The echoes of the recently concluded World Travel Market (WTM) in London 2023 still resonate, capturing the essence of a dynamic gathering that brought together the world’s foremost travel and tourism professionals. Spanning from November 6 to 8, this event served as a pivotal moment for industry leaders to exchange insights, discuss emerging trends, and forge collaborations.
According to sunnewsonline.com, The event is a must for any country, person or organisation that wants to flourish in tourism, travel and destinations.
For many visitors at WTM, from getting off the train at Customs House Station, London, they could tell that something gigantic was happening at ExCel. It was a gathering of different countries from all the continents to showcase the stuff they were made of.
WTM enables the growth and development of the global travel industry through business events across the continents of the world.
The question for serious participants was: What is that thing that would propel tourists to visit your country? That is one of the core focus of this annual trade show, and many countries were represented at WTM 2023.
Saudi Arabia’s space at the conference was like heaven on earth. So were the pavillions of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Egypt and Morocco. Those spaces were collectively the centre of attraction as they were electrifying.
Moving round the ExCel event centre, on display for visitors were culture, tradition, food, dressing and various tourist attractions of different countries. Visitors were greeted with the countries’ brochures, souvenirs, food, drinks, art and loads of amazing gifts to take home from the stands.
Julliette Losardo, exhibition director, World Travel Market, said: “WTM is more than a place to meet and do business, it’s a place to carve out the bigger, bolder, brighter future we all want. It’s a place for people who refuse to go back to the status quo.”
According to her, WTM 2023 welcomed more exhibitors than ever before from far-flung destinations and private sector companies.
United Tourism World Organization (UNWTO) Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili, said: “Tourism not only supports many millions of jobs and businesses, it is also a pillar of many economies and of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, contributing to all of the 17 Goals. In this way, tourism really does have the power to change the world, and it is a power UNWTO is working to ensure is fully harnessed.”
That was the thread of several messages from other officials.
“If we believe that tourism has the power to change the world, then we need to work together as a sector, from government to employers, to make sure the right talent is in place to deliver on its potential, for the benefit of everyone, everywhere.
“From individual travellers to industry leaders and policymakers, we are all responsible for forging a responsible path for global tourism,” Julia Simpson, president and CEO, World Travel and Tourism Council, said.
Countries in West Africa, East Africa and North Africa also showed a good presence.
Dina Mustafa Moemen, director of corporate communication, Egypt Air, said that her company has been a regular visitor to WTM.
This year, they were around to showcase the new grounds and routes the airline is breaking into and to open markets for new destinations.
Meanwhile, Nigeria was also there. Although Nigeria’s tourism industry has been absent from international trade shows for almost a decade, thanks to the efforts of the new Minister of Tourism, Mrs Lola Ade-John, this is about to change. Nigeria made its comeback at the just concluded WTM, London 2023, with support from the Lagos State Tourism and the West Africa Tourism Organization (WATO), as well as the private sector.
Despite some challenges with putting up the stand and meeting the deadline, the return of Nigeria’s tourism industry has been met with great interest and positive feedback, indicating a promising future, said a Nigerian who preferred anonymity.
The National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) was also represented at the show, bringing a lively atmosphere and Naija flavour to the event.
Nigerian travel expert and founder of Akwaaba, Mr Ikechi Uko, said of WTM 2023: “For me, the World Travel Market is coming to life. As an event organiser, I am always looking at events, how they are trying to establish themselves as the most prominent travel connoisseurs; so I commend them. We always complained before now that they put Africa at the back, but Africa is in the mainstream now and that is because Morocco is their major sponsor this year.
“Nigeria as a country has not participated. Nigeria as individuals is here. It’s unfortunate. Nigeria normally has the best African stand at WTM, and Nigeria had a robust participation till 2014. It’s unfortunate that people think WTM is a waste of time. I can say categorically now, only an ignorant person who doesn’t know tourism would say WTM is a waste of time.
“I have been attending WTM since 1998 and I know I’m better informed than most people who play tourism because I have attended almost all the global travel shows. So, when I hear people say such ignorant things about WTM, it is because they do not understand tourism. They should go do any other business and allow those of us who know the business, who do the business, to tell you what is needed for the business. It saddens me that a country that once had one of the best stands in WTM today has no stand.
