of them have loans in the banks of which they have to refund. The impact is great, we have never experienced such. These agencies have not paid their staff for months, they have not paid bills and taxes for months.
What do you think can be done to revamp the sector?
We wish to appreciate the government for all what has been done but much is yet to be done. The government recently supported the sector with the sum of FCFA 1.7 billion. The support to the sector can be direct or indirect; we plead with the government to free us from taxes for the next 2-3years. The government can also help us contact the banks so that they can stop or reduce the interest rate on loans taken by the agencies. This is something that as individuals we will not be able to do but the government can easily negotiate this for us. The Prime Minister has granted us several audiences during which we have presented our plight to him and come out with some proposals on how to revamp the sector. Other measures will be to develop and encourage internal tourism. The Minister of Transport can also intervene by compelling all airliners using Cameroon air ways to refund the money paid by passengers before Covid-19. This will go a long way to help us. They can also ask them to pay the commission that they use to pay to us before. We hope that during the next National Council of Tourism these should be looked into. We equally asked the government to provide us with more financial support that can pay at least 50% of staff salary and social insurance. We also suggested a reduction of visa fees and make application for visa into Cameroon online.
How do you foresee the sector after Covid-19?
We have to reconfigure our offices, before now we had direct contact with clients but with Covid-19 everything has to changed. We need to rebuild our counters, we need wash hands buckets, hand sanitizers, thermometer and if possible rapid Covid-19 test kits. All these need money. We hope that after Covid-19 we will survive. At the moment some airliners want to sell their tickets which will put some of us out of business. We hope that airliners will give us commissions for selling their tickets and not bypass us and give discounts to customers. The government should clear all the malpractices within the sector.