Gigiantic edifie of WTM Exhibition centre in Excel London. PHOTO: Funke Olaode

Many African countries were ably represented at the 2017 edition of the World Travel Market in London. Funke Olaode wonders when Nigeria will rejoin the global tourism and travel platform as Lagos State indicates readiness to participate this year

The African stands were conspicuously present with each country displaying its cultural heritage. From North Africa to East Africa, West and Southern Africa, everywhere glittered. The three day World Travel Market held in Excel, East London, United Kingdom from Monday November 6- Wednesday November 8, 2017 did not disappoint with its teeming visitors and tourist operators who have graced the global tourism exhibition in the past three decades trying to showcase their potential and what makes them tick.

WTM London, the leading global event for the travel industry, is the must attend three day exhibition for the worldwide travel and tourism industry. Around 51,500 senior travel industry professionals, government ministers, and international media visit Excel-London every November generating around 2.8 Billion Pounds of travel industry contacts.

For our dear country, Nigeria, the last three years has seen the country absent with many critics believing that Nigeria is gradually fizzling out leaving smaller countries such as Mali, Tanzania, Gambia, Zambia, Kenya and so on to take center stage.

With dwindling in resources and recent recession, many are of the opinion that Nigeria should take every step and opportunity to boost its tourism potential. For instance, South Africa who is already raking billions of Rands from its tourism initiative launched World Travel Market Africa in Cape Town in 2014. At the inception, nearly 5,000 travel industry professionals attended Africa’s leading inbound and outbound travel and tourism market.

WTM Africa delivers a proven mix of hosted buyers, media-professionals, pre-scheduled appointments, onsite networking, evening functions and invited travel trade visitors. Another event is scheduled for April 18-20 in Cape Town.

While United Kingdom remains many tourists choice of destination, just over half of the trade professionals quizzed in an industry survey said that Brexit would have a negative impact on the UK’s reputation as a holiday destination according to a market research by the WTM London research.

The London annual survey revealed that 12 per cent said the impact of Brexit on the UK’s reputation among holidaymakers will be significantly negative, with 41 per cent saying it will be slightly negative.

Almost a third representing 31 per cent predicted there would be no impact, while 16 per cent predict a positive outcome.

The industry is also split on the impact of Brexit on process-50 per cent do not anticipate price rises but 16 per cent do, while more than a third are not sure about the future implications.

However, there is more agreement on the impact for UK based firms when it comes to recruitment as two in UK-based holiday companies expect Brexit will affect their ability to recruit staff from overseas.

In his remarks, WTM London’s Paul Nelson, said “Brexit is certainly the main topic on the minds of many exhibitors, most notably those in the UK and Ireland section.

“It’s proving to be a double-edged sword for the UK travel trade-the fall in the pound since 2016’s referendum has helped inbound tourism reach record levels this year.

“But industry bosses are very concerned about the long term impact of leaving the European Union-they are already seeing EU staff leave in considerable numbers, and are worried about freedom of movement for travelers across borders.

“And, as our poll shows, they fear for the reputation of Britain-political wrangling and rhetoric during Brexit negotiations doesn’t help and anti-European sentiment in some of the national newspapers might well be affecting the UK’s reputation among overseas holiday makers.

“Tourism boards such as VisitBritain are working hard with industry partners to promote positive image overseas, yet the fall in the value of sterling is weakening the value of their marketing budgets.”

Nelson added. “Our programme at this year’s WTM London will help delegates understand the implications more clearly-for example, our World Travel Leaders and aviation sessions will discuss the impact of Brexit, and our World Leaders’ Lunch will feature the European Parliament Chief negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt,” he concluded.

Despite fears being raised over Brexit, the British tourism department is allaying the fear, working very hard to ensure that Britain is being projected in good light globally. Patriotism you may say!

While many are concerned about Nigeria’s disappearance in the last three years at WTM, a Nigerian and the executive officer, West Africa Tourism Organisation, a tourist operator based United Kingdom, Ms. Ola Wright is of the opinion there will be light at the end of dark tunnel of tourism in Africa as in recent times, the continent has had breakthroughs in exposing many tourism hidden treasures.

While she wouldn’t want to comment on Nigeria’s continued absence at the global event, Wright said Africa can actually act in unison as there are many emerging tourism destinations across the African continent and in West Africa in particular, where majority of those new destinations abound.

She said she is happy to be part of the new initiative to bring the new destinations to the world’s attention. This is also demonstrated in Ghana’s willingness and support to launch the “Wait Project,” a West Africa integrated travel. Wright is confident that as from next year they hope to build on those landmark foundations, having achieved considerable progress in exploring those new areas of West African tourism foundation.

“As an African, we owe a duty in promoting the new destinations and creating awareness so that we can reap the benefit of top tourism destinations.

In recent years, WATO beamed the search light on some West African destinations, spotting them as best African destinations. We must all tap into those resources as individual nations as we have made desired impact in opening the floodgates of exposure of West African tourism potential.”

“Speaking further, Wright said tourism is a major economic earner in today’s world and as the world is set to make Africa a new Mecca of raw material exploration, we must strive to attract new comers and do our bits to impress then. In the next few years, West Africa must be well put on the world map of the first destinations in the world of tourist attractions. We must tap seriously into the new income generation World of tourism industry, grabbing the benefits of employment creation, foreign exchange earnings and more interchange of cultural values and traditional beliefs as the world turns now to global village,” she concluded.

Promoting African tourism may be on Wright’s mind, but it is a move that has already yielding for a few African countries that see tourism as another ‘cash cow’.

Little wonder, in spite of domestic challenges back home, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have not failed to take advantage of the WTM. During 2016 WTM, London, the trio marketed themselves as a single destination for the first time at joint stand under the banner, “East African countries opt for joint marketing, Borderless Borders, One Destination.”

The single East Africa Tourist Visa, recently launched, enables travellers to visit Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda under one visa. According to the East Africa Tourism Platform, the move is in line with the vision of marketing East African Community (EAC) as a single destination.

The question is can Nigeria take advantage of this initiative and reposition itself? It is disheartening when smaller countries are now at the forefront.

As this reporter strolled round the expansive exhibition ground with other journalists from Nigeria, the question from a Ghanaian operator simply identified as Kodjo jolted me. Where is Nigeria? As soon as we identified ourselves as Nigerians, he expressed his sadness over Nigeria’s absence which every other African look up to.

But there is good news coming from the Centre of Excellence, Lagos state. In a brief chat with journalists at the WTM ground, Consultant to Lagos State government on Culture and Tourism, Sen. Tokunbo Afikuyomi disclosed that Lagos State will be at WTM 2018 to exhibit the rich potentials of Lagos State. He stated that Lagos will take a cue from other cities that independently market their province outside their countries.

As good as it may sound, this is just a drop in the ocean of a country with close to a 200 Million population with several attractive sites scattered across its 36 states. The question still remains. Will Nigeria reclaims her place among the comity of African nations in the coming years ahead? Only time will tell.