Akwaaba Africa Travel Market has continued to grow year on year, attracting interest not only from Africa but across the world, with the Caribbean this year having a presence, writes ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA who attended the three days travel and tourism trade exhibition
For three days; September 22 – 24; tourism took the centre stage in Nigeria with countries from Africa and other parts of the world converging on Lagos. The event was the annual Akwaaba African Travel Market, a travel and tourism trade exhibition and conference event organised by Ikechi Uko’s – led Atqnews.com.
The venue was the Expo Hall of Eko Hotels and Suites on Victoria Island. It was a beautiful sight to behold the glittering and inviting travel products put on displayed by the various countries and travel trade operators who attended the fair, with the Caribbeans featuring for the first time this year, which was the 15fth edition of the yearly event.
It offered a lot of opportunities for the various vendors, buyers and different consumers of travel products and services, including the travelling public, to feast on the avalanche of colourfully curated and enchanting exhibits on showcase as well as network and close on some deals.
Each day of the expo featured different elements besides the exhibits from the different participants that were the main feature during the three days gathering. The first day of the event set the tone for this year’s event as beside the formal opening ceremony, which was performed by the Father of Nigerian Tourism, Chief Mike Amachree, alongside other dignitaries that included the Director General of the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), Otunba Segun Runsewe, the day witnessed a number of other interesting and delightsome activities.
One of the major highlight was the Jollof rice challenge, which since it debuted two years ago has become a major feature of the exhibition.
This time, the culinary war featured Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, and Republic of Benin, with Nigeria clinching the three top positions at the end of the day, dethroning the Gambia, which last year claimed the diadem from Nigeria.
Chef Folashade Shoyombo came tops followed by Chef Deborah Esene and Chef Fatima Lawal respectively as first and second runners up. It was indeed a celebratory and joyous moment for everyone present and a delight to savour the delicious offerings from the four countries.
The excitement of the day was turbo charged with Uganda Tourism Board, taking over the stage thereafter to celebrate their tourism offerings, with officials from the board and minister of the tourism ministry taking turns to make a presentation of the various offerings offered by the destination.
Day two started on a colourful note with Dubai Tourism, which was represented by a powerful delegation made of over 22 companies and destination management companies, directors and head of Africa marketing team, Stella Obinwa, as well as the UAE envoy in Nigeria, alongside some Nigerian influencers and Nollywoods actors, for hours held the audience spellbound with their various enchanting offerings.
Next on stage was The Gambia, which is fondly called the smiling coast of Africa, which attempted to match the recording setting pace of Dubai Tourism as they also celebrated their day with colours, offering exciting offers and capping it with their most famous culinary offerings, Benachin (Jollof rice).
One of the most stimulating and profound features of the day was the debuting African Diaspora Tourism Conference, which spotlighted ‘The Year of return: Connecting Africa and its diaspora. Actions, challenges and the future,’ as this year marked the 400 years of the abolition of the obnoxious slave trade. The panelists were diverse and they each enthralled the audience with their rich history of the African race and infusing this with the Caribbeans’ who are a major part of the Diasporan history.
Alain St Ange, a tourism expert and former minister of tourism of Seychelles, Fabian Anthony, chairman of Pan – Africa Council, Ghana Deputy Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr. Ziblim Barry Iddi, Ida Jang of Gambia Tourism Board, Carol I. Hay of Caribbean Tourism Organisation, United Kingdom and Rozan Ahmen, founder of Africanism as well as Sharon Palacio, chairperson from In2Belize Travel and Tours and leading Garifuna specialist from Belize, and Anago Osho from Badagry, with Ikechi Uko as moderator.
They captivated the audience with the benefit of their deep knowledge of the historical heritage of Africa and the Diaspora and what needs to be done to keep the tourism flame aglow and make Africa the centrepiece of global tourism.
Thrown into the mix was Rum time with the Caribbean, which set the tone for the discourse on African Heritage of the Caribbean: Connecting the dots, which was moderated by Carol Hay. It was quite stimulating and informative as well with a lot of knowledge exhibited on the Caribbean tourism and how its connection with Africa can be exploited to create a synergy and from it an enduring tourism product and market for the world. But first, the various hurdles need to be tackled, with connectivity to Africa as one of the major dots requiring urgent attention to address.
As it has become the tradition of the exhibition, the day three, which was the final day lived up to its billing, with the number of people in attendance, offers and activities presented hitting the roof.
