By Emeka Anokwuru
Travel and tourism trade exhibitions and conferences are among noted channels for the deepening of tourism markets and creating linkages by the various operators and stakeholders in the global trade, which is largely regarded as one of the largest employers of labour, an economic tool for the development of society.
The world over, the list of such channels is endless, with notable ones as the World Travel Market (WTM) in London, ITB Berlin and FITUR in Madrid. In Nigeria, the culture is yet to catch on, with Akwaaba African Travel Market as the only such channel that has firmly established a foothold in the industry. The annual event, which is staged in Lagos, has continued to attract different African countries and hundreds of players in the industry to Nigeria.
However, recently, a new travel and tourism trade event, built on a different concept and mission, made its entrance in what many have described as a fashionable and epoch-making manner.
Known as the Nigeria Travel Week (NTW) and promoted by the owner of Avantgarde Tours, Efe Awhana, who is the chief executive officer, in partnership with Afro Tourism, with Toni Ukachukwu, CEO officer of Afro Tourism acting as the chief operating officer of NTW, and with support from several key players and organisations across the travel spectrum, the platform came with a bang.
Novel in many respects, including the fact that, for the first time in the recent history of Nigerian tourism, the event held in the country and attracted a high calibre of countries and personalities.
Countries such as Zimbabwe, South Africa and Kenya, have over the years built their travel industry on this model by hosting an annual hosted buyer travel event, whereby they identify key operators in source markets across the world and invite them to such events, and are solely responsible for their travel expenses, except for personal expenses not captured by the package.
With the birth of NTW, Nigeria has now successfully joined the ranks of countries where hosted buyer events thrive. It should be noted that, whereas in those countries, the hosted buyers are sponsored by government through their national tourism administration bodies, in the case of Nigeria, there was no government involvement beside an endorsement from the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), as the buyers were hosted at the expense of the organisers, in conjunction with corporate sponsors.
This, in the estimation of stakeholders, is what made NTW an historic and commendable event. To think that Nigerian travel operators, without perhaps the mega money and pre-requisite experience, could pull off such a feat successfully without any hitches was considered by many said as laudable.
They said it went a long way to prove that Nigerian tourism can attract the right source markets, if it is properly organised, with both the government and private sector working in tandem, as opposed to the present practice where government agencies and ministry in charge of tourism are far removed from the operators and carry on as if they are from outer space, impervious to the plight of the operators and the reality of the industry that they are meant to develop, grow and market.
As disclosed by the organisers, NTW was conceived ‘‘as a multi-day tourism event platform that aims to drive the Nigerian tourism sector by bringing together buyers, consumers, travel techs, tourism/travel service providers and the media to network, review and discuss the development of tourism in Nigeria.’’
Furthermore, on what it set out to achieve, the organisers said: ‘‘To promote, increase networking and partnerships between the different stakeholders in the travel industry. It will create awareness about the opportunities and potentialities in domestic and inbound tourism.
‘‘Nigeria Travel Week will stoke the yearning for travel to Nigeria from the domestic, African and other foreign source markets. It will nurture a culture of travelling both domestic and outbound in Nigeria.’’
To achieve this, nine days of activities, from Monday, November 20, to Tuesday, November 28, were executed, starting with pre-event tour, tourism golf cup, travel roundtable, travel hangout, village square and the Nigeria Tourism Award. One interesting and delightful aspect of the NTW was the fact that all the events were novel in nature and finely executed by the team of young operators put together by the organisers.
Pre/post event tours
More than 15 delegations from over 10 countries attended the event as hosted buyers. The countries included Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, South Africa, Israel, Uganda, Cyprus, Ghana and Israel. The pre-event tour started on Monday with a tour of Badagry, followed by a city tour of Abeokuta on Tuesday and Lagos city tour on Wednesday while a two-day post-event tour, spanning Akure city, Idanre hills, Smoking Hills Golf Resort in Ilara Mokin in Ondo State and Ikogosi Warm Springs in Ekiti State.
Besides the tours, which were for the hosted buyers, the first public event of the Nigeria Travel Week started with the Tourism Golf Cup at the Ikoyi Club 1938 golf course with a number of notable golfers and travel enthusiasts playing the 18-hole golf course.
The second day witnessed the travel roundtable held at the Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi. It was more of an informative discussion and expository event with a number of travel operators in attendance.
