After many years of attending the annual Akwaaba African Travel Market, I have long come to the accurate conclusion that nothing can take away from what I call the “Akwaaba Experience”.
The 17th edition further proved this.
No thanks to the global pandemic, Akwaaba 17.0 may not have been bigger in physical space utilized for the event, number of countries present, number of days it lasted etc., but it was every ounce bigger in terms of takeaways and overall value for time, effort and resources invested by most, if not all, Participants.
Notwithstanding the numerous challenges that would have sufficiently justified a skipped year, Akwaaba held, to the benefit of all who attended, and by extension, the tourism industry. To speak of a resilient brand is to speak of Akwaaba and the man behind it, Prof. Amb. Ikechi Uko. Little wonder it remains the biggest travel expo in West Africa.
The two-day event which held at Eko Hotels and Suites, and which I had the pleasure of anchoring, featured exciting exhibitions, value-packed panel discussions, powerful speeches, thought-provoking question and answer sessions, high-level networking, as well as the capacity-boosting Nigerian Tourism Specialist Certificate (NTSC) course.
Cutting the ribbon, and officially declaring the event open, was the the regally dressed Publisher of the Guardian Newspaper, Dame Maiden Alex Ibru; the Director General of the National Council Of Arts and Culture (NCAC), Otunba Olusegun Runsewe; the National President, Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), Mr. Nkereuwem Onung; the National President, National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Mrs. Susan Akporiaye; the Organiser, Akwaaba African Travel Market, Prof. Amb. Ikechi Uko and his pillar of support, First Lady Mrs. Rita Uko.
Speaking on “The Role of Media In Tourism”, Lady Ibru as Guest Speaker, delivered her expert thoughts on the subject with as much grace as had announced her arrival to the event earlier. It was a good paper.
It wasn’t just a ribbon that was cut at the 17th Akwaaba African Travel Market, as a lovely cake was cut in celebration of four members of the Naija 7 Wonders family who in recent months, attained higher offices within the tourism industry.
As a member of the family myself, it felt great signing a goodwill message unto the jumbo-sized card plaques that were presented each to – Mr. Nkereuwem Onung, now the National President of FTAN; Alh. Nura Sani Kangiwa, now Director General of NIHOTOUR; Hon. Princess Surah Olayemi Animashaun, the Executive Chairman, Epe Local Government; and Mr. Piriye Kiyaramo, now Senior Special Assistant on Tourism to the Governor of Bayelsa State. Congratulations to them once again.
For regular attendees to Akwaaba, the Youth Tourism panel has become one which most people look forward to, not just for the energy it brings, but the reminder it offers from the most vibrant young minds in the tourism industry, that the future of tourism in Nigeria is bright, current challenges notwithstanding.
The Panelists at this edition didn’t fall short of expectations. They shared their stories on how they started, how they survived the pandemic, and what the future holds. The panel had on it, Bolaji Seun of Naija Explorers; Chiamaka Obuekwe of Social Prefect Tours; Dr. Onifade Eedris of the Universal School of Aviation; Aminat Akanbi of Triplisters; Cordis-Maria Umeokoli of Mardis Travels; Sam Adeleke of Travel with Sam; and the Moderator, Obinna Emelike, Assistant Editor/Tourism and Hospitality Editor of Business Day Newspaper. Impressive!
To discuss “Outbound Tours and Travel Tears”, were renowned Tour Operators who shared their experiences and challenges as Tour Operators, while pointing out pitfalls to avoid for success in the business. The panel discussions were as engaging as they were enlightening. Giving meaning to conversations on the Panel were David Lamidi of Diamond and Pearl Tours; Shalom Asuquo of Travel Lab; Cecile Doumbe of CMD Tours; Pelagie Kpote of 3cords Leisure; and Gbenga Onitilo of Wakanow. The Moderator, the National Vice President of Nigeria Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), Mrs. Ime Udo, asked the right questions, which naturally, yielded relevant answers and clarifications to the delight and benefit of the audience.
