Transport has always been a big barrier in the West Coast. There are few organisations in the region working towards the spirit of West African neighbourliness. West African Road Safety Organisation (WARSO). for instance, recognizes the challenges facing the road sector in the region.
It was good to see some action being taken as Accra Weizo stepped forward for the travel trade. The West African Travel and Tourism Expo bounced as regional airlines and IATA responded following the new effort. It remained unclear whether IATA would be willing to take on the challenge.There was a general sense of relief, so far. Justina Okpanku writes
Seamless Travels to West Africa is the theme of the Accra Weizo, a West African travel and tourism expo which is organised in Ghana. With so much of Accra Weizo associated with Ghana, it is difficult for many to realise what the effort is all about. It is wholly in line with the spirit of travel. Several spirited individuals and organisations familiar with knotty travel within the West African sub-region were willing to support Accra Weizo following the outcome of previous efforts.
In its fourth year, Accra Weizo raised the bar in trade integration, workshop, vibrant tourism exchanges, and open skies across the West African region. It is driving the travel industry to greater height and innovations. The benefits are region.
Accra Weizo 2018 had gone to great lengths to offer high-profile travel and tourism personalities including tour operators and representatives from airlines, various national/state tourism organizations/ board as well as hotel operators, entertainment groups and the media, benefits. The areas of concern for them include hitch-free movement for a visitor to any West African State. At present, there is no West African influencing policy on tourism issues.
For the first time in the history of aviation in West Africa, Accra Weizo platform got top three regional airlines in the sub-region to sit down and discuss. They actually commenced action on interlining process.
Knowledgeable people in the aviation sector including Managing Director, Smile Aviation, Alex Nwub; Managing Director, African World Airlines (AWA), Ghana, Richard Kyereh; Managing director of Aero Contractors Airlines, Ado Sanusi to Vice President, SAHCOL Chike Ogeah, were present in Ghana for the conference, so many thought it old rivalry associated with the aviation in the region will rear its head.
The fallout of the session at Day 1 was a total departure from the rivalry usually associated with the regional airlines. So it was easy for the panelists to give the interlining process a nod, a second chance that may change the face of the aviation sector.
They discussed and proffered solutions to issues affecting the aviation sector pointblank. They also called for the review of aviation charges and implementation of open skies across the region.
“I am talking with the bank, particularly Zenith Bank to see if they can create a platform for airlines to accept tickets from passengers from other airlines, and seamlessly payment reconciliation with the all parties including the guaranteeing bank,” Aero Contractor managing director said.
It was a win-win situation. For Nwuba who blamed the lack of interlining on lack of trust, the interlining would have been achieved long ago. He, however, promised to offer a platform that will help ease the process of interlining and payment reconciliation as IATA Clearing House barely works in the region.
Beyond the success of airline interlining, there is what appears like IATA endorsement a few days ago.
IATA moves to raise interest
Ikechi Uko was obviously excited at the impact of the Accra Weizo so far. He said he was invited by the International Air Transport Association, IATA, to brief them on the outcome of the just-concluded Expo that took place at La Palm Beach Resort, Accra from June 22 to 23, 2018 where aviation experts in the region stormed to give direction. IATA supports aviation with global standards for airline safety, security, efficiency and sustainability.
“IATA is glad with the outcome and will be willing to support. IATA already has been working on interlining and interconnection in the region with advanced plans in partnership with World Bank, ECOWAS and other stakeholders,” Uko said.
Not a few said IATA’s move to raise interest is a “positive change” saying that it will open up the region and position tourism products in the marketplace. An Abuja-based travel agent, Ogechi Amadi said, “I think it is a sign of support from the industry regulator for the region.” Adding: “It is reliable endorsement from IATA.”
Representatives of the over 50 buyer companies that participated at the 4th Accra Weizo showed their preparedness to begin to explore the world in their backyard. This is the first time tour operators and the travel journalists have been attracted to Ghana with broad range of destinations to offer. There was a lineup of sessions to help the operator become strategic, focused and profitable.
In just three short days operators learnt strategies to successfully build up their travel business. Of course some of them must have taken corrective action in problem area. During the Day 2 session, the moderator Ebele Eze Enemchukwu asked the audience to introduce themselves. It was a pleasant surprise; it made it a lot easier for networking opportunity.
Ever since you will hear, through their social media group administers by the orgaisers of Accra Weizo, about the various organisations that have programmes designed to make them grow and become more profitable as well as exchange ideas with peers.
The organisations include Lagos State Tourism, South Africa Tourism, Dubai, Ethiopia Airlines, Chances Hotel, The Royal SENCHI, Accra City Hotel, La-Palm Beach Royal, Sun International, Calabar Carnival, Global Link Travel & Tours, Remlord Tours, Air Peace, Movenpic Hotel, Accra and Golden Tulip.