One of the standard features was discourse on aviation, this year the focus was on ‘Impact of airports development and airlines on tourism growth. Chike Ogeah, vice chairman of Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL), moderated the session with African Airlines Association (AFRAA) Director of Government, Legal and Industry Affairs, Aaron Munetsi, formerly of South Africa Airways, Chris Alegbe, of defunct Nigerian Airways and now aviation consultant, and Chief Operating Officer of African World Airline (AWA), Sean Mendis, among other discussants, offering different perspectives on bridging the gap between aviation and tourism business in terms of creating synergy and making the airports serve the purpose of tourism.
Africa Youth Tourism Session, with focus on: ‘Is tourism a sustainable business for the youths,’ which also made a return this year was quite intense and illuminating for many, particularly the youths and young operators in the industry as the panel, which was made of today’s millennial; younger operators, who have captured the social space for tourism, entertaining the audience with their colourful and rich experience in exploring the social space for the benefit of tourism.
And what a befitting way of ending the three days gathering with the host city, Lagos State Tourism Ministry, celebrating Lagos Day and climaxing with the celebration of Ethiopian Day, which hosted the participants to a rich dinner made of the country’s famed culinary offers.
Akwaaba 2019 has been adjudged by many of the participants and observers as the best and most successful in the annals of the exhibition; judging by the number of people in attendance, quality of presentations, high net worth operators and visitors to the fair and its entertainment as well as having the Caribbean adding pomp to it all with its presence and offerings, with particularly reference to the Rum and steel band display.
This was position was well encapsulated by the Deputy Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture of Ghana, Dr. Iddi Ziblim, who commended the organisers of the event, saying its unarguably the biggest international tourism and aviation event in West Africa. The minister who represented Ghana for the first time at the exhibition said his expectation was exceeded.
“I never thought that Akwaaba is this big. I just thought it was a Ghana-Nigeria something,” he said excitedly.
Ethiopian Airlines: Akwaaba offered us platform to promote our vision
For the General Manager of Ethiopian Airlines in Nigeria, Firihiewot Mekonnen, if there is one primary benefit it has enjoyed from Akwaaba, it is the fact that it has aided the promotion of its vision to the world, as she described it as a veritable platform to showcase Africa and network among Africans.
According to Mekonnen, the platform is progressive in the way it drives African businesses together to learn and share. ‘‘We have been with Akwaaba from the beginning, over 15 years now. What drives us is that this is a kind of platform where different African countries can showcase their cultures, tradition, economy and other things, and then what we believe at Ethiopia is that Africa should buy from Africa; inter – African market.
“We have gained a lot because we are able to showcase what we have on the new destination that we have and also important are tourism, you know that the intra-African tourism is poor, why do we go out abroad when we have places in Africa.
“We have a lot to offer to each other and unless we support each other for different things, we cannot grow together. We believe this is the kind of thing that will boost Africa to exchange what they have.’’
The airline, she said is on a steady growth curve and with the expansion work at Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa, she said:
“You know we have extended our terminal, the terminal can now take over 20 million passengers, which is a very big feat. We are using the infrastructure upgrade to handle transit passengers.
This is just as she said that the expansion of the airport has given a lot of traction to the airport and has aided the increase in traffic.
Lola Adefope: We need more points like Akwaaba to connect with Africa
Lola Adefope is the managing director of Business Travel Management Limited. She has in the last one decade being part of Akwaaba. She shares her thought on it, describing this year’s event as a huge success while commending the organiser, Uko, for what she said is a fantastic job.
Ten years ago I came to my very first Akwaaba and it is a very different experience from where I am standing now. I have to say that Ikechi Uko has done a very fantastic job and he continues to be an ambassador not just for Nigeria, not just for West Africa but for Africans.
It is a passion of mine to further Africa connectivity and standing here at Akwaaba, it is obvious that everybody that is standing here and attending; Nigerians, South Africans, Gambians, Ghanaians, Kenyans and Ugandans, are working together as Africans.
That is what Akwaaba is really promoting. We have a good representation here and we have people from Dubai. Dubai has set up its entire expo upstairs because they believe in the power of Nigeria volume, they believe in the passion that Nigerians will always bring to the table and they believe in the ability to be consistent and a good entrance point for Africa.
