I’ve often been asked during interviews to describe different things in one word. Sometimes I struggle for best words, other times, I almost don’t have to think. And that was the case with Akwaaba Africa Travel Market 2019, I didn’t have to think as one word which best captures my 2019 experience is “UNPRECEDENTED!”
With no flattery intended, few people understand travel and tourism in Nigeria and beyond better than Ambassador Ikechi Uko, the organiser of this world class event which for 15 years running has maintained its enviable position as West Africa’s largest travel fair. Together with his indefatigable team, this annual event has attained near perfection in its coordination and execution, thus making its organisation look so easy that the urge to replicate it has almost become fashionable. But like the popular Pidgin English saying goes, “if e no be panadol, e no fit be like panadol”. AKWAABA is simply a priceless gift to Africa and Africans which ought to be treasured.
While for some, Akwaaba 2019 happened over a three day period, mine was a five-day experience. The eventful trip to Badagry by boat marked the beginning of my Akwaaba 2019 experience. Novel in many senses of the word, with highlights being the visit to the point of no return, from where slaves were shipped off, making this year tagged “the year of return” the 400th year since the first ship carrying slaves docked in America in 1619. The nostalgic reaction from our African friends in diaspora who came on the trip with us was palpable. Forming a significant part of this visit was the Oba of Badagry receiving his Africa Travel 100 award from Amb. Ikechi Uko during our courtesy call to his Palace. Overall, the reception from the people of Badagry was warm and the memory, beautiful.
Back in Lagos, the distinguished Senator Princess Florence Ita-Giwa treated us (Team Akwaaba, Team Carnival Calabar, Team Caribbean, others) to an exciting evening of culture, music and lots of good food at Echoes Of Calabar, her celebrity hangout restaurant.
As if the delicious meals enjoyed the previous night didn’t do, the party continued with the Jollof Rice War which featured as the centre stage activity as Akwaaba Africa Travel Market proper officially launched at the prestigious Eko Hotels and Suites. Cutting the ribbon and declaring the 15th edition open was the Father of Tourism in Nigeria, Chief Amachree.
He was supported by Amb. Ikechi Uko (Organiser, Akwaaba); Otunba Olusegun Runsewe (DG, National Council of Arts & Culture); Sir Gabe Onah (Chairman, Carnival Calabar Commission); Hon. Alain St. Ange (Former Minister of Tourism, Seychelles); Mr. Nkereuwem Onung (Chairman, Remlords Tours & Chair, NATOP Board of Trustees); Hon. Kenn Aklah (Senior Special Adviser to the Governor Of Cross River State); Mr. Issam Kazim (CEO, Dubai Tourism); Senator Princess Florence Ita-Giwa (Celebrity Chef); Alhaji Rabo Saleh (President, Federation Of Tourism Associations Of Nigeria); Mrs. Rita Uko (Akwaaba First Lady); Chief Mrs. Wanda Ibru; Mrs. Stella Fubara (Director, International Operations– Africa, Dubai Tourism); Heads Of Country Delegation; others.
With Celebrity Chef as Senator Princess Florence Ita-Giwa, the third jollof rice contest was all shades of tasty glamour as the First Lady of the reverred Ibru family, Chief (Mrs.) Wanda Ibru graciously declared it open. This segment hosted by Ebele Enemchukwu and Mandu Umoh saw over 20 Chefs from different countries whet and satisfy participants’ appetites with the very best jollof rice dishes.
While Akwaaba lasted, different countries and cities had their time in making presentations about their destinations, but one country which appeared to douse the effort of other countries was Dubai. It was easily their year as South Africa Tourism which would have matched them toe to toe was noticeably absent for reasons that many understood. Dubai Tourism took full advantage and put up a star-studded, super-impressive show.
Even though a first time visitor to Nigeria, CEO, Dubai Corporation For Tourism & Commerce Marketing, Issam Kazim left a lasting impression both informally as he interacted, and professionally as he handled the panel presentation. He had warm words for Nigeria and Nigerians too. Still, I personally missed South Africa Tourism, and each time I walked past, I winked at their would-have-been stand location which had been remorselessly taken over by a different country. Isn’t that how life is? Low tolerance for vacuum.
Beyond exhibitions, great meals, Carribbean rum, the glitz and glamour which characterised the entire 15th edition, there was adequate provision for deeply enriching and enlighteningly intellectual discussions on panels made up of experts and gurus from various fields in the travel and tourism industry. The maiden AFRICA DIASPORA CONFERENCE spotlighting the YEAR OF RETURN was featured, just as well as the supercharged AFRICA YOUTH TOURISM session which saw some of Africa’s brightest minds adequately answer the panel question, “Is Tourism A Sustainable Business For The Youth?”
“Walala Wasala” meaning “you snooze, you lose” as used on AVIATION DAY by Lead Speaker and CEO, African Aviation Services Limited, Dr. Aaron Munetsi, in his paper titled “Impact Of Airport Development & Airlines On Tourism Growth” was my stickiest takeaway.
As always, the world-famous Carnival Calabar revellers did not leave their A-game behind in Cross River State as they thrilled guests, one performance after another, while promising a larger spectacle at Carnival Calabar, come December 28, 2019 in Calabar, Cross River State. As an adopted daughter of the State, I found time to grant an invitatory interview at the Carnival Calabar stand. I released my latest dance steps alongside the beautiful revellers.
Ire The Stage Devi and lady chanter-extraordinaire, didn’t disappoint.
With Uganda Day, Ghana Day, Caribbean Day, Gambia Day, Dubai Day, Lagos Day all concluded, ETHIOPIA DAY was a perfect finish to the 15th Akwaaba Africa Travel Market as Ethiopian Airlines and Asky treated guests to a closing reception dinner and interesting souvenirs. At this same closing event, the hottest tourism couple who met exactly a year earlier at the 14th Akwaaba Africa Travel Market won their honeymoon package (business class tickets and hotel stay). Wow! The kind of luck you find on a table oozing with royalty from Kenya, Belize, Nigeria and the Caribbeans. A truly lovely evening.
Congratulations to the organisers, partners, sponsors and participants of the 15th Akwaaba Africa Travel Market.
The 16th edition holds between September 20 and 22, 2020. Akwaaba is “sure” like that! Remember, Walala Wasala – you snooze, you lose!
By Ebelechukwu Enemchukwu