Travel organizations from other regions also took advantage of the travel show to reach the operators in West Africa. A South African marketing director from Sun international made his presentation to the trade, for example.
Ghana Tourism Authority
The Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) must have built direct links with scores of tour operators that feature the destination. The GTA supported the organisers of Accra Weizo 2018 to promote Ghana as a business and leisure destination to West African markets. They said Ghana has something for everyone.
The tourism officials were keen in wooing holidaymakers and investors stating that Ghana is investment-friendly. They listed investment opportunities in Natural /Eco-Tourism Resources, Meeting Facilities, Accommodation Facilities as well as Hospitality Training and Highway Rest Stops. They are also interested in showcasing less known attractions to the trade and ramp up its tourist receipts.
Ghana is already into big conference. As people come, they let you understand Ghana has a rich culture. GTA is promoting Ghana as tourism destination; they showcase Ghana’s rich history, oral tradition, folklore and lifestyle.
The support of Ghanaian Tourism Authority may have encouraged a significant travel trade presence at this year’s event. It joined Accra Weizo in bringing high-quality exhibitors to the travel Expo.
Challenges facing travel within West Africa
Transport has always been a big barrier in the West Coast. There are few organisations in the region working towards the spirit of West African neighbourliness. West African Road Safety Organisation (WARSO) recognizes the challenges facing the road sector in the countries. The general assembly of the WARSO recently adopted a common template of the passenger manifest for use by member countries within the West African sub-region.
It is hard to travel from one West African city to another. Can you travel from Lagos to Monrovia or Banjul to Accra stress-free? Indeed, there is inability to connect destinations.
Unlike WARSO, Accra Weizo is a private sector initiative.
Accra Weizo seeks ways to enhance the travel trade in the region. Accra Weizo put together by ATQ Magazine. The organisation said Accra Weizo brings travel and tourism stakeholders together to discuss seamless travels in West Africa in other to grow tourism among West African countries. Organizer of the event, Ikechi Uko, said the idea was to get people in travel business to work together.
“You know West Africa is the largest part in Africa with about 380 to 400 million people with more than 30 airports and we are the biggest travellers, yet we don’t have any strong airlines neither do we have inbound and travel within us but we supply hundreds of thousands of tourists to our sister in Dubai and South Africa,” Uko noted.
The Nigeria-born tour operator added that “It is unfortunate that we don’t travel within our sub-region and that is because we don’t know each other. That is what we want to do with Accra Weizo, to get people in the travel industry in West Africa to know each other.”
What they said
Ghanaian Aviation Minister, Cecilia Abena Dapaah said in line with the theme of the Aviation Day, June 22, 2018, “Harnessing the Opportunities in Aviation Value Chain in West Africa,” that the theme was a reflection of collective responsibility of the ECOWAS region to advance the frontiers of the aviation industry through air connectivity.
For her, Air connectivity is key to unlocking a country’s economic growth potential as it enables that country to attract business investment and human capital. She added that “an increase in air connectivity also boosts tourism which is vital to many countries prosperity.”
The Accra Weizo team obviously enjoyed the familiarization visit. Generally, participants gave a pat on the back of the organisers as they rose from the just-concluded travel event. Remember some of them said they never had time for Ghana as they package tours to South Africa, Malaysia, Dubai, United Arab Emirates as well as Europe and North America.
Unsurprisingly, many now said they have added Ghana. In fact, not a few tour operators said they will return to Ghana with family and tourists this summer to ensure they have fun. As one put it, “You cannot get tired of a repeat visit to Ghana. The facilities are there and you can count on the hospitality and friendliness of its people.
The Accra Weizo Family, as they described themselves, hailed the FAM Trip thanking Ghana Tourism Authority for its facilitation. For them, only serious NTOs can guarantee tourism programmes like 2018 Accra Weizo FAM Trip, which they said will translate to tourist arrivals as well as economic prosperity.
Having experienced the attractions first-hand most of the tour operators said they are ready to sell Ghana. While thanking the Accra Weizo 2018, former President of Nigeria Tour Operators (NATOP) Mr. Nkereuwem Onug said “I had a remarkable experience.”
Another participant, a Senior Assistant of Cross River State Governor, Noel Ugbong, said,” Accra Weizo 2018 was an amazing experience.” The adventurous family is not done.
Chairman, Board of Trustees, National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) Alabo Steve Isokarairi commended the organizers of Accra Weizo for the success of the 4th edition. “May God grant Ikechi Uko the strength and wisdom to carry Accra Weizo to World Travel Market, London level,” he said. Many concurred. Obviously networking does not have to stop at the fourth Accra Weizo.