The year has and is still having its share of travel markets, from the not-too-recently concluded International French Travel Market to World Travel Market billed to start in United Kingdom tomorrow. Travel markets provide a platform for major players and destinations in the travel and tourism industry to meet, network and exchange ideas on how to move the industry forward. The 8th edition of Akwaaba, one of West Africa’s leading travel and tourism event has shown that with each year, it articulates themes that add value to travel and tourism industry. OMOLOLA ITAYEMI writes
More than grand aesthetics, colourful representatives and a carnival-like ambiance, travel markets are serious business investment opportunities for destinations, airlines, tour and travel operators and other stakeholders in this industry. For countries serious about driving their tourism industry, travel markets provide a unique platform to forecast and project dividends and announce major GDP earned accrued from their tourism drive.
Last week, from Monday to Wednesday, Akwaaba our own local Travel Market attracted a mammoth crowd consisting major players and destinations in the travel and tourism industry across the world, with significance to the West African countries. It is the only international travel fair in the West African region and a major feature in the tourism calendar of Nigeria. Akwaaba took place at Eko Hotel and Suites in Lagos, providing a perfect opportunity to establish their presence in the market, increase sales, attract new customers and make available a benchmark for gauging the growth of travel and tourism industry in the sub-region.
According to Ikechi Uko, publisher of Africa Quarterly Travel (ATQ) and organizer of Akwaaba, this event is meant to enable participants explore the country’s, tourism and hospitality industry.
“This year’s edition holds a lot of promise as it is coming with all the regular features and events for the benefit of the exhibitors and the public. For the first time, people now understand what a travel expo is all about; people know what to do and they are doing it well,” Uko said.
The 8th edition had organizations running the whole gamut of the industry from regulatory bodies to destination marketers. Organisations and and governments from Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, the Gambia, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates (UAE) were also active participants. International airlines such as Emirates, Lufthansa, Delta airlines Qatar airways, Ethiopian Airline with its captain and crew of its new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, South African Airlines amongst others were also in attendance. Other exhibitors include Eko Hotels, Protea Hotels, Sun International, Starwood Group of hotels and others. Other stakeholders in the travel and tourism industry such as regulators, tour operators, food and beverage organizations were not left out.
This year’s fair also attracted the insurance industry part of the ancillary service needed in the industry, a first in this regard.
The event was flagged off with the executives walking through the various exhibition stands on display, taking pictures and answering questions where necessary. One thing all participants and executives agreed in unison is the need for a viable airline industry as the tourism business needs it to develop. This is in line with the theme of the fair: Showcasing the tourism and cultural potentials of Nigeria.
Runsewe spoke about the forthcoming influx of American tourists into the country soon. This influx he ascertained would happen because 70 per cent of black Americans had traced their origins back to Nigeria through DNA tests conducted in the U.S.
“Nigeria is done with talking; we are ready to sell the destination. The story that nothing works in Nigeria has changed as 70 per cent of American tourists are ready to visit Nigeria,” Runsewe said.
He further explained that NTDC was partnering one of the most proficient U.S. tour operators, Mr Paul Cohen, in organizing a package for American tourists wishing to travel to Nigeria. According to him, Nigeria has been listed as one of the major preferred tourism destinations among African countries by the U.S. tour operators.
He said that this achievement was recorded through the U.S. road show, which the NTDC conducted.
The second day was as interactive as the first with Rector of Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria Captain Chinyere Kalu and The Gambia tourism taking pride of place amongst other events. Delivering a paper, titled, Training future aviators, Mrs. Kalu saw the training of future aviators as paramount in the development of aviation in Africa. She said the development of Africa’s economy is tied to the development of the transportation system, especially air transportation. Using statistics, she explained that about 99 per cent of investors that come to Africa came through the airport. She continued: “The state of aviation sector of Africa is almost moribund due to dearth and declining manpower development in Africa. Although Africa is the second largest continent and home to over 17 per cent of the world population, it has the least developed transport system, including air transportation.”
She said to train future aviators; government must see the need to make policies that position the aviation industry as a top priority area of development.
The third day, also the Nigerian day was another memorable one. From tasty Nigerian cuisine made available courtesy NTDC to Alexander Gasseur of Starwood’s stirring address on the growth of hotel business in Nigeria, these were three days well spent.
American based tourism expert, Paul Cohen at the invitation of NTDC was on hand to help in capacity building for tourism practitioners. He advised tourism practitioners on the need to create products that American tourists will buy in order to reap from the American travel market.
To buttress this point, Runsewe said Cohen invitation was in line with his effort to move the industry beyond the realms of indoor discussion and give the private operators practical guides on how to package and market their tourism products in Nigeria. He re-iterated the need to understand the multiplier effects of tourism, which will also impact on a large number of Nigerians who will make their livelihood from such visits.
In all, the raffle draws, the Aviation Day seminar by Dr. Demuren and papers delivered by Alhaji Aminu Agoha, the National President of NANTA among other attractions made the 8th Akwaaba an outstanding one.
Chinyere Kalu, Nigeria’s first female pilot and the Rector of Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Zaria, along with Captain Desta Zera of Ethiopian Airways the first African to fly a Boeing 787 Dreamliner was honoured with Legend of Africa award. Cross River State for the third consecutive year won the Outstanding Tourism State of the Year and Emirate Airline won the Best Stand Award.