You see, part of the perks of being a Compère is that you have unlimited access to every part of the event being hosted. So I had the unfair advantage of receiving for the second time, the NTSC training after the first time in Abuja last year. And you still wonder how people upskill themselves and become Experts at things?
The well-grounded Facilitators were the greatest known Collector of Nigerian History and Director General of the Centre for Research Information Management and Media Development (CRIMMD), Dr. Raphael James; Biodiversity Expert, Prof. Edem Eniang; Tour Guide-Extraordinaire, Anago James Akeem Osho; and the Academic Secretary at the National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR), Prof. Philip Egga Maga. Certificates were issued to Participants upon successful completion of the course. The NTSC course was in partnership with NIHOTOUR and Naija7Wonders.
BY DAY TWO, the opening ceremony and highlights from Akwaaba Day One had made the cover page of a leading Nigerian Newspaper, alongside multiple features on other newspapers and online platforms.
Adding to the wealth of knowledge and value derived at Akwaaba 17.0, as Hospitality Day held sway on Day 2, were:
The Chairman, Board Of Trustees, FTAN, Chief Sam Alabi, who in relatable terms, dissected his paper on “The Limits of State Regulation of Tourism and Hospitality Businesses”.
DG of NIHOTOUR, Alh. Kangiwa, who was ably represented by Prof. Maga, the Academic Secretary, spoke on “How To Scale Hospitality Training To Meet International Standards”.
Alh. Aliyu Badaki, the 1st National Deputy of FTAN, was spot on in sharing his expert insights as a Hotelier both in Speaker and Panelist capacities. Other Panelists were Ms. Tana Forsuelo of Wavecrest College of Hospitality; Mr. Victor Kayode of Nigerian Hotel and Catering Institute (NHCI); and the National President, Women In Hospitality, Mrs. Justina Ovat, who superbly moderated the Q & A segment.
I didn’t have to do much to introduce Lagos Day as the chant, “THIS IS LAGOS!” reverberated beyond the immediate venue to get everyone’s attention. It was during Lagos Day in 2018, that I won a Business Class ticket to Windhoek, Namibia. I was attentive this time, to see if the same kind of luck would happen again. It didn’t.
The Permanent Secretary, at the Lagos State Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture, Princess Adenike Adedoyin Ajayi, shared in speech and video documentary, the achievements and plans for tourism in Lagos State. Afterwards, with an introduction befitting for a Boss, Princess Ajayi invited to the stage, the Honorable Commissioner, Pharm. Uzamat Akinbile-Yusuf, for her remarks. Her time on stage was beautiful, and gave hope to many young tourism professionals, especially those who operate in Lagos. Characteristic of Lagos, there was sufficient representation of key Personnel from the Ministry of Tourism, including the amazing Director of Tourism Promotion, Mrs. Ada Oni.
There was the recognition and celebration of Individuals, Destinations, States, Groups, Organizations, Agencies etc. for their efforts in the development and promotion of tourism in Nigeria.
Of the few things missing at this edition of Akwaaba, the most conspicuous for me, was the absence of my Carnival Calabar family. Chai! It’s usually at Akwaaba that both National and International Delegates are reminded, through magical performances by gorgeously attired female Revellers, of what to expect at the annual Carnival Calabar. Well, the Carnival was cancelled, so there was nothing to display!
Yet, not even that could stop the warm smile I gave the person who pointed out to me, that my Facebook post on the “Chinet Aviation and Cargo Conference” was a 2-page feature in the latest edition of the Travelers Magazine being distributed at the event. Heartwarming! Thank you, Travellers Magazine. I’m global(er) now!
Add that to the fact that Amb. Ikechi Uko received a “Star Of Fame” frame from Great Lagosians Hall Of Fame, in recognition of his many developmental strides in Lagos State and confirming him a full-fledged Lagosian. Congratulations again, Prof.
Many thanks to the Partners, Sponsors, Participants, and all who made the 17th Akwaaba African Travel Market the resounding success it was. I’m glad I was part of it.
Let’s do it again, come September 2022.
Tourism Is Life!