The weekend of June 17, 2023, was huge and successful for the Nigerian tourism and hospitality industry for many reasons.
From Thursdays, visitors from across the country and Africa started gathering in Abuja, the country’s capital city, and by Friday, the city witnessed a beehive of tourism and hospitality-related activities.
The visitors were exhibitors, attendees, media, tourism private sector, government top functionaries and other stakeholders, who came to partake in this year’s edition of the annual National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) Gastronomy Festival.
The event is a concerted effort by the government to grow the tourism sector using hospitality and culinary platforms.
As expected, this year’s edition added more colour to previous editions.
The colourful exhibition platforms erected by top chefs from the six geo-political zones in Nigeria, were huge draws for the visitors, while the foreign participants also lived up to the healthy rivalry at the festival with their respective country’s food offerings.
For the first time, many Nigerians were able to connect with Trinidad and Tobago, Senegal and Cote D’Ivoire, among other foreign exhibiting countries through their food, art and fashion.
The fact that most of the exhibition stands were empty within minutes of the opening of the food and beverages section of the festival means that the attendees, who sampled the sumptuous and tasty delights on display, were delighted and had more than they planned to taste.
The surprise is the way most of the attendees thronged the South-East, Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago and Senegal stands and were feted with sumptuous delicacies.
Apart from its participation, the Embassy of Spain to Nigeria graced the festival with Chef Alex Marugan, a celebrated Spanish chef, who aside from offering Spanish delicacies to the visitors, also had time to train and share some best practices and emerging global trends of culinary arts with some select culinary schools in Nigeria.
Moreover, the gala section of the festival, which was also held at the ICC Abuja on the same day, was a major highlight.
The gala featured an award ceremony for many deserving Nigerians. One of the awardees was Hilda Bassey, the Guinness World Record (GWR) holder for the longest marathon cooking record by an individual.
She was recognized at home for her international honour by the organisers of Guinness World Records.
The night also witnessed awards being given to others such as; Gab Onah, Chairman, Calabar Carnival Commission, Wale Akinboboye, CEO, La Campagne Tropicana Beach Resort, Idi Hong, former Minister of Tourism, among other recipients across the industry.
As well, NIHOTOUR staff members were not left out of the awards.
Lagos Campus emerged as the Overall Best NIHOTOUR Campus of the Year 2023. Chinyere Uche-Ibeabuchi, coordinator of the campus, was on hand to receive the prize, which also includes an all-expense paid trip to Tunisia.
Gemma Simon, unit head, SERVICOM in NIHOTOUR Abuja office, won the Best Staff of the Year, which comes with a trip to Tunisia; while Haladu Habu Wakili, staff at the registry unit, NIHOTOUR Abuja, won the Most Dedicated Staff of the Year 2023, amid an all-expense paid trip to Senegal.
It would be recalled that the Best Campus and Outstanding Staff Members award system was introduced by Nura Sani Kangiwa, director general of NIHOTOUR, in 2021.
In fulfilment of its promise in May 2023, NIHOTOUR also redeemed its pledge for the top-three culinary schools that won the NIHOTOUR cooking competition that heralded the third NIHOTOUR Gastronomy Festival with prizes including cooling appliances.
Speaking at the Gastronomy Festival, Nura Sani Kangiwa, director general of NIHOTOUR, noted that the third edition had an impressive turnout of Nigerians, Nigerian food companies and more foreign participation than previous editions.
He was excited that the impressive participation, quality offerings and networking at the festival lived up to the theme of this year, which is “Culinary Arts: The Gateway to Growing Tourism Destinations”.
“With the many visitors, exchanges and interactions within this period, tourism has been positively impacted in Nigeria,” he said.
In the same vein, Nkereuwem Onung, president, Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), affirmed that the gastronomy festival has broken the barriers, which politics and business had failed to do in the past.
He commended the culinary sector for using food and chefs to unite Nigerians and their brothers from the West African sub-regions.
Now in its third consecutive edition, the festival, which features among other things; a food and beverage exhibition, tasting and sampling activities, cultural parades, and innovations in the food business, was first organised in 2011 as an annual by NIHOTOUR.
Since then, it has grown to become one of the largest of its kind in Africa, with growing participation from over 300 ethnic groups in the country and cuisines and arts from the international community including; China, Spain, Senegal, Trinidad & Tobago, and Cote D’Ivoire.
It is noteworthy to mention that the industry event, which was held at the International Conference Centre Abuja, kicked off on Friday, June 16, 2023, a Tourism Journalism Masterclass organised by the NIHOTOUR to refresh and retool the tourism press, particularly members of the Association of Nigeria Travel and Tourism Writers of Nigeria (ANJET), with the most modern skills in media coverage and for better reportage of the tourism and hospitality sector.