BusinessDay

Despite challenges, Akwaaba Travel Africa Market rallies global tourism in Lagos

…Travel expo shows resilience at 17th outing

The last week in November was remarkable for the Nigerian, West African and the continent’s tourism industry.

Precisely, from November 29-30, 2021, Lagos was the destination to be, as the Nigerian commercial hub, hosted many visitors, exhibitors, stakeholders, corporate organisations and even government representatives at this year’s edition of Akwaaba Africa Travel Market, the largest travel expo in West Africa.

From hospitality outfits, tour operators, travel agencies, airlines, destination marketers, hospitality schools, art and craft firms to many others, this year’s edition is a testimony to the resilience of the tourism industry and the expo itself, which has steered the tourism wheel in West Africa and beyond for 17 years and running.

Of course, Eko Hotel and Suites, Lagos, the somewhat permanent venue of the travel expo, radiated vibrant colours for the two days the event held, especially from the many visitors from outside the country, who came despite the challenges of travelling in the post-pandemic era.

Considering the world class facilities offerings, the hotel is worth the host and the long partnership with Akwaaba is also worthy of celebration. The general manager once said it is a symbiotic relationship, considering the number of foreigners that visit because of the expo and further referral of the hotel to others.

Well, this year’s event was even richer and smoother than expected considering the quality of the offerings at the expo.

First, the opening was spectacular. The organisers engaged one of the biggest players in the Nigerian hospitality industry to open the expo.

It was flagged off by Maiden Alex Ibru, chairman, publisher and chief executive officer, Guardian Newspapers. As well, the Ibrus are big investors in the hospitality industry with investments ranging from the Federal Palace Hotel, Sheraton Hotel, both in Lagos, Sheraton Abuja, among other hotels in Ghana and across West Africa.

Excited at opening the expo, Ibru in her paper presentation titled, “Role of the Media in Promoting Tourism and Travels” noted that both industries were traditional development partners, with mutual benefits, hence should sustain the partnership to greater heights.

“Tourism is all about people and they make news. The media is one of the most important aspects of the tourism business. There are two primary ways in which people get to know about when to travel: word of mouth and media. Both belong to the services industry and work together hand in glove. Media contributes to 80 per cent of tourism revenue, while tourism contributes to 25 per cent of media’s revenue”, she revealed.

Considering that tourism is the mainstream of the economic foundation of several African countries and a veritable instrument of economic growth, development and job creation, Lady Ibru urged African countries and business, including those in the tourism and hospitality sector to take advantage of AfCFTA.

Read also: Dubai at forefront of global tourism recovery 1yr after reopening to international travellers

“Articulate the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which seeks to eliminate trade barriers on the continent, and by extension, heightens the stakes of direct and indirect employment across Africa”, she advised.

The opening was also graced by other dignitaries including; Segun Runsewe, director general, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC); Nkereuwem Onung, president, Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), Susan Akporiaye, president, National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Ikechi Uko, the organiser of the expo and Rita, his wife.

Earlier, the first day of the expo witnessed an engaging panel of aspiring youths in the tourism business who shed light on their journeys in the industry, survival and challenges.

Led by Chiamaka Obuekwe, CEO, Social Prefect, the panel moderated by Obinna Emelike, tourism and hospitality editor of BusinessDay Newspaper saw all the six youthful panelists expressing mastery of their craft, offering new narratives to encourage more youths in tourism.

Despite challenges such as security and the pandemic, Obuekwe, Sam Adeleke of TravelWithSamGlobal, Aminat Akanbi, CEO, Triplisters, Bolaji Seun of Naija Explorers, Onifade Eedris of Universal School of Aviation and Cordis-Maria Umeokoli, CEO, Mardis Travels, all noted that the domestic market is booming and reason they are still in business.

They encouraged Nigerians to look inwards in their holiday in order to boost hospitality and tourism businesses in the country to create jobs and develop competence by doing so.