Two panel discussions were held, with the first one on the theme “Leveraging tourism for vibrant and sustainable development” and the second on “National carrier and tourism development, costs versus benefits.” Coordinated by the publisher of Inside Watch Africa, Oluwaseyi Adegoke-Adeyemo, the first panel discussants were Efe Awhana, Waturi Matu, a hosted buyer from Kenya, Didier Bateye of Sun International Hotel, Mrs. Abiola Ogunbiyi of SJ Tours, Abiola Lawal of Flyboku.com and Ademola Sanya of British Airways.
Matu, in her summation, urged Nigerians to look inward by developing and promoting domestic tourism, which should serve as a springboard to developing inbound tourism, while also calling for the creation of a structured and formalised mode of communication and dialogue between the public and private sectors as that is the quickest and easiest way to bring about development in the industry rather than each working alone.
Furthermore, Matu, a former co-ordinator of East African Tourism Platform, called for identifying the tourism assets, taking inventory of them and building on them to make them attractive even as she insisted that: ‘‘We must consume and exhaust our resources in our country and continent. The government must be involved in this.’’
On his part, Bateye drew attention to mass ignorance among Africans of what exists within the continent and the lack of commitment to tourism by both the government and the people. To get African tourism on to winning ways, he said all these must be gotten rid of and Africans must learn to explore and develop Africa first.
For Mrs. Ogunbiyi, the task of building tourism was solely that of Nigerians and the government, since there exist enough laws and policies for the growth of the industry and an enabling environment already exists but what was missing in the space was the Nigerian people.
‘‘The issue is our mindset. We have the population and we can shut our doors as the Chinese did. The laws are there and government needs to look at these laws properly and do what the Chinese did by subsidising travel for their people to enable the people consume tourism.’’
Sanya spoke of having a synergy between tourism and aviation and the economic benefits of both when fully developed. His advice is for the country to be made welcoming and that the individual has a greater role to play in this regard by ensuring that their spaces are made welcoming to visitors even as he emphasised on the concept of working from inside to the outside, by that, he said focus should be on domestic tourism.
Lawal dwelt on the need to make tourism contribute to the GDP of the country, as he said that the present 4 per cent contribution of tourism was unacceptable. Therefore, he said efforts should be made to open up tourism and develop the value chain even as he drew attention to the unique Nigerian environment and amazing Nigerian people.
Awhana shared with the audience the underlining factor that gave birth to NTW: ‘‘My major underlining reason was my passion for domestic tourism. I saw the beauty that we have in our country. People actually also appreciate these things. There is nothing special or unique that we don’t have as a people and as a country.
‘‘What we don’t have is the confidence in our tourism assets. We need to tell our story ourselves. Therefore, we need to change the narrative about Nigeria and that is what this event is about. The industry needs to come together, and synergised as one. We also need to start making noise about ourselves and then attract the government to what we are doing as a private sector,” he said.
The second panel, made of Mrs. Bukky Akomolafe of Travelstart Nigeria, Toni Ukachukwu of Afro Tourism, Dikko Nwachukwu of Jet West Airline, Alexander Nwuba of Smile Air, and Dr. Wolfang Thome of Eturbonews, one of the hosted buyers, as well as Mrs. Bunmi Archer of Leadway Assurance, dwelt extensively on the issue of a national carrier and its benefits to the economy.
For Mrs. Akomolafe, having a national carrier at this point may not be a wise decision as she said that it is a low-margin business and what needs to be done is for the government to stimulate the economy and create the enabling environment to grow private sector operations.
While Ukachukwu, an aviation journalist, stated that the Nigerian government has already concluded plans on the establishment of a national carrier, therefore, its management should be private sector-driven, Thome, who gave a historical perspective on the national carrier, said that they are presently financially challenged even as he emphasised on the importance of aviation to tourism.
However, he admonished that: ‘‘Where you have one (national carrier), by all means maintain it but, where you don’t have one, work with the existing airlines to build your economy and tourism.’’
On his part, Nwuba said a national carrier was not needed by Nigeria but rather:‘‘What we actually need is for the government to support local airlines to operate as flag carriers to multiple destinations.’’
He called for dealing with the fundamentals of the industry and focusing on essential airport services as well as bemoaning the fact that tourism cannot thrive in Nigeria when only six of about 30 airports in the country are viable.
Nwachukwu harped on the lack of disciple by airline management as the bane of Nigeria aviation: ‘‘The reason airlines fail in Nigeria is lack of disciple, we can be efficient if we embrace technology. Government needs to give incentives for operators to develop routes and destinations.’’