By Denis Gathanju, Safari Communications
AKWAABA 2014 was largely overshadowed by the Ebola crisis in West Africa. While there seemed to be some external and perhaps even internal pressure to have the event cancelled, the organizers led by Ikechi Uko were determined to pull through with the expo. The fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Nigeria as Ebola free just a few days before the scheduled start of the event seemed to be a positive indicator. However, some exhibitors, especially from Ebola affected regions around Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia failed to show up for the event.
While this was so, the event received a much needed boost from confirmations from the Kenya Tourism Board, the South Africa Tourism Board in conjunction with South African Airlines and the Rwanda Development Board in conjunction with RwandAir. There was also a strong showing of Nigerian based hotels and airlines as well as regional carrier ASKY and Ethiopian Airlines. The South African Tourism Board made known their intentions when they announced the opening of their first regional office in Africa to be based in Lagos. Speaking at the side-lines of the event Mohammed Tanko Kwajaffa the Trade Relations Manager of South African Tourism in Lagos, Nigeria noted that opening the office in Lagos would go a long way into enhancing not only tourism but also trade between Nigeria and South Africa.
He said: “Facts and numbers are stubborn. Nigeria is currently not only the biggest economy on the continent in terms of GDP, but it also has the largest middle-class and the fastest growing middle-class on the continent. Guided by these numbers we see opportunities that we are keen on tapping for the benefit of South Africa Tourism and for Nigeria as well. However, our office is not just limited to Nigeria as we also cover Ghana. This show is therefore very important for us because it gives us an avenue through which we can not only meet with the tourism stakeholders at one location, but it also affords us a great opportunity to have a one-on-one session with the Nigerian public who visit our stand and are keen on knowing what they can experience by visiting South Africa. This fact also informs the decision of South Africa Tourism to enter into a partnership with the National Travel Agents of Nigeria which is aimed at further cementing the kind of gains we have thus far made through training workshops that are meant at bringing the travel and tourism agents on the ground in Nigeria on what we have to offer in South Africa and more so how this can be packaged for the benefit of the Nigerian traveler.”
Mr. Kwajaffa noted that the event this year was overshadowed by the Ebola crisis in West Africa, but was quick to commend the organizers of the event, especially the indefatigable Mr. Ikechi Uko has was very instrumental in ensuring that the event went on as planned and was a much a success as previous events.
The event was officially opened by the Federal Minister of Housing and Lands the Honorable Mrs. Akon Eyakenyi who said that having the event in Lagos at the backdrop of the Ebola crisis and having all the exhibitors including the Kenya Tourism Board, the Rwanda Development Board and the South African Tourism Board participating was a huge statement that Africans were ready to start working and trading with each other and this would greatly enhance cooperation, tourism and investments across national borders. Hon. Eyakenyi commended the organizers for going ahead to host the tourism fair and for organizing it so well.
Most of the event participants this year had never attended the AKWAABA before with most of the stands receiving a lot of enquiries especially from retail buyers keen on getting more information on various destinations. Mr. Demola Ojo, a travel journalist with ThisDay newspaper, a leading newspaper in Lagos said that this was the first time he was attending AKWAABA which he further went on to say that was a huge eye-opener for many Nigerians.
The seminars at the trade fair were equally engaging with the entire plenary hall often full to capacity and it was quite heartening when the tourism stakeholders and retail buyers attending engaged the panelists on an engaging discussion that centered on technology in travel and tourism, standards and general travel-related information.
Mr. Ikechi Uko hailed the event a success and promised an even bigger and better event in 2015.