Nigeria and Concorde, by Peter Jones (1976-1979)


British Airways didn’t ever fly a scheduled commercial Concorde service to West Africa, although I believe that at one time Lagos was one of several destinations under consideration.

There was however, considerable interest in supersonic travel in Nigeria, particularly from those who were wealthy enough to be able to use it.  Nigeria’s oil boom had resulted in a lot of money in circulation in the late 1970s, and a large number of people able and willing to spend it

When BA commenced operating a Concorde on the London to Bahrain route in January 1976 and London-Washington in May, it presented a couple of opportunities for well-to-do Nigerians to fly on the aircraft.  Travelling to Mecca via London and Bahrain for the Hajj was one very popular option for the Moslem population in Northern Nigeria, and others were Washington, and later New York, for shopping and sightseeing.

I had been posted to Lagos the previous year as Sales Manager West Africa.  Big title; no BA aircraft though!

The British Government had transferred all routes from London to West Africa and South America from British Airways to British Caledonian, in order to stimulate private sector competition for the (then) state owned national carrier.

Nothing daunted, my predecessors in British Airways Lagos had reacted to the British Government’s action by subletting the BA reservations office to an insurance company (at a fair profit) and maintaining the street level office on the waterfront for marketing and sales purposes. 

The job of the Sales Manager West Africa consisted of maintaining a high profile in the business communities of all the larger West African countries, monitoring and supporting a network of General Sales Agents throughout the region from Senegal in the north to Zaire in the south and seeking out any opportunities to fill BA aircraft in other parts of the world.  In effect, we were maintaining a presence in the region at no cost and earning several million pounds in worldwide revenue, mainly on other airlines' ticket stock (yes, we still had manual ticketing) with very little effort!

However, from a Sales Manager’s viewpoint, it was fairly imprecise job description and it was never easy to determine where and how to focus our limited resources to make the greatest impact.

We did have detailed and regular statistical records of activity on BA services worldwide by sector flown;  I noticed particularly that revenue from our new Concorde supersonic services was doing quite well and was growing steadily.

It was difficult to get around the area regularly with our fairly limited resources and the often poor and unreliable physical communications, so we needed to find other ways to communicate with our target markets. Having considered how best to do this I concluded that it might be worthwhile experimenting with direct mail to try to communicate with the community of potential travellers that we were confident were out there. The concept of direct marketing was fairly new at that time even in the UK, and it was virtually unknown in Nigeria, so there was the possibility of more of a positive reaction when people received a personalised commercial letter, than would be the case today.

 I arranged for our London office to send out a (then state of the art) mimeograph machine (either a Roneo or Gestetner as I recall) and several boxes of Concorde themed letter headed paper. Then my newly appointed  secretary, May, and I set to work unpacking it and finding out how to get decent results from it. Although it was ‘wet’ copying and initially a bit messy, she was a true perfectionist and achieved very acceptable copies from it very quickly, and we were in business.

The team in the office had meanwhile created ad hoc mailing lists of local dignitaries in Lagos and of Hausa Alhajis in the northern states, from local directories, libraries and other sources.  We then started posting out regular Direct Mail letters, personalised to the recipient where possible, highlighting the many benefits of travelling on Concorde.

The results of this surprised and gratified us all; Concorde revenue sold in Nigeria doubled within months and continued to grow at a pleasing rate.  Nigeria quickly became one of the most important contributors to Concorde, and remained so throughout the aircraft’s operating life.

As a coda to this story, some time after I left West Africa for a new job elsewhere in the world (with aircraft!) and BA services had been reinstated in West Africa, I was very pleased to learn that my former secretary, who had no previous airline experience before she joined us, had been appointed to a senior Management position in BA Nigeria!

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