As preparations reach the final stages for this year’s edition of Akwaaba – Africa Travel Market – billed to open on October 22, ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA spoke with the organiser of the yearly travel trade exhibition, Mr. Ikechi Uko on the event
COME Monday, October 22, the Nigeria travel and tourism scene would come alive as key players, corporations, government officials, travel brokers and vendors of different kinds from across the African continent, particularly the west coast and the country converge on Lagos for this year’s edition of Akwaaba – Africa Travel Market.
It is the eighth edition of the yearly travel exhibition, which is open to all travel operators to network, showcase their products and services, learn of new devices and trends in the ever-changing world of travel as well as explore the tourism offerings of Lagos, Nigeria, the host country.
The formal opening ceremony is set for October 22 at 1pm at the expansive Expo Hall of Eko Hotel and Suites, the traditional home of the three days expo, which ends on Wednesday, October 24. With preparations for the event at the final lap, the publisher of Africa Quarterly Travel (ATQ) and head of the exhibition’s organising team, Mr. Ikechi Uko, revealed that this year’s meet holds a lot of promise as it is coming with all the regular features and even more for the benefit of the exhibitors and consuming public.
According to the details released by him, the first day of the exhibition would feature award ceremony in the categories of Africa legend, aviation and hospitality. The second day of the expo is dedicated to aviation with all the major airlines operating in the country, ranging from local, regional to international showcasing their products and services while the Gambians would also have a part of the show as the meet celebrates Gambia Day.
On focus on this day are all the aviation parastatals and the federal ministry of Aviation with all the director generals and ministry officials expected to educate the travelling public on their various roles in the development and promotion of the aviation sector. It is expected to be a stimulating session in view of the present sorry state of aviation in the country.
The third and final day is devoted to hospitality featuring all the major international and local brands in the country coming together to showcase their hospitality offerings. The general manager of one of the leading brands in the country would make a presentation on hotel standard and standardisation in Nigeria.
Presentation of prizes to deserving exhibitors and individuals and raffle draw would mark the end of the show, but a major feature of the final day is the Nigeria Day, which would be hosted and sponsored by the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) with its Director General, Olusegun Runsewe, leading the celebration.
As a major supporter and sponsor of the three days exhibition, Runsewe is also organising a training session for the Nigeria tour operators with the head of Travel Concept, Paul Cohen, an international travel expert based in America, expected in the country to take the tour operators through the rudiments of packaging tours, particularly for the America market.
In terms of participation, Uko informed that the number of exhibitors are higher is year with the top 100 hotels in West Africa signing for the show alongside the regular exhibitors from the other aspects of travel. Making appearance for the first time are Delta Airlines and Fiesta Royal while Qatar Airways and Golden Tulip lead the pack of returnees to the expo.
Also expected to show overwhelming presence at the meet are the travel agents as the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA) is partnering the organisers of the event. According to the Publicity Secretary of NANTA and the Chief Executive Officer of Zigona Travel and Tours Limited, Mrs. Ngozi Ngoka, “Akwaaba is our own home-grown World Travel Market (WTM) and because it meets international standards, being a member of ITTFA, it provides our members an alternative to other global fairs. We are happy to partner with them considering their track record in bringing world tourism wholesalers together in Nigeria. I believe that our members have benefitted immensely from the close collaboration we have had with Akwaaba.”
While for Mrs. Rita Ikechi Uko, representing the organisers, “having NANTA as a partner is a huge plus for our event, we have partnerships with global associations and having a credible national group like NANTA which is the biggest travel association in West Africa completes the circle for us and we are excited to tap on their goodwill and expertise.” As part of this partnership, the President of NANTA, Alhaji Aminu Agoha is billed to deliver a paper on “the role of NANTA in Aviation and Tourism development in Africa.”
‘Akwaaba Has Matured And Grown With International Flair’
LOOKING back the road he had travelled in the last seven years, Uko said it has been a rough and challenging one fraught with uncertainties but thankfully, he said, the expo has reached its maturity stage. ‘‘The expo has matured, this is the first year of its maturity, for the first time people now understand what a travel expo is all about, people know what to do and they are doing it well,’’ he said.
That for him is a milestone, insisting that ‘‘we have achieved the first purpose, which is to educate the market on the need for a travel market.’’ The next task, according to him, is ‘‘looking forward to the years ahead when it will begin to blossom.’’ When that happens, he said, more time would be spent on enriching the context of the fair and raising the bar of organisation rather than on marketing and promotion, which has been the main preoccupation in the last seven years of the expo.
What this means, he informed, is that ‘‘greater value would be added to the exhibitors because Akwabba has passed the survival stage and has been accepted by all and sundry as a performing platform.’’ But despite the level of acceptance of the expo, particularly by the international market, Uko lamented the fact that the Nigerian players, the state governments in particular, are yet to rise up to the occasion.
For him, it is sad that the state government and even the Federal Government, except for the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) under Olusegun Runsewe, tell the whole world that they are developing and promoting tourism but do not see the need to invest and show presence in travel trade exhibition, such as Akwabba, which to the international player, is the only recognised platform to showcase and benchmark your destination.
He blamed this development on lack of knowledge of how the travel industry works on the part of government officials and the Nigerian environment. However, the fact that foreigners have embraced the expo from its inception and continued to show presence should have convinced the Nigerian operators of the need to also come on board.
For him, any operator that wants to do well should not discount Akwaaba or any travel trade fair for that matter because of its potency and wide range. ‘‘We have given travel and tourism in Nigeria an icon, Akwaaba is like a lifeline, the saving grace of the industry in West Africa. There is no other platform for the industry players to interact and network apart from Akwaaba,’’ he said, adding that ‘‘we have generated a lot of economic activities for Lagos State.’’
Uko revealed further : ‘‘I feel excited when I see a lot of companies get value from what we do. We have grown a lot of brands, seen a lot of companies thrive from attending Akwabba, a lot of them come in small sizes but have grown big and bigger, tour companies grown huge contacts from Akwabba and I have seen a particular hotel that has one property but now has seven or even more properties because of Akwaaba.’’
Despite the success attained so far, Uko’s yearning is to have more of the travelling public in attendance in order to have a complete chain. ‘‘We need to get more of the public into Akwaaba, it is a successful brand with the travel professionals. So we would do a little bit of advert and promotion this year than we did last year to attract more visitors to the expo.
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Akwaaba, Africa Travel Market 2012, Holds October 22