Akwaaba African Travel Market Becoming Continent’s Most Influential Show

Travel and Tourism is the new frontier that plays a critical role in the world’s economy today and nowhere was this most obvious than the 3-day Akwaaba African Travel Market at Eko Hotel, Lagos. A robust and rich panel of industry stakeholders discussed the state of tourism and aviation in the continent with emphasis on Nigeria. The stakes were high and nobody came to play games, as participating countries put their best foot forward in terms of display, content and entertainment, turning it into the most influential trade show in Africa. Omolola Itayemi   writes

The 12th edition of Akwaaba African Market opened on Sunday October 30 amid fanfare and great expectations by the exhibitors and visitors at the Eko Hotel and Suites in Lagos. Declared open by the Deputy Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry of Zimbabwe, Annastacia Ndlouv, it lived up much to its billing. After the cutting of the opening tape, Ndlouv was taken round the stands to meet with the exhibitors on ground to complete the opening formalities.

From size to creativity, it was healthy competition at its best. Dubai Tourism, joined by 10 partners across family entertainment, airlines and DMCs, retained its place as a body with the largest space, occupying three quarters of the upper deck area, affirming its position as one of the major destination of choice for Nigerian travelers. Creativity was also not missing with South Africa flaunting its vibrant and colorful stand. The East Africans were not left out with their popular safari and bush tours as the premier leisure destination for Nigerians. Also, their coffee and tea were a great hit with people who thronged their stands for more. Uganda, a first timer had its debut ‘Uganda Day’ with a beautifully decorated stand. Uganda Tourism Board took a step further from the exhibitions to sensitize the audience of the tremendous tourism assets of the country.  African Travel Times, popularly known for promoting religious tourism also had its debut. Carnival Calabar thrilled audience at the evening of the first day at an exclusive invite-only for exhibitors and stakeholders of the industry.

Other dignitaries that were present at the opening ceremony of the event included NATOP President, Nkereuwem Onung; NANTA President, Bernard Bankole; Mr. Talal Alsuwaidi, Manager, Dubai Tourism; Mr. Ikechi Uko, organizer, Akwaaba African Travel Market; Mr. Omror Alal, Dubai Immigration; Rwanda High Commissioner to Nigeria, Amb. Stanislas Kamanzi; and Lucky George, Publisher African Travel Times, among others.

Day two morning session included Aviation Day where experts in the aviation industry called for a total concession of Nigerian airports. While speaking on the topic ‘State of Aviation in Africa, Chike Ogeah, vice chairman, Sachol, said Nigerian Airports are in bad state and needed to be upgraded to modern international standards. He explained that the best way to make airports in the country work optimally is for them to be privatised. 

However, some experts argued that some airports in Africa have evolved overtime from the use of old and archaic infrastructure to a much more modern state-of-the-art buildings and structures. Yet, there is still more to be done, like putting up safe gates that read boarding passes and control passenger access to secure areas. They should replace manual check-in boarding passes, as passengers move from check-in areas to the departure lounge. Automated Boarder Control (ABC) departure smart gates using facial recognition should be installed. It captures image of departing passengers and matched them to their Biometric e-passport.

At the event, the speakers agreed that the aviation industry was significant in Africa and that the continent would continue to miss out on the huge benefits available in the sector if it refused to re-awaken to the benefits. 

Afternoon session comprised Uganda Day presentation and AUN press conference. With a beautifully decorated stand, Uganda Tourism Board took its place at the ongoing annual Akwaaba African Travel Market.

Celebration of Uganda Day was one of the high points that was capped by a captivating presentation by Nelson Ocheger, the Ugandan High Commissioner to Nigeria. He demonstrated passion and excitement as he held the entire audience spell-bound with a presentation just as the audience and delegates were held spell bound by the awesome landscape and numerous tourist attractions the country is endowed with, breath-taking clips on display and their customised tote bag which was a favorite with everybody.

Next was ‘State of Tourism’ in Africa, chaired by Deputy Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry of Zimbabwe, Annastacia Ndlouv. It was another hot topic with fellow panelists, such as Olanma Ojukwu, Ngozi Ngoka, Nkereuwem Onung, Nancy Sam and with Bankole Bernard as the moderator, discussing strategies and solution to Africa’s tourism. Ndlouv in her presentation reiterated the need to see tourism as an economic pillar. “Travel and Tourism is the new frontier that plays a critical role in the world’s economy today. It is the peace bridge that keeps people connected. Thus, tourism facilitate peace rather than a security threat. The 1.2 billion international travelers realised in 2015, are all peace ambassadors from various wonderful tourism brands around the world. None of them arrived brandishing a gun, but were decorated with disarming smiles and expectations of excellent hospitality. Thus, tourism is a vehicle for trust and goodwill, strengthening cultural understanding which can change attitudes of different groups, and build peace. In Zimbabwe, tourism is recognised in successive economic blue prints as an economic pillar and it is under the Value Addition and Beneficiation Cluster of ZIMASSET. President signed the UNWTO’s Golden Book on Tourism in 2013, which is the highest commitment to the sector by any government. As the Chair of the UNWTO Regional Commission for Africa, I implore other governments to consider signing the Golden Book,” she said.

Major  partnerships took place such as the Nigeria Association of Tour Operators, NATOP; National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies, NANTA  and the Tour Operators Association of Ghana, TOUGHA signing a Memorandum of Understanding with South African Tourism on Monday, October 31. The MoU which was signed at the South African stand is aimed at promoting trade relations among the Nigerian travel agencies, the Nigeria tour operators and the Ghana tour operators.

The evening session was on the internet and the future of travel in Africa with speaker Damian Cook and panelists, such as Abiola Lawal, Phillip Aekesson, Kusha Duran of Jumia Travels and Vinod Kaurani. 

The third day, christened “Hospitality Day” created a forum for hoteliers and stakeholders in the hospitality sector to discuss various topics on; innovation; hotel and payment system for the modern hotel; managing online reviews; using social media as a tool for hotel growth and online booking in Nigeria; and developing world class conferencing in Africa. Next was the afternoon session of Driving Tourism with Entertainment and Fashion, where Nkekeurem Onung, Director General, NATOP (National Agency of Tour Operators) discussed the business side of entertainment. He said, “Carnival business is big business, much more than dancing. Skilled and unskilled people are employed and profit is made by costume makers, from gathering feathers, float designs, known as costume design, souvenir business, makeup agency, tour guide agencies and others. Everybody, in the end, makes money out of Carnival Calabar. Speaking on Driving Tourism with Entertainment and Fashion at 12th Akwaaba African Travel Market, the organiser of the event and publisher of ATQ Magazine, Mr. Ikechi Uko said, “Akwaaba is a popular word in West Africa, which translates to welcome in Ghana. The African Travel Market Expo has been running for 12 years as an influential travel show in Africa.” 

He disclosed that the country has enormous tourism potential that could be showcased to the international community while the global tourism community also recognised Nigeria as the tourism hub in West Africa. 

Exhibitors include African Travel Times; Ethiopian Airlines; NTDC; NATOP; TOUGHA; Kenya Tourism Board; RwandAir and Rwanda Tourism Board, South Africa Tourism; Dubai Tourism;  Rwanda Tourism Board; Travelstart Nigeria;  Namibia Tourism, Uganda Tourism, Nike Lake hotels, Asky Airlines and South African Airways.

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