When London Opened its Doors to the World

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The recently concluded three-day World Travel Market in Excel, East London, United Kingdom where over 100 countries converged to showcase their travels and tourism potential was an eye opener that Covid-19 pandemic may be an impediment to human movement for a short while; it can never restrict human existence for too long. Funke Olaode who was part of the well-attended global travel exhibition reports

In 2020, the global atmosphere was enveloped by fear as COVID-19 ripped everything and anything on its path. The popular cliché then was, “the fear of Covid-19 is the beginning of human movement.” What started as a mere disease that allegedly emanated from China later exploded causing global meltdown and lockdown. International airports were deserted, borders were closed, and people were locked down in their homes. It was a moment that would remain evergreen in the generation involved as it altered the way they lived, interacted and associated.

Since its debut 41 years ago, the World Travel Market usually organised in London, has remained an avenue for 187 countries across the globe to share ideas on how to improve the tourism and travel industry – but more important, to deal in multimillion-pound tourism enterprise.

The gigantic exhibition Centre situated in Excel, East London, is an avenue that attracts common interests and offers stakeholders the opportunity to keep up with latest insight on travels. Since its establishment, at least 50,000 senior travel industry professionals, business people and top government officials and international press, visit Excel-London every November to network, negotiate and discover latest opinions and trends on travels enterprise.

With recession facing many countries and the dip in oil prices, not a few countries are exploring their tourism potential as support system to boost their economy.

Between Monday November 1-3, 2021, travel and tourism experts across the globe again headed to London, to showcase their travel and tourism potential. This was after the UK government had relaxed its travels restriction.

The three days event was superlative as there were lots of activities. “What a momentum days as WTM London in its physical form is fully back. Travel professionals from around the world can once come together at ExCel to host all important business meetings and attend inspiring conference session over three opportunity-packed days”, said Simon Press, exhibition director for WTM London.

He continued. “This year’s event is a ‘must attend for delegates wanting to conduct business meetings in person, listen to thought leaders and, of course, catch up with old friends and colleagues face-to-face. WTM London was the last International travel event to take place in 2019 and it is the first to come back.”

WTM London event actually lived to expectations with various programmes and sessions designed to showcase the industry’s next generation tech and meeting opportunities with more than 50 innovation solution providers. The Buyer’s Club Speed Networking took place every morning, with a focus on buyers interested in Europe while London Travel Week also returned with a calendar of events celebrating future of travel. With the airline industry, one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, there was WTM’s Big Airline session.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the turnout was huge. The host country, Great Britain was visible. The United States, Hungary, Poland, Ireland, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia amongst others were physically present. African countries such as Kenya, Egypt, Ghana, and South Africa also registered their presence. Unfortunately, Nigeria has shunned the global exhibition in the last six years.

It is unfortunate that in spite of these benefits of tourism, the Nigerian government, investors in tourism business and promoters and even the host communities where these tourism attractions are located seem not to bother much in developing and promoting tourism in the country.

The top 10 tourist destinations in Africa, according to the United Nations World Tourism Barometer in 2013 are Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Namibia and Senegal in that order. Nigeria is nowhere to be found in African tourism ranking.

For so-called ‘Giant of Africa’ –Nigeria – with its vast tourist destinations and human resources, things are falling apart in travels and tourism as it faces kidnapping, terrorism, corruption and lack of ingenuity.

According to an expert, this is a bad omen for a country struggling to make tourism one of its exports besides oil and agriculture.

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

The single East Africa Tourist Visa launched that year, enabled 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. It has continued to wax stronger.

As countries come together every year in London, they are on one vision and mission: “to draw tourists to their tents.” So with their jaw dropping pavilions, countries like Qatar and UAE were cynosure of all eyes at WTM London 2021. This is because of their impressive range of hotels and restaurants which make it a must-visit holiday destination for every type of traveler. Whether visiting on a stopover or staying for longer, visitors can enjoy thrilling adventures, all in the space of one trip.

Having been part of WTM London over the past 10 years, it was an eventful journey for me late last year as I watched new deals being made, contacts exchanged opening news frontiers and vistas in travel industries.

It was also an eye opener that Covid-19 pandemic may be an impediment to human movement for a short while, it can never restrict human existence for too long as future of travels and tourism have come to stay.