The day-one also witnessed visits to the exhibitors’ booths by the dignitaries, among other activities.

The day-two took the seminar series, which is a tradition of the travel expo, to another level with the hospitality panel.

The many training sessions at this year’s edition made it unique.

From M.I.C.E, Nigerian Tourism Specialist Certificate (NTSC) facilitated by Naija7Wonders, Akwaaba and NIHOTOUR, amid certification, the training sessions were impactful. The Naija7Wonders team used the expo platform to present plaques to the Seven Natural Wonders of Nigeria, while the hoteliers were rewarded at the Top 100 Hotels Awards.

Speaking at different times at the expo, Segun Runsewe, director general, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC); Nkereuwem Onung, president, Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), Susan Akporiaye, president, National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) all commended the determination of the organisers to always hold world class event, spotlighting Nigerian tourism, creating healthy rivalry and building competences across the industry.

The NCAC director general particularly commended the resilience of the expo, while recalling how it has improved despite challenges to become a must-visit expo in Africa.

On his part, the FTAN president said Akwaaba Travel Market has become a rallying point for the industry and also connecting industry players here with their counterparts in Africa and across the world for better engagements.

Meanwhile, the expo also witnessed the return of Lagos Day, which the state took advantage of to reach out to the world.

Speaking at the Lagos Day, on the second day of the expo, Uzamat Akinbile-Yusuf, Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism Arts and Culture, unveiled plans to make Lagos a tourism hub in Nigeria and Africa.

According to her, Lagos is not just a business destination but also a city, which provides a blend of experiences ranging from culture, music, entertainment and much more.

Describing Lagos as the 6th largest economy and entertainment capital of Africa, she urged tour operators at the expo to take advantage of the various opportunities provided by the aquatic splendor of the city.

‘’Tour Buses with Tour guides will also be a permanent feature of the city based on the developmental plans for tourism in the state’’, she said.

The commissioner did not forget to thank the organisers of the Akwaaba Travel Market, for their resilience, frontline in the promotion and development of tourism in Nigeria in almost two decades.

She describes the various festivals and carnivals that hold especially at this time of the year as part of what gives Lagos its unique vibe as a city that never sleeps.

The honourable Commissioner who led her team to Eko Hotel for the Lagos Day showcase at the just concluded Akwaaba African Travel Market disclosed that plans to change the narratives of tourism in Lagos are already in motion as the Government is poised to leave no stone unturned in its determination to take advantage of the tourism potentials of the state.

Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture engages exhibitors at Akwaaba 2021 in friendly exchange

Lagos, being the 6th largest economy and entertainment capital of Africa according to her, has much to offer as a must visit destination in Africa.

She urged Tour operators to take advantage of the various opportunities provided by the aquatic splendor of the city which according to her will serve as a focal point for inbound tourists wanting to discover Lagos. ‘’Tour Buses with Tour guides will also be a permanent feature of the city based on the developmental plans for tourism in the state’’, she says.

”Many of us only know what exists within our immediate neighborhood, but with the tour buses and Tour Ferries, visitors will have the opportunity not only to see Lagos, but also to experience the city”, she said.

Also speaking at the expo, Ikechi Uko, the convener of the travel expo, expressed appreciation over the turnout and events at the expo this year.

Comparing this year with 2014 when the industry has the Ebola challenge, Uko said, “In 2014, Akwaaba had 80 percent cancellations and used 25 percent of the hall but this year, it is using 50 percent of the hall, which means the travel market has done better than it did in 2014.”

For him, while the 2020 edition was on a low scale because of the impact of the pandemic, the 2021 recorded remarkable success as the world is still battling with the pandemic.

He commended the courage of the exhibitors, government representatives and the stakeholders that graced the expo, noting that they were the reason the expo has been resilient over the 17 years it has lasted.

He said the event will host the youth panel and tour operators’ panel with about 20 exhibitors cutting across tourism and travel and foreign affairs.

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