“From 2014 till now, has our tourism been better without WTM? No. Has our tourism grown? No. Which means people come here and sell. And there are other things people do at WTM. So, it’s unfortunate that we have so many uninformed people who want to talk about tourism.”
Alistar Soyode, founder of Ben TV, UK, said: “This is 2023, the first time after so many years that Nigeria is participating at this event. But then again, you have to give credit to the participation this year, because they have not done it for quite a long time and this is a new administration as well in Nigeria.
It happens to be that the minister of tourism is not feeling too strong; that would have been the reason Nigeria did not make a strong showing. You can see quite a number of people gathered at the Nigerian stand because they are playing music, entertaining everybody here. At the end of the day, we have to evaluate what Nigeria can gain in places like this.
“Other African countries have shown tremendous presence here in large numbers and, hopefully, they are indeed going to generate people who go on tourism, who are looking for somewhere to go and chill and relax.
“I hope Nigeria will be able to package some destinations in the country, even if it is just six destinations across the six geopolitical zones, where they can holiday from one place to another, for two weeks. It is an avenue for generating quite a lot of revenue or income for any country.”
However, a Nigerian woman who simply called herself Kiki was boiling hot and angry as she complained about Nigeria’s participation at WTM.
“That is not a good representation. That would not make anyone want to come to Nigeria. We Nigerians were disappointed. We wanted to come and support you guys as Nigerians. The minister had that plan; it didn’t come to fruition because they didn’t see it through. I feel bad about it.
“This is a misrepresentation of a nation; I’m speaking from what I saw. If the minister is sick, she should have a team, she should delegate. If you want to do something, you do it well. When you go round and you see other African countries, you feel like weeping as a Nigerian.
“Did you see other African countries? Imagine, Zambia is over there, and that is the whole Nigeria (pointing at the Nigerian stand) you are seeing there. Does it mean that the person supposed to release the money did not release the money? This is the World Travel Market,” she said fuming.
Another Nigerian familiar with the tourism industry added her voice, continuing from where the first respondent stopped: “The tourism minister is (indisposed), none of the other people were willing to sign. The DG was supposed to be the one to have signed.”
In the same vein, Lola, a Nigerian based in the UK, said: “What we are trying to say is that every country has its representatives. When we got to the Nigerian stand, I didn’t even know it was Nigeria. I asked, where is Nigeria? And they said, this is it. I thought it was a break-out area. I didn’t know that was the stand. So, the Nigerian stand at WTM did not present a good feel about the country. With what people saw there, nobody would want to go to Nigeria, not even me as a Nigerian. There are lots of places, there are lots of things that could be done in Nigeria, that could be visited in Nigeria. We read about places like Borno and the rest.”
To calm down the vexation and make the angry ladies understand the situation, president of WATO, Ola Wright, waded into the discussion.
Wright said: “We produced enough brochures and NANTA also produced the Nigerian brochure and they are all gone.
“Within two weeks, the minister had raised money to have a good show and good outing for Nigerian tourism at WTM. She fell ill and the whole plan was halted, Lagos State pledged to sponsor, but funds wasn’t released before the deadline, so we converted to a shell scheme and had Nigeria represented.
“Nigeria’s participation at the WTM was such a huge success that has already translated into new businesses and partnerships formed with tourism operations and new tours to Nigeria organised. The feedbacks have been great, even by other African nations. The London Concierge commented on a post by WTM social media, that Nigeria brought the best vibes to the show.
“Citizens, friends and supporters of the country were drawn to Nigeria at WTM and enthusiastically showed it.”
Louisa Aggrey from Wales, a school teacher in London, said that they were there to get some more contacts.
She said: “This is our favourite stand. We have been to Ghana, Sierra Leone, Malawi, but we love Nigeria. The music is the best. We are having a good time. Work is over now so we are having fun.”
Joyce Morris, a Jamaican, said: “I am going to Nigeria next year. I’m really having a good time here. I’m a designer. I want to produce my goods in Nigeria, but I want them to be sold in England. I will sell in pounds then I bring the money to better the life of Nigerians. I have lived all my life in England, but I love Nigerians.”