Africa: At Akwaaba 2016, participants seek new direction for African tourism

*Decry State Of Aviation Industry, Proffer Solutions

For three days, stakeholders in the travel and tourism industries from across African and beyond converged at the Eko Hotel & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, for the 2016 edition of the Akwaaba Africa Travel Market.

Declared open by the Deputy Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry of Zimbabwe, Annastacia Ndlouv, the event, which created an opportunity for participating countries to showcase their tourism potentials, provided a platform for practitioners to take a critical look at the sector, with special focus on Africa.

From Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Benin Republic, Namibia, Ghana, Dubai and the rest, exhibitors had the opportunity of showcasing their touristic offerings to guests, who visited the stands for three days. For tour operators and travel agents, the event was a good time to oil relationships and possibly seal new deals.

Though the initiative was originally conceived as a continental showpiece, events at this year’s Akwaaba clearly shows the determination of some African countries to join the league of top African destinations, as well as, tap from the enormous wealth accruable to countries playing big in the sector.

However, lack of connectivity within Africa and poor state of the aviation sector in the continent was a major topic of discussion during the session on aviation. Experts in the travel and aviation sub sectors enumerated the myriad of problems facing airlines on the Africa continent, while proffering solutions on how to arrest the trend, which has put African aviation at less than three per cent of global RPKs (Revenue Passengers kilometres).

In his presentation titled the State of Aviation in Nigeria, the former Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mr. Richard Aisuebeogun, noted that for a sustainable investment, airlines on the continent must have good internal management and business plan, describing it as crucial for all airlines.

“Delivering the business plan is the difference between successful and failed airlines, irrespective of the size of the airline. Airlines management must be professional and must discern trends in the operating environment to adjust operation according to the dictates of the industry and operating environment, and not losing sight of the business plan,” he said.

For Aisuebeogun, safety performance is one of the objectives airlines in Africa must aim to achieve and remain operational. Governments, he noted, are committed to achieving world-class safety levels in the Abuja Declaration. But despite improvement, Africa had the highest accident rate among regions in 2015, at 7.88 accidents per million sectors.

He noted that growth is heavily constrained by the high industry costs, inadequate infrastructure at several airports, slow implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision, lack of a single traffic rights negotiating body with respect to third parties like the EU, adding that the performance of the African aviation industry is lagging behind those of the rest of the world, at less than 3percent of global RPKs.

“Nonetheless, demand for air transport has increased steadily over the past years with passenger numbers and freight traffic growing significantly. Over the period 2010-2015, Africa has been one of the fastest growing regions in the world in terms of international traffic with an average growth rate of 6.1 per cent compared to the global average of 5.8 per cent. However, African aviation needs to grow at double-digit rates to be a significant player in the global industry,” he said.

For the Chief Executive Officer of Ropeways Transport and former Managing Director of Virgin Nigeria Airlines, Captain Dapo Olumide, lack of good corporate governance and ethics is the major reason Airlines fail in Nigeria and Africa in general. He added that the ownership structure of the airlines is another factor militating against growth, a situation where the owner appoints family members as directors instead of independent directors who are experienced in aviation business.

Olumide further stressed the need for airline operators to have the right aircraft in their operation to determine which aircraft type suits their operations and not just deploying big aircraft on a route that has fewer passengers.

Former Director of consumer protection of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Mrs. Fatima Garbati, in her submission, identified the problems of aviation in Africa to include fear, altitude and refusal to obey international conventions. She informed that some African countries are afraid that countries such as Nigeria, with its big population and potential, will dominate the sector.

This, she observed, is responsible for the non-implementation of Yamoussoukro Declaration of 1988 on open skies for Africa many years after, adding that there is need for Africa to wake up to their responsibilities to make aviation work. Garbati noted that even the Customs Service at the gateways like airports and seaports are totally indifferent to issue of clearance of airlines equipment and others.

Corroborating Garbati’s view, Aviation Consultant, Dorcas Aketch, maintained that African Airlines consider themselves as competitors instead of partners. She stated that if fear among the operators in African aviation can be removed, it would help the industry to grow.

Aketch expressed the need for the airlines to interline, adding that it will be better for the domestic airlines to interline with the foreign airlines.

“Working as partners and not competitors will make the airlines grow in Africa,” she noted.
While making contributions on the need to develop professionally operated airports, which he described as the way forward for African aviation, the former Managing Director of Skyway Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL), Mr. Chike Ogeah, is of the opinion that Nigerian airports should be concessioned to achieve professionalism in operations.

However, he stressed the need for transparency in concession, and appealed to the aviation unions to see reasons with the government on why the airports must be concessioned.

For former General Manager, Public Affairs of Nigerian Airways and also the Managing Partner of Belujane Konzult, Chris Aligbe, there’s need to get the right people to manage Nigeria’s airports for the industry to progress, adding that concession of Nigerian airports is an imperative.

He, however, urged the government to carry the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) staff along in the process of concession of the airports, adding that the system in FAAN is incompetent and not the staff, who he described as very intelligent people working under incompetent system.

Also speaking, Captain Samuel Thompson of African World Airlines (AWA) stressed the need for the airlines in the industry to do things differently. The Ghanaian urged airlines to come up with their own unique business plans, which should be totally different from others to succeed where others fail.

During the session on tourism, experts underscored the need for unity among African states in the promotion of tourism. This, they argued, will reawaken their consciousness to the unfolding fact that, as blacks, no one can tell their story better than themselves.

Chaired by the Deputy Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry of Zimbabwe, Annastacia Ndlouv, the session, which was on the topic State of Tourism in Africa, was an opportunity for stakeholders to brainstorm on how to grow tourism within Africa. The need for visa on arrival among African countries dominated discussion, though both panelists and participants commended the move by AU to come with one passport for African citizens. The session also has panelists, such as Olanma Ojukwu, Ngozi Ngoka, Nkereuwem Onung, Nancy Sam with Bankole Bernard as the moderator.

IN her presentation, Ndlouv described tourism as an economic pillar, adding, “Travel and Tourism is the new frontier that plays a critical role in the world’s economy today. It is the peace bridge that keeps people connected. Thus, tourism facilitates peace rather than a security threat.”

She noted that, “the 1.2 billion international travelers realised in 2015, are all peace ambassadors from various wonderful tourism brands around the world. None of them arrived brandishing a gun, but were decorated with disarming smiles and expectations of excellent hospitality. Thus, tourism is a vehicle for trust and goodwill, strengthening cultural understanding, which can change attitudes of different groups, and build peace.”

The session on hospitality created a platform for hoteliers and stakeholders in the hospitality sector to discuss issues ranging from innovation to hotel and payment system for the modern hotel, managing online reviews, using social media as a tool for hotel growth and online booking in Nigeria and developing world class conferencing in Africa.

On the other hand, the session on Driving Tourism with Entertainment and Fashion was an avenue for participants to explore the business side of entertainment.

Speaking during the session, Nkekeurem Onung, President, NATOP (Nigerian Association of Tour Operators) observed that, “Carnival business is big business, much more than dancing. Skilled and unskilled people are employed and profit is made by costume makers, from gathering feathers, float designs, known as costume design, souvenir business, makeup agency, tour guide agencies and others. Everybody, in the end, makes money out of Carnival Calabar.”

Countries such as Switzerland, Germany, and Austria lead the world in terms of their travel and tourism industry competitiveness. They are closely followed by Spain, United Kingdom, USA, France, Canada, Sweden, and Singapore. There are thousands of hotel rooms per capita in these countries by international standard.

The policy environments are also top ranking considering the low cost required to start business, with a much flexible visa policy. So, for Africa’s infrastructure to develop, experts are of the opinion that we need to protect our natural and cultural resources, fix our air transport system (90% of tourists travel by air), improve the quality of roads and ports, and fix electricity issues as it applies to each country.

One of the key highlights of this year’s Akwaaba was the official signing of a memorandum of understanding between National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies, NANTA, the Nigeria Association of Tour Operators, NATOP and the Tour Operators Association of Ghana, TOUGHA with the South African Tourism.

The agreement, which was signed at the South African stand aims at promoting trade relations among the Nigerian travel agencies, the Nigeria tour operators and their Ghanaian counterparts. The MoU was signed on behalf of NANTA by the president, Mr. Bankole Bernard, the president of NATOP, Mr. Nkereuwem Onung, the president of TOUGHA, Nancy O Sam and the regional manager West African of South Africa Tourism, Lehlohonolo Pitso.

