Sixteen years down the line, Akwaaba African Travel Market has showcased the abundant tourism and hospitality industry of Africa, striving to break barriers to intra-African trade and strengthening the bond of brotherhood among African countries. The 16th edition of the international expo has not deviated from this mission.
From West Africa to East and South Africa were representatives of over 20 countries. They were exhibitors, visitors and participants at the expo. It is the 16th in the series of the glamourous event. The serene Eko Hotels and Towers was in its usual bubbling moment for the three days that African countries converged to market their tourism industry, explore more frontiers of partnership and ultimately increase their gross domestic product (GDP).
In the last 16 years when the travel expo commenced, African countries have explored the opportunities of Akwaaba as a platform of exchange of cultural and tourism potentials. In attendance were Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, Ethiopia, United Arab Emirates, Uganda and Seychelles among others.
Several tourism organizations in Nigeria like Carnival Calabar, Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), National Council for Arts and Culture, Lagos State Government, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), as well as local airlines were represented as participants dissected the nexus between tourism and aviation.
The 2019 Akwaaba also witnessed the third edition of the West African Chef Challenge where participants displayed their culinary skills in preparing Jollof rice. The competition added colour to the event as 20 varieties of jollof rice prepared by 20 participants were on display for visitors, exhibitors and participants to satisfy their appetite.
The contest saw Nigeria overtaking the defending champions, Gambia, in the contest. Chef Folashade Shoyombo from Nigeria won the 2019 Jollof rice contest followed by Chef Deborah from Nigeria who came second, while Chef Fatima also from Nigeria came third.
The expo was declared open by the Nigerian doyen of tourism, Chief Mike Amachree, supported by the Director-General of the National Council of Arts and Culture, Otunba Segun Runsewe and other dignitaries.
It was glamour and fun all through with different delegations showcasing the beauty and grandeur of African culture and the rich tourism potentials the continent is blessed with.
Uganda for instance, came with a powerful delegation comprising the High Commissioner to Nigeria, Ambassador Nelson Ocheger, and Minister of State for Tourism, Godfrey Kiwanda, among others showcased the 50 martyrs of Uganda who were killed between November 15, 1885, and January 27, 1887 by the King of Uganda for embracing their faith.
For participants, Akwaaba has become a blessing for African countries. It is not only a unifying event but a platform for the economic advancement of the continent through the unlocking of the hospitality and tourism sector which experts believe is still underperforming.
For the Dubai Tourism, it never missed any Akwaaba owing to its commitment to the Nigerian market and the belief in the potency of the platform which has become one of the biggest global tourism destinations.
Senior manager campaign management, Dubai Tourism, Salim Ali Mohamed Dahman said, “Every year in the last three to four years with Akwaaba and in Nigeria in general, we have seen the growth, the destination has been growing steadily in double digits throughout and what we have decided as well is to sustain that growth.”
On its part, the Gambian Tourism Board said the Akwaaba expo has helped to grow tourism destination in the West African country by 39 per cent.
Adama Njie, Director of Marketing, Gambia, affirmed that AFTM popularly known as Akwaaba remains one of the utmost important trade fairs to Destination Gambia.
For Ethiopian Airlines, Akwaaba has become a veritable platform to showcase Africa as well as push the concept of Africans doing business with other Africans.
The General Manager of Ethiopian Airline in Nigeria, Firihiewot Mekonnen said, “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 in Ethiopia is that Africa should buy from Africa, inter African market.”
Notable at Akwaaba was Barbados where the Director of Tourism Development of the Barbados Ministry of Tourism and International Transport, Dr. Kerry Hall called for seamless connectivity to deepen bilateral and multilateral ties between the Caribbean and Africa, direct air connectivity must be established.
She said the current air services arrangement between Africa and the Caribbean through Europe and America which is a 15-hour journey is “harrowing.”
Deputy Minister, Ministry of Tourism, Art and Culture, Hon. Dr Ziblim Iddi said 2019 Akwaaba was special to Ghana as it coincided with the year of return. He said, “This marks 400 years of the first slaves leaving the shores of Africa and landing in Virginia. Fortunately or unfortunately, Ghana has so many forts and castles and these are the places most of these slaves were taken. So the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, this year launched the year of return in Washington DC and since January this year we have gotten so many visitors from the Black Diaspora, African Americans, Caribbean, South America, people from America, all over the world coming home to touch base with their ancestors and to touch base with their roots. So we take the opportunity of that to build on our tourism industry.”
No doubt through the platform created by Akwaaba, African countries have seen the need to embrace Pan-Africanism by promoting inter-African trade in line with the dictate of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), a lot still needs to be done to deepen the partnership among the over 54 countries making up the continent.
This is the concern of the Director of Government, Legal and Industry Affairs of Africa Airlines Association (AFRAA), Aaron Munetsi who delivered a paper on Aviation Day. He decried the situation where Africans go Europe and America for relaxation.
Speaking on, “Impact of Airport Development and Airlines on Tourism Growth,” Munetsi noted that out of about 1.2 billion Africans, only a few people travel by air because the region is yet to take advantage of its huge potential in tourism and internal trade.
He said, “In terms of revenue for international tourism in 2016, Africa realised $36.2 billion and the top 10 tables for 2017 tourism revenue shows that Morocco leads with $11.3 million, while South Africa follows closely with $10.3 million but do you know how many passengers pass through Dubai in just a week?”
He noted that airlines are a catalyst in facilitating tourism, saying Africa cannot develop the tourism market without removing the barriers to free movement.
He disclosed that recent research indicated that one in every 10 jobs in Africa is tourism-related.
He said Africa with 62 airlines, 817 aircraft and 49 airports airlifted 88million passengers in 2018, adding the figure is shameful if compared to the figures from Europe as France in 2018 alone had 89.4m passengers.
“Despite the number of airports, how can we have 88m passengers? It means something is wrong somewhere. SAATM is set to change this,” Munetsi said.