‘We are Using Akwaaba to Bring the World to Africa’

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The organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market, Mr. Ikechi Uko, in this interview with Peter Uzoho, describes the just concluded 2016 travel exhibition in Lagos, as a huge success

Do you think you have met your expectations at this year’s Akwaaba?
In fact, the expectations were met right from day one. This is first Akwaaba that we didn’t have issues. After the Ebola of 2014 where we had more than 80 per cent cancellation, we really had quite a lot of problems trying to get back last year. But this year, finally, we’re back. We have 16 countries that participated and the dinner we organised for our guests was awesome.

We expected 300 people but we had 600 people and the Calabar carnival, the fashion show, and the mass party were fantastic. At the aviation session, the highest collection of aviation experts in Nigeria were here. It’s something that has never happened before. These are people who don’t normally talk anywhere, but they’re willing to come out to speak at our event. I think our expectations have been met. But unfortunately, we’ve not had quite a lot of support from the Nigerian environment.

You raised the same issue last year, what is really the problem?
I still don’t understand how people want to market tourism in Nigeria. The best destinations in the world- Dubai, South Africa, Kenya, are all here. So there must be something they know that we don’t know. So we need to be able to learn from them and ask ourselves what they are all doing here, because there must be a reason why they are here. Until we have answers to that we still keep struggling.

What are we expected to take away from this event at the end of the day?
The experience, the network, the amount of knowledge that was shared here will transform quite a lot of businesses and minds. We talked about why airlines fail, the speaker told us about the internal and the external factors, and the question is if you’re able to solve one part of it, airlines will succeed.

Because this the study of so many airlines and the experts who were part of the failed airlines in Nigeria can now say this is right, this is wrong. So there’s quite a lot to take home. And the networking opportunities are incredible. And the fact that people were able to make friends, new contacts, know about new places, and the presentation by Uganda. Most Catholics don’t know that St. Mulumba is in Uganda. So these are different things that have been learnt, and most of us became experts by attending events like this. So this is a big opportunity for growth.

In terms of figure, what was the level of participation this year?
People who registered online were like 3000. So that is better than what I’ve ever had. The interest was shown and last year some of exhibitors told me ‘Ikechi we’re overwhelmed. Could you believe that, we wanted a break but we couldn’t’. So when an exhibitor is telling on day one that he or she is overwhelmed, what else could you be asking for? So it’s been fantastic and very exciting.

What is Akwaaba trying to achieve in Africa?
We’re trying to get Africans to know more of each other and travel within Africa, and bring the world to meet Africa. We normally go to London, to Berlin to meet people. Why don’t they come to meet Africa? So you could see it here already happening. We have Bahrain and Dubai-two non-African countries here, and more are coming.

Could it be right to say that this is an avenue for African countries to meet together and know each other better?
Yes, to know each other, share ideas, cultures, and you know friendship with 16 countries is very massive.

You have been so passionate about tourism, Africa and Nigeria, what really drives you?
I like creating value and there is joy in seeing some of skills work, and as at now I have so many success stories, I can actually feel fulfilled. When one is embarking on a project people think he’s foolish. I ignore them because I have testimonies of what I have done and what can work.

Are you really getting the kind of support that you need to achieve your goal?
Every country supports its own, so I’m expecting that I should get that kind of support. I’m a Nigerian. I have the skill, I have the network, and I have the product. But I’m not getting the support yet.