In recent years, South African Tourism has been consistently engaging with travel agencies and tour operators in both countries with the aim of forging a closer working relationship. This consistent marketing drive, engagements with the trade partners has been made possible through regular road shows and trade workshops in cities such as Accra, Kumasi, Port-Harcourt, Abuja and Lagos, Nigeria.

Speaking on the agreement, Pitso recalled, “when we came in, most of our communications was that we are here to sell South Africa as a holiday destination, but also through engagements with the tour operators associations, they are also looking to learn, to aspire organisations such as ours to market Nigeria for example as a holiday destination. So, this is more of a supposed strategy exchange type, so that we share ideas and talk about what will work and what will not work. What we have also done is that South African products that come, we take them around and to also see what Nigeria has to offer.”

In his contribution, the founder of Akwaaba and tourism expert Ikechi Uko stated that, “instead of Nigerians going to UK or USA for holiday, if they go to South Africa, we will benefit. The biggest investors we have in Nigeria today include South Africans; there are more than 134 South African investments in Nigeria. So, if South Africa decides to get Nigerians to go to South Africa, it is good for our economy.

“For me, we are not doing it. Everybody is ripping off the system. So, I will prefer an African to take advantage of our population than a non-African, and I will tell you why. No matter what South Africa does to prevent Nigerians from traveling to the country, Nigerians must find a way to go there. They don’t have the power to stop us.”

He added, “the South African government has come here to sign a joint marketing agreement with tour operators. What that means is that the South African Tourism will give them money to organise events and grow their associations. Instead of the South African Government giving NATOP money, shouldn’t the Federal Government of Nigeria be giving NATOP money?

“Meanwhile, NATOP is not recognised by Nigerian Government. So, if South Africans have decided to recognise your own people, it’s a shame to you. I thank the South Africans because they are change agents in this country,” he said.

But for members of National Association of Nigeria Travel Agents (NATAN), Nigeria Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), Cross River State (thorough the Carnival Calabar brand), Enugu State Government (with Nike Lake Resort brand) and a couple of other private organisations from the country that erected stands and actively participated in the three-day event featuring presentations and discussion sessions on the sector, Nigeria’s participation at this year’s Akwaaba was almost a disaster.

For a country in dire need of diversification to support it’s ailing economy, poor showing by the Nigerian Tourism Development Authority (NTDC), an agency established under the Federal Ministry of Information And Culture, casts doubt on the country’s readiness for genuine tourism development. Though the Minister of Information And Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed has made noticeable impact in the quest to finally take Nigerian tourism from the realm of rhetoric to action, it seems others in the ministry are yet to key into the agenda.

From the moment Deputy Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry of Zimbabwe, Annastacia Ndlouv, was invited to perform the official opening ceremony on Sunday October 30, it became obvious to participants that Nigeria, particularly the NTDC, which has the mandate of promoting Nigeria’s tourism, is not actively involved in Akwaaba 2016, which saw smaller African countries such as Rwanda and Uganda aggressively marketing their destinations to tourist and agents.

In fact, Dubai Tourism was at Awkaaba Africa Travel Market 2016 with 10 different organisation, marketing destination Dubai. Even with what the two countries have achieved in the area of tourism in the continent, South Africa and Kenya were fully on ground, receiving visitors daily on their stands.

On the opening day, many had expected to see a vibrant Nigerian stand at the travel market, but that didn’t happen. Visitors from other countries, who were eager to meet with officials of NTDC on possible collaboration, were disappointed by their absence at the opening. Even on day-two, the Nigerian stand was yet to come alive until towards the close of business (around 4pm), when the DG of NTDC, Mrs. Sally Mbanefo, showed up with her team and horridly set up the Nigerian stand.

To attract attention of participants, Mbanefo gathered some school children at the Nigerian stand, where she drummed and sang to entertain them. In a way, her last minute action saved the day; it would have been a disaster for Nigeria.

This year’s Akwaaba had 15 countries and 35 tourism experts in attendance. Apart from the regular participants, other debutants were Uganda, Liberia, Tanzania and Namibia. There was one participant from the Middle East – United Arab Emirates (UAE), which had an intimidating presence that won the best stand at the event. South African stand took second while Kenya came third.


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