Akwaaba is making that possible. I wish them the best of luck and I will continue to support them in every way that I possibly can. But I honestly think that this is the kind of platform that we need. We need more engagements, we need more eyes on the work that is being done and we need more points of connections to Africa like Akwaaba.
I don’t believe that we are taking full advantage of this platform. We have giants of the industry who are in attendance today and where in attendance yesterday as well as. You have ministers who are actually paying attention to what is being done.
Bilikisu Abdul: It is big travel market for us
Hajia Bilikisu Abdul is the founder/CEO of Bboog Travels and Tours; president, Nigeria Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) and Nigeria President of Women in MICE
Akwaaba is a big travel market as far as I am concerned in Nigeria because what Akwaaba has been doing, I have been praying and hoping that Nigerian government should also be doing the same thing in the tourism sector, but Nigeria has failed in tourism sector.
Akwaaba has been a travel market that has been trying to pull the travel agents, tour operators and others together. It is a good platform as I far as I am concerned and thank the organisers for the good job.
Nigerians find it difficult to travel from one part of the country to another if it is not international travels. But I can tell you that I have a lot of tour operators, who are our members that are here in their numbers because it is an avenue for them to meet with people from aviation and other allied businesses.
It is a good opportunity for them to always be here.
My message to the tour operators who are not here is that by next year they should try as much as possible to be here because it is almost like what you are travelling out to attend, like the World Travel Market (WT).
Because this is what we have and we are trying to pull all Africans together and so what others are doing internationally we are also doing the same thing here. So, what is their reasons not be here?
Uloma Egbuna: I have seen Akwaaba grow over the years
Uloma Egbuna, is the managing director and chief executive officer of Tour Brokers International (BTI) and Bespoke Holidays and also represent Royal Caribbean in West Africa. She is one of the oldest exhibitors at Akwaaba, which she said has given Nigeria tourism visibility and a platform for promoting Africa.
I have been a key supporter of Akwaaba because I have always believed in what Ikechi Uko has been doing. We go to other travel markets like the World Travel Market (WTM) and Arabian Travel Market (ATM). So, I like the fact that somebody recongised that we needed to have an African travel market, with Nigeria as the host.
This is the 15th year and I have been with him almost from the second year and I have seen Akwaaba Travel Market grow. I admire the consistence, a number of people would had thrown in the towel and gone to look for other things that are a lot profitable in terms of finances, but Uko has stayed the course.
I really admire him for this because I am also somebody who believes in consistence and who believes in a vision. If I believe in a vision I stick by it. I represent Royal Caribbean in West Africa and when we first started about 10 years ago, we were like a lone voice crying in the wilderness.
Nobody understood what we were talking about but I believed in it and I remained and tried to see it through and today, it is an entirely quite different story as cruising has become a bragging right in Nigeria.
Akwaaba this year has been something else. I have three exhibiting stands here; I have Bespoke Holidays, Tour Brokers International (BTI) and Royal Caribbean. If it is not something that I believed in I won’t be here. I have taken exhibition stand over the years even when it was like this is not happening.
I believe in this idea of an African travel market and I am surprised by what I have seen in the last three days and it just shows me that it is growing. The first day I couldn’t believe it was Akwaaba and even yesterday and today is the closing day and you can see what is happening here.
The travel and tourism industry in Nigeria is growing and we have young tourism practitioners and more. All of these people are actually looking unto us to hold them by the hands and teach them the ropes.
Even though Nigeria has not concentrated on tourism but tourism remains one of the fastest growing sectors of any economy in the world. It is something that Nigeria really needs to begin to focus on because the tourism potentials that we have are enormous.
It just has to do with somebody in government recognising it and focusing on it. But at this point in time we are not focusing on it. However, we from the private sector will continue to do our beat and hope that one day people in the public sector will actually understand what we are talking about.
So, for Akwaaba, I am happy and I am happy for Uko.
For us Nigerians, people just stay back and watch and see what the other person is doing, Well, I always say to people, in this country, one man’s success is the other person’s feasibility study.
All over the place, we are beginning to see that a number of people rather than collaborating are coming up with all sorts of other things that are travel market related. What that says to me is that people feel that what is happening in Akwaaba year on year lacks potential.
But I will rather say to them to collaborate instead of compete. When people put their resources together and collaborate it makes this travel industry a lot easier. So, my message to everybody is, applaud what Uko is doing, and support him; because guess what? If Akwaaba travel market becomes anything like WTM or ATM, all of us stand to benefit from it.