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When Africa meets world at Akwaaba Travel Market

For three days, travel and tourism enthusiasts, medical tourism players, airline operators, among others, converged in Lagos for the 19th Akwaaba African Travel Market. The…

For three days, travel and tourism enthusiasts, medical tourism players, airline operators, among others, converged in Lagos for the 19th Akwaaba African Travel Market. The gathering was a melting point for exhibition and tourism in Africa, with over 2,500 participants in attendance.

 

For the past 19 years the Akwaaba Travel Market has provided a platform for showcasing the rich cultural heritage in Africa and an avenue to expose the African heritage to the world. And like the saying that the world has become a global village, the intersection of cultures, traditions, culinary expertise, exposition of natural endowments on the African continent and how the region can leverage on them to tell the good stories of Africa are what Akwaaba promotes.

From the #JollofRicewar showcasing different jollof rice delicacies by about 20 chefs to the several cultural displays; the discourse on travel and tech by Bayo Adedeji of Wakanow Group; the need for mentorship of young travel and tourism professionals; and most importantly the B2B segment, among others, the three-day show provided an opportunity to reassess the place of tourism in Nigeria and how the federal government can leverage on the opportunities to increase the gross domestic product of the country.

The jollof rice delicacies on offer included smoky coconut jollof rice, ofada jollof rice, party jollof rice, native jollof rice, signature jollof rice, seafood jollof rice, among others.

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It was glitz and glamour as over 30 countries from Africa and other continents were represented at the show. They include Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Ethiopia and Turkey.

Notable among the participants are the Lagos State Arts and Council, with popular comic actor, Abiodun Ayoyinka, popularly known as Papa Ajasco; the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism, Ikogosi Warm Springs Resort, the Silk Road Hospitality, the Nelson Mandela Gardens, various travel management companies, Ibom Air, ValueJet Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines.

The travel market was held in partnership with Turkish group, Turquaz Serenas, which provides a platform for networking with health and tourism professionals, as well as top hospitals in Ghana, showcasing the medical tourism potentials in Ghana and Turkey.

 

Cross State Governor, Senator Bassey Out, declared the three-day conference open on Sunday, where he also unveiled the theme for Carnival Calabar coming up later in the year.

Carnival Calabar on its own is a major tourism event in Nigeria described as the biggest street party in Africa. So, Akwaaba’s platform became a perfect platform to unveil the theme of the carnival which the government said “represents the most tangible tourism product in the calendar of events of Cross River State and in Nigeria in general.”

Our correspondent further reports that the Consultant on Carnival Calabar, Mary Ephraim-Egbasi, earlier in her presentation, disclosed that Carnival Calabar’s solid assets value had grown to over $2bn.

She said, “Events and entertainment have been used in several cities and countries to attract investments and people, thus promoting economic growth and development. The Carnival Calabar can be the catalyst for a new economy for Cross River State.

“Carnival Calabar can contribute billions of dollars to the economy of the state; transforming its fortunes and creating a better life for its people as when executed with this intent in mind.”

The governor earlier said, “The carnival exhibits rare colours, costumes, floats, pyrotechnics, magic, acrobatics, etc. through the 12km carnival route.

“These are by no means overt expressions of the state and people’s heritage of hospitality and Africa’s warmest welcome.”

A former Senator representing Cross River South, Florence Ita-Giwa, who chaired the session on medical tourism, was particularly thrilled by the array of hospital and tourism stakeholders showcasing the tourism potential in Africa.

She said, “I have never stopped wondering how Mr Ikechi (organiser) has been very consistent in ensuring this event is held annually, for bringing the world together for tourism and technology.”

The event also featured a session on mentoring young travel professionals, where the publisher of the Guardian Newspapers, Lady Alex Ibru, urged youths to embrace hardwork.

One of the tourism and hospitality destinations in Nigeria showcased is the Nelson Mandela Gardens in Asaba, Delta State, also known as the Gardens of 95 Trees. It was founded by the renowned environmentalist and nature enthusiast, Dr Newton Jibunor, to honour the life of Nelson Mandela, a former President of South Africa and anti-apartheid activist.

Spokesperson of the garden, Oluebube Okafor, explained that the garden was set up as a garden and amusement park “whereby families can come and interact, but seeing that we are having lots of families coming around, we had to incorporate apartments and hotels.

“What we have more in the garden is nature. So, when the place started, we planted 95 trees because Nelson Mandela was 95 years old when it was commissioned. It is now known as Nelson Mandela and Resort or Mandela Gardens of 95 Trees.”

Similarly, the destination wedding session which was first held during the 13th Akwaaba featured wedding destination options, top destination experts and top honeymoon spots in Africa.

Speaking on the just concluded event, Ikechi said his satisfaction was in the diversity of the exhibitors who came to showcase what Africa had to offer, adding that he was particularly thrilled that Nigeria was in the forefront with the array of indigenous tourism, hospitality and travel businesses in attendance.

Ikechi said, “Everybody was saying this is the best we have had so far. We thought 2015 was the height of it. First, we thought it was 2010 because three Presidents came later 2018, but we predicted that this would be the best because of the diversity of the exhibitors.

“Here, before now, you had Dubai Tourism dominating, but this year, we have different groups. So far, we have the highest number, differentiated exhibitors for the first time this year.

“We have like 70 different organisations, for us that was very good, that is the biggest takeaway, the market is back.

“And I am happy there are a lot of domestic Nigerian operators. Before, Nigerians believed tourism was when you went abroad, but suddenly, we are having Nigerians coming out with confidence to say “I have a good product.”

He further said plans had commenced for the 2024 edition which would be the 20th anniversary of selling Africa to the world.

He said, “2024 is our 20th anniversary, we want it to be grond, and we are asking all our alumni to come, all our award winners to come and let’s meet. This place is where everybody in the travel business meets. There is no other place in Africa where players in travel business meet themselves.

“Every travel exhibition you go to in Africa is dominated by non-Africans except Akwaaba. If you look here, mostly 80 per cent are African. This is the only authentic Africa travel expo and is the only one not subsidised by the government.”

The travel and tourism expert noted that tourism was built on trust made possible through face-to-face interactions.

He added that, “When we bring the best products here, it is for our players to know how to communicate and market. Nigerians believe that to sell tourism, you go on CNN, but the real people know that is not how to sell tourism.

“Tourism is built on trust. For me to give you N100 and put it in your care, I have to trust you and build a relationship with you, and the easiest way to build a relationship is what is going on.

“One of the countries that came told me Nigerians are some of the best business people they have seen. If they go to Berlin, it will take about three months before they conclude a business.

“This gives Nigeria the opportunity to engage with the world. People who came for the first time say they will come later.  For us, almost everybody has booked a bigger stand for next year because they like what they had this year.”

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