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Monday, 13 May 2019

TRAVEL BUSINESS IS STRESSFUL, BUT I STILL PREFER IT TO BANKING


-  Bankole Bernard (NANTA President)



Bankole Bernard is the National President of National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA). A role he assumed in 2016. He worked in the banking industry for eight years in various banks such as EcoBank, Metropolitan Bank now United Bank for Africa, and left in 2006 as a Branch Manager for First Atlantic Bank (FinBank).

Bankole Bernard is the Founder and Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Finchglow Travels Limited/FCm Nigeria. He with the support of other directors founded the company in 2006 after leaving behind his banking career.

His company Finchglow Travels is named in the top 3 amongst about 1500 registered travel agencies/travel management companies in Nigeria with sales volume of 10 billion naira annually. 

He is also the Chairman of Travelden Nigeria Limited, an online Travel portal and Southoak Aviation Services, Lagos Aviation Academy, Finchglow Holidays and Prysm Investments.
As a socialite he works just as much as he enjoys himself. He believes a balanced life makes a healthy body. He shares his lifestyle with us in this interview with Paul Ukpabio.

What would you say is the greatest achievement so far for NANTA?
Recently, we had our 43rd Annual General meeting. To the best of my knowledge, this was the best AGM we have had in recent times. Ever since I took over in 2016, I have been pushing the bar so that the general public and the stakeholders in the industry can understand what NANTA is about and who the members are. We contribute to the growth of the GDP of this country, yet we are given little recognition because NANTA as a body had not done much in terms of awareness in the past. So when I took over, I realized that an association that has been around for over thirty years and was least known even within the people in the industry, meant that a lot needed to be done about awareness. So in 2016, we embarked on awareness campaign, built a website, created social media accounts, restructured the secretariat and worked through the zones. Now all that has been actualized! One other thing that I will like to say that we have achieved is that our advocacy has yielded results to the point that people are now aware that there is an association in the travel and tourism industry that is known as NANTA and it is functioning well.

What are your fears about the industry so far?
Personally, I actually do not pay attention to fears, what I see in the industry are the growing opportunities that exists therein because what you consider as fears, in there, lies great opportunities. And what are these opportunities, for us to become a strong pressure group and understand that we are to assist the government in the area of suitable, sustainable policies and regulations that contribute greatly to the aviation industry.


Sometime ago the fear of plane crash ruled the Nigerian skies, but these days it has become a thing of the past, has that influenced better operations in the travel indices in Nigeria?
Air crashes in the country has reduced greatly because technology has improved, safety and security has been taken to another level, through the effort and support of IATA. With that we have had some level of stability in terms of sky safety and we are in a period where there is awareness about travel. A lot of Nigerians travel these days and there has also been a lot of awareness about travelling which has made the volume of travelers to go up. That has contributed to the aviation sector of the industry through the awareness that has been created and the safety methods put in place by IATA. We now have more and more people travelling and more and more airlines coming into the Nigerian airspace.

What does it to be the President of NANTA and what are the challenges like?
It doesn’t take more than being dogged, committed, and passionate about the growth of the industry one loves. Being the president of NANTA in these past three years, I have discovered that a lot of my time and resources has been thrown into NANTA cause. There is nothing that gives a man fulfillment like seeing that you put your time and resources into something that you can see the possible growth. So in the last three years, I have seen NANTA grow and I have also seen government show recognition for the existence of NANTA.

How about the challenges?
The challenges is that I have less time for myself and my family, and my business, but I have been involved in creating a better general platform for everybody to survive and that is a better sacrifice. One thing in life is that we must learn to sacrifice for ourselves and others. So I consider it a great opportunity to sacrifice this time for us all for the great of the industry.

Tell us what led you into the travel industry?
For me, having worked in the banking industry for several years, coming into the travel industry was indeed a relief. That is because the travel industry is not monotonous like banking. It is very dynamic and very broad. You meet with different challenges by the day and having a positive mindset to get those problems solved has been worth my while.

You were once a banker; can you tell us more about that aspect of your life?
I worked in Ecobank, and other banks, and my last place of work in the banking sector was First Atlantic Bank where I left as a branch manager.

What was the interest that led you into the travel business?
I wanted to try something new. And if I wasn’t going to do banking, the other alternative business that I had always admired and wanted to be a part of, was the travel business. So I encouraged myself into it and found out that it has really been worth my while. However, it is more stressful than banking from what I have seen but I still prefer it hundred times over to banking.

What has been the turning point for you?
The turning point in my life was when I got the opportunity to add value to other people by asking them to join me to work with me. That was the actual transition from being an employee to becoming an employer. That was a great thing and getting other people’s dreams fulfilled through me has been a greater achievement.


Can you tell us a little about your background?
I attended Igbobi College, studied economics from the University of Lagos. Back then, I actually saw myself becoming the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria until I left banking for Aviation. Now, I’m looking forward to being a Minister of Aviation since I have left banking and that my dream of becoming the CBN governor did not come to pass.

What inspires you to think that you could one day be a Minister?
The present Minister is an aviator. He was once a Pilot. So it is very easy to become a Minister if you are passionate and you are identified within the industry; you could emerge as one especially also, if you are willing to serve.

At what point did you call it quit with banking?
The decision for me to call it quits with the banking industry came up when the consolidation of banks started, and the fact that they had to shrink the banks by force was a rough indication to me that it wasn’t going to be competitive any more. And just as I thought, the whole banking industry became monotonous for me to stay. That was when I realized that I couldn’t find any new challenges in it. So I urged myself to try something new.

