BY ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA
THE Expo Hall of the Eko Hotel and Suites on Victoria Island, Lagos, last week, wore a pomp and pageantry look on occasion of the fifth edition of Akwaaba, a travel and tourism fair otherwise tagged Akwaaba 2009 – Africa Travel Market (AFTM).
Held from October 24 to 26, the three-day event saw over 15 Africa countries, including Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Egypt and Gambia, among others, not just hoisting their national flags, but also, putting up an impressive display of their tourist destinations. Most of these countries were represented by their travel and tourism authorities, tour operators, administrators, travel agents, travel and tourism experts and stakeholders. The event provided opportunity for stakeholders in the tourism industry to interact, learn from one another. Also, it was a moment to awaken the consciousness of Africans and those with flair for travel to see the abundant attractions in the continent. The presence of former Gambian President, Sir Dauda Jawara, former Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, as well as the former Vice President of Nigeria, Dr, Ifeanyi Chukwuemeka Ekwueme, the Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Segun Runsewe and the Governor of Cross River State, Senator Liyel Imoke, among others, enlivened the gathering.
The conference section, which had speakers such as Eran Ketter, an Israel communication expert; Najib Balala, Minister of Tourism, Kenya; Christian Folly Kossis, Secretary General of AFRAA; Fatou Beyai Raji of Gambia Tourism Authority and Uloma Egbuna of Tour Brokers International was impactful.
The awards and dinner sessions were also encouraging. Among the list of awardees was Jawara for his contributions in the opening up of travels and trade possibilities within the Africa region.
The last two days were devoted to exhibition proper, and the public had opportunity to visit the various stands to see the products, services and destinations on offer. It provided ample avenue for different deals to be negotiated and contacts made.
FOR Mr. Nkereuwen Onung, Chairman of Remlords Tours and Car Hire Services, one of the supporters and backers of the fair, the organisers have made a point that African has a strong and profitable destination, which the continent needs to take full advantage of. According to him, what is most paramount is that Akwaaba is bringing African together. “What this is actually showing to us is that African is coming together through Akwaaba and that is important. It is showing that the pan – Africa thing is working. We can actually patronise ourselves.” For Nigeria tourism, Onung, who is the President of National Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), the lesson is to use the platform to learn from others and see how best the country can develop and promote its tourism. “We should find out how others did it and find out also how we can advance our tourism, it is a point for us to share experience. We need to be a bit more practical and we should begin to prepare to receive visitors and behave like people who are expecting visitors by changing the way we behave. We need to organise ourselves as a country and begin to develop our product,” counselled Onung.
THE organiser of the three days fair, Mr. Ikechi Uko, expressed satisfaction at the success of the event considering the feedback from the exhibitors. According to him, the quality of guests, visitors and exhibitors at the fair was a notch higher than previous editions. “We are happy that the best tour operators in Nigeria are here. The top five and so that also makes it much more appealing.” He, however, expressed regret that the Magrebian region, besides Egypt, was not represented. Other regrets include not having wholesale buyers from Europe and the West and the not too impressive publicity. He promised that all these shortcomings and many more pointed out by participants would be taken care of in subsequent editions.
Huge opportunity for networking
(Mrs. NKEM AJUFOR, General Manager, Delta State Tourism Board)
I LOVE what is going on here. The organisers did a good work by providing opportunity for people to network. It has been fun and a lot of people have been here. I have made some useful contacts with people from the Gambia, Ghana and tour operators from across the continent. Ordinarily, I would not have had opportunity of meeting them to talk to them about tourism in Delta State. You find out that if you are in your state, you don’t know what is going on in others. The essence of the fair is to provide a platform where you can meet people from other places. Of course, my being here has provided me the opportunity to discuss tourism in Delta – promote our culture and river tourism. Not only that, I have also been able to tell them of upcoming events in Delta State.
We have gained a lot
(LIZZY OFFION, Cross River State)
IT was an opportunity to showcase our rich culture and also promote Carnival Calabar, which is coming up between December 26 and 27. The travel show has helped to expose what people don’t know about us. We have gained a lot, as many people here have shown interest to visit us.
It is a good market for us
(Prince KAYODE ONI, General Manager, Ekiti State Tourism Board)
IT is a very good market to promote our tourist attractions, to talk to tour operators and investors on the need to come to Ekiti State. It is very profitable coming here. I have had the opportunity of talking to so many people since then. I met the Assistant Director of Protea Hotel, who is in charge of operations and we had a useful talk on bringing Protea to Ekiti State. We have found out that it was good experience to be where fellow professionals were. From the talks we had during the conference, we know that we can benefit a lot from coming to a place like this.
Great improvement this year
(Mrs. MARY UMANAETTA, Chairperson, Akwa State Hotels and Tourism Board)
THERE have been some improvements this year, especially in terms of quality attendance. Akwa Ibom too has improved, you have seen our stand, and it speaks for itself. We have done a lot of work in tourism. I am sure that you have heard of the Tropicana coming up in the next few years. The work is in progress, we have about 250 hotel rooms, and we have a theme park and a lot of other entertainment avenues in it. The infrastructural development in Akwa Ibom is first class; you need to have good road network for tourism to thrive. In a few years from now, Akwa Ibom will be another haven in Africa. So much benefit because we have interacted with people from other states to learn from them, to know what is happening there and to learn from one another. They too can learn how to make art and craft from Akwa Ibom State as much as we have also learnt how tourism is thriving in Gambia.
It was an opportunity for us to open our doors
(FATOU BEYAI RAJI, Acting Director, Gambia Tourism Authority)
IT was an opportunity for us to open our doors to the West Africa sub – region so that people can see what we can offer. It has raised interest in the Gambia, so it has been very effective. We would continue with the networking because we really want the people of the region to come to Gambia. We have all the facilities that are needed. We have the right environment, the peace and security and we have all the banks so that people from the sub region don’t have to move around with huge sums of money. I believe the environment is also ripe for investors to come to the Gambia and invest, particularly in tourism sector. I think the most important lesson that I gained is that it is a very huge market that we have in West Africa and it is untapped. So, I have learnt that regional tourism is very good for our economies.
‘This must be encouraged’
( ALEX EKWUEME, former Vice President of Nigeria)
I JUST went around very quickly, it is good that this is showcasing tourism features from the various parts of the continent. It is important for us to have a lot of tourism within ourselves before we start jetting to Europe, Middle East and America. The organisers have done well and they should be encouraged and supported.