By Demola Ojo

For a second year running, Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) participated at the Akwaaba African Travel Market held in Lagos recently. Nigeria, in particular, was among the top 20 source markets for Dubai Tourism in 2015, with more than 201,000 overnight visitors arriving in the city. It makes sense certainly to exhibit and market to more visitors at West Africa’s premier travel fair.

A testament to the success of using Akwaaba as an avenue to reach more Nigerians in the travel trade was the size of the delegation; the 10 corporate entities that came was double the size of last year’s impressive first outing. And profitable too, apparently.

“I think it has to do with what the others benefitted from when they came last year,” said Stella Obinwa, Regional Director Africa at Dubai Tourism. “Remember, last year was the first time Dubai Tourism stepped out into Africa to do something, so maybe they (the DMCs) were a little hesitant. Now they’re gaining more and more confidence.”

Alongside officials of Dubai Tourism were representatives from Dubai Immigrations, Emirates Airline and IMG Worlds of Adventure, the world’s largest indoor theme park.

There were a few of Dubai’s biggest tour companies and DMCs; Red Apple, North Tours, Alpha tours, Rena Tours and Arabian Falcon Holidays, the largest timeshare company in the Middle East. Incidentally, over 60 per cent of Arabian Falcon’s customers are Nigerian.

“We’re back again and we’ll continue to come back as long as Nigeria and West Africa in general continue to be interested in Dubai,” Obinwa explained at Akwaaba. “Each time we come, we bring new tour operators and Destination Marketing Companies and we have more things to tell you (the market) about new things that have opened up in Dubai since when we were last here.”

Apart from the indoor theme park, there’s the Dubai Parks and Resorts, which has done a soft opening with the major opening billed for the end of the year as well as a new discount shopping mall next to the Dubai Parks.

The Nigerian traveller is especially important to Dubai Tourism. Nigeria represents about 56 per cent of total visitation from Africa. The country ranked second is South Africa, with numbers that are not half as much as Nigeria’s.

But the focus is not just Nigeria but Africa as a whole. “We had 50 luxury event planners we hosted in Dubai earlier in October. We invited 20 from Nigeria, 15 from Kenya and 15 from South Africa. We wanted to show them a different kind of Dubai. They were all wowed by the experience,” she revealed.

Red Apple did all the ground transportation for that particular tour. It was free-of-charge. The company sees it as an investment that will bear fruit.

A lot of the companies that partner with Dubai Tourism operate the same way because it gives them access to the customer base. In essence they say, ‘Take us to Nigeria, introduce us under the Dubai Tourism platform so we can get to meet the people one-on-one and grow our business.’

Since coming to Akwaaba, the companies have been able to meet the Nigerian and African travel agents.

They sweeten the deal with incentives. Red Apple for example, encourages travel agents that sign up on their website – register and make bookings through the platform to Dubai – by giving a free 3-night trip to another destination. It was successfully launched in East Africa and is now being brought to Nigeria.

Effects of Recession

It is no secret the Nigerian economy is going through a recession. Dubai Tourism certainly notices. “It has impacted on the visitation numbers and the revenue,” Obinwa admitted. “A lot of the luxury hotels that used to have Nigerian clientele are asking, ‘when are the Nigerians coming back?’ Nigerians are big spenders, so you lose one, you lose a hefty chunk.

“But the economy notwithstanding, our DG, His Excellency Helal Saeed Almarri, has made a commitment that Africa can be as big as China to any country in terms of visitation. So we will not stop investing in Africa because it’s a cycle; every country goes through recession, economic changes, ups and downs. You just have to be able to ride it out and stay relevant in the market. So that when things are good, you’ll remember and come back to visit.”

Game-changing Akwaaba

An advantage of marketing at Akwaaba is the different strata of the market it reaches. Dubai Tourism has noticed that it is not just the very well-to-do that visit Dubai. The perception of Dubai as being all about the Burj Khalifa or the Desert Safari is changing.

“Since coming to Akwaaba, we’ve seen an upsurge in the clientele from the very wealthy, and also the youth. The youth now know that Dubai is affordable. Because Dubai has this perception of luxury and everything being expensive but that’s not the case,” said Obinwa.

Early Shopping

One of the opportunities at getting good stuff at no-so-expensive prices is at the annual Dubai Shopping Festival. The 2017 edition will start earlier than this year’s which was a month-long event starting January 1. Rather it starts earlier, on December 26.

“We have a lot more retailers on board,” Obinwa revealed. “They realise that even the Euro and the Pound are lower (in value) than they used to be. So they are going to have to make their discounts extremely attractive for the visitors that are coming. But we hope the coming festival will be just as good as the last one.”