Looking back who would you say influenced you most?
My mother influenced me most because she was a teacher and extremely hard working. She always wanted the best from me and she could go to any length to make sacrifices for her children.

Were you a privileged child?
(Laughs) No, I was not; I was actually an under-privileged child. That is because we didn’t have everything we needed while we were growing up. It was a huge struggle.

But you still found the money to go to school?
That is one thing that was real in my family when I was growing up. Education was made a priority for us back then.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up here in Lagos. It was quite interesting that Lagos then was not as crowded as it is presently and the crime rate was very low, it had not escalated like we have it now. Children were allowed to be children. But unlike now that things are quite different and people are up-tight and everyone is caged in-doors. Children cannot go outside to play, because of fear of kidnapping. Lagos was okay for us while growing up, then we could easily board a public transport as a child and your parents will not be scared. But now parents can’t do that or allow their children out of their sight without serious pre-cautions. We used to board LMTS (the Lagos Metropolitan Transport Service) buses then un-guarded.

What other memories of childhood do you have?
When I was forced to go to a boarding school at the age of seven, it was a big challenge; I was forced to learn the hard way! Unlike other children who were still with mommy and daddy at that age, I was forced to go to a boarding school, a convent school. My parents were working and again my late grandfather, who was a Muslim, wanted all his grandchildren to go to that school. It was called Nazareth Convent School, in Epe. That is where I hail from.

But why did your grandfather insist that you all should attend the convent school?
Oh, that was because he gave the school the land and knows that Catholic school offer better education.

What future are you looking at for NANTAP?
I must say that the future is bright; and the future I see is simple. I want NANTA to be at the level of relevance all over the world. We have such associations in the world like the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), also the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), these ones are at the very high level and they are very well respected and that is the level I want NANTA to be.

What do you think made NANTA members choose you as their president?
I guess they saw me as someone who has done very well in the same business that they are also into, and they believed that I would be able to take them to the level that they wish that they want to be. And in several ways I think that I have been able to meet with their expectations.

One would expect that one who is in the traveling business would equally love to travel. Do you like travelling?
Yes, I do. I have travelled far and wide. I have been to every continent on the globe. I enjoy traveling. The only thing I have not been able to do since being in office as the president of NANTA is to travel. Being president of NANTA has actually restricted me from many of the travels that I would have ordinarily made if I was not the president of the body. That’s because of the assignments of the body! I don’t make my personal trips that I ought to be doing. I have spent most of my time these past three years going from one state of the country to another. Well, that is still travelling but that is still travel within Nigeria. But I am glad that at least the members can see my impact as their national president.

You are in the travel business, how do you merge culture and travel especially to somebody like you who is stylish and fashionable?
Travel has one product and that product is culture. So more often than not, when you travel, what you get to buy where you go, is the culture of those living there. So traveling is one thing that can help us to tell people about our culture. There is no way that you travel and not imbibe something about the culture of the people you met when you got to your destination. So tourism is the vehicle with which you use to launch your culture to the rest of the world. And traveling is the easiest way to make it happen.

Are you satisfied with the rate of tourism in present day Nigeria?
It is still better than before but it is just that one is not comfortable with the fact that the Ministry of Tourism is still tied into the Ministry of Information. That way, tourism is handicapped. But I am sure that the Director General of Tourism is doing everything he can, to make sure that we can get a stand-alone Ministry of Tourism, couple with the fact that a bill is in process, we are just waiting for the president to assent to it. 



You left Banking for Travel and Tourism. If you were not in these two things, what else would you have love to do?
(Thought for a while) Sincerely, I don’t know what else I would have loved to be doing. I left banking for this so if I am given an opportunity, this is very likely what I would still be doing. You also have to know that tourism is the biggest industry in the world.

Are you fulfilled?
I am more than fulfilled. I am grateful to God for giving me the opportunities that I have had in life.

What do you value most?
I value God, followed by my family. I have three children with a beautiful wife. I try as much as possible to spend time with my family. Any spare time that I have, is spent with them. Once I am not doing NANTA or doing my business, the next thing I do is to go home and attend to my family.

What does success mean to you?
Success to me is not about money, it is about finding fulfillment in whatever you do. Once you find fulfillment in what you do, then that means that you have found success.

What sport did you grow up with; do you still find time for it?
Yes, I love sports. I love to play tennis but in recent times I have not had the opportunity of time to keep up with playing it. 

Are you a member of any social club?
Yes, I am a member of Ikoyi Club 1938.

Being a socialite, does your job inspire you to socials?
My job is all about enjoyment, the ability to create fun for others. So it automatically rubs off on me. I enjoy encouraging people to travel to destinations where they can find fun and maximum enjoyment. My job does not encourage boredom. If I am bored or I see people who are bored, I can encourage them to take time off to destinations that I know they will find maximum relaxation and fun. Whatever your situation, there is somewhere that can bring the active part of you back to life.

Growing up did you have role models?
I did but the role models kept changing from time to time. For instance, when I was in the bank, I had a role model. And when I got into the travel industry too, I found myself a role model. At the bank, my immediate line boss was my role model. He was very passionate about his work. Also when I got into traveling business, Femi Adefowope became my role model. He is very passionate about his work and about the industry.

What would you have loved to do differently or change?
If there is anything I will like to change in the industry, it is to improve on the level of professionalism. That is because the travel agencies are like ambassadors of the country. We are the ones that get to advice people where to travel to or spend their time and days or even months. So if we lack the professionalism, then we will not be able to guide people into having memorable experiences. And if people do not have favorable memorable experiences, definitely they will come back sad about the destination that we have sold. So improving the professionalism in the industry would be my immediate priority.


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