By Jimoh Babatunde
The World travel Market has become a vibrant must attend business to business travel and tourism event in the last thirty years in London.
Staged annually in London, World Travel Market presentsÂ a diverse range of destinations and industry sectors to UK and International travel professionals. It is a unique opportunity for the whole global travel trade to meet, network, negotiate and conduct business under one roof.
By attending World Travel Market, participants efficiently, effectively and productively gain immediate competitive advantage for their business and stay abreast with the latest developments in the travel industry.
Nigeria was well represented at the four-day event by the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) that brought together travel agents; tour operators and state tourism corporations for effective promotion of Nigeriaâ€™s vast tourism potentials.
The event which was declared opened by theÂ Mayor of London Boris Johnson had in attendance more than 50,000 exhibitors, visitors, and international media.
Declaring the event opened, Mayor of London Boris Johnson emphasised how â€œtravel and tourism can bring people together in shared appreciation and understanding.
Referring to the 2012 Olympic Games, Johnson said, â€œIâ€™m optimistic about the impact of the Games. We want to use the Â£9.3 billion investments to boost bits of London that have been neglected for ages.
â€œWe want East London to lose its status as second_best,â€ he said. â€œWe want to make it a place where people want to go rather than a place people want to leave.â€
He said that the influx of tourists that the Games will bring represents an opportunity for the capital, saying it offers a chance â€œto improve the look and feel of London and help to look after the interests of our poorest citizens during the economic downturn.â€
He said the benefits of tourism will not just be short terms but will benefit the city for years to come. â€œThis is an enormous infrastructure project,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s a new Victorian age, the biggest change to Londonâ€™s infrastructure in more than 70 years.â€
Also speaking at the opening, Fiona Jeffery, WTM chairman, saidÂ 30 years ago when World Travel Market took its first tentative steps, it was a very different world.
â€œAll of us felt privileged to be involved in an industry that was, without a shadow of a doubt, going places.Â Â Â Yes, inevitably, there were vast mountains to climb _ but in those early years, it was exciting and invigorating. True, the pace of change was swift and as the industry was changing, so were our customers.â€
She added â€œAs the right to travel became almost a fundamental principle to millions across the world _ regardless of background, class, creed or culture _ World Travel Market played a crucial role. The event became the ever growing backdrop for increasing co_operation and integration between destinations and operators, conducting business and showcasing a widening range of services and products to a global marketplace. We wanted to create an atmosphere that generated dynamism and energy while at the same time fostering flexibility, understanding and above all, trust.
Fiona explained that in the past two years, the World Travel Market has strived even more to help the industry with a different mountain to conquer in the face of theÂ worst global economic downturn in living memory.
â€œIn these difficult times, the private sector needs resolute public sector support, investment, forward thinking leadership and direction, cementing a fundamental relationship between business and government and introducing greater understanding and strong co_operation.â€
So it was not surprising that the following day, when more than one hundred Ministers and senior aides met toÂ face the challenges of the Road to Recovery of the industry and also addressed the issues ofÂ climate change and poverty reduction as part of that pathway.
Fiona said that the idea of an annual summit for Ministers came from their determination to get to the heart of the matter, regardless of its complexities, embracing every level of decision making _ from boardroom to government mandates.
World Travel Market Chairman Fiona Jeffery said: â€œWorld Travel Market is delighted that our third Ministersâ€™ Summit has built upon the success of previous yearsâ€™ events.
â€œThe partnership between governments and the private sector is critical, and WTM provides a good forum for dialogue and discussion.â€
Though Nigeriaâ€™s Minister of Tourism & Culture, Senator Jubril Gada, was absent, the Ministersâ€™ Summit was used to pave way for Copenhagen deal.
Climate change is already resulting in an annual death toll equivalent to the Boxing Day tsunami, warns Fiona Jeffery, Chairman of World Travel Market, quoting figures from the Global Humanitarian Forum, she said climate change accounts for more than 300,000 deaths each year.
With the crucial UN climate change conference starting in Copenhagen on December 7, theÂ UNWTO Ministersâ€™ Summit here at World Travel Market is vital, Jeffery said.
â€œItâ€™s a last chance to discuss these critical issues and to help governments prepare to address the pressing challenges of climate change and its disastrous effects on travel and tourism,â€ explained Jeffery.
â€œItâ€™s no exaggeration to say that the eyes of the industry _ and the world _ will be waiting with bated breath to see the outcome.
Meanwhile,Â Nigeriaâ€™s presence at this yearâ€™s WTM will make a lasting impression in the minds of participants.
Nigeriaâ€™s stand is an unprecedented bigger pavilion, which overshadowed many other countriesÂ within the African arena. The very vibrant and colourful stand had the complement of a unique Nigerian national dress code to deliver a new tourist trade relation with would be investors in the tourism sector.
Otunba Rusewe, the NTDCâ€™sDirector General,Â who supervisedÂ the erection of the pavilion said, â€œIt is symbolic that the World Travel Market (WTM), the premier global event for the travel industry, is celebrating its 30th anniversary and Nigeria is showing to the world that it has emerged as an important tourist destination. Nigeria has progressively acquired bigger space. We are taking our rightful position among the comity of Nations.â€.
â€œThe Government of President Musa Yarâ€™ Adua through the vision 2020_20 is developing tourism infrastructures.â€ Watch what will become of the Niger Delta region post amnesty; the landscape of the coastal area will be transformed.
The DG said, â€œOne of NTDCâ€™s key objectives at the WTM wasÂ to showcase and market the entire 36 states and Abuja. So that tourists to Nigeria would have variety of places to visit.â€
Kano,Â Cross Rivers and Ogun States actively participated in the event as the Commissioner for Commerce and Tourism in Kano State, Alhaji Ahmed Yakassai and his counterpart from Ogun State Tourism Development Corporation,Â Mrs. Tomi Soboyejo and Mrs. Elenda Osima-Dokubo were seen selling their states asÂ preferred destinations in the country in collaboration with 12 private sector tourism stakeholdersÂ present this year.
Otunba Runsewe said â€œOur role as the apex body for tourism is to facilitate meeting with tourism investors, negotiation and get visitors special package deals between states and tour operators. Presently the Federal Government is the engine room providing the seed for tourism to grow until such a time that it will be totally private sector driven. We are currently working with every state of the federation, which is why we took a trip to South AfricaÂ with some state tourism commissioners recently.
As part of the usual Nigerian hospitality, NTDCÂ offeredÂ free CD destination Nigeria to the first 500 visitors that visited the countryâ€™s stand at this yearâ€™s event. With this CD, prospective tourists can take a virtual tour of destinations in Nigeria via computers.
Visitors to Nigeria will henceforth have a renewed love for the country as the present leadership of the tourism sector in Nigeria are getting the required supports â€œThe federal government is very serious about tourism; Nigeria is building a stronger security network. , Said Otunba Runsewe, DG NTDC.
Speaking at a world press conference attended by foreign journalists, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe while acknowledging the support of his Minister, Senator Bello Jibrin Gada, for the renewed tourism drive in Nigeria, said
Nigeria offers a wide variety of tourist attractions. The richness and diversity of Nigeriaâ€™s tourism provide great investment opportunities.
Otunba Runsewe, saidÂ that Nigeria was being positioned to become the leading African destination for tourism by 2020.
He said, â€œNigeria is already seeing a good growth in tourism, with the development of our new tourist infrastructure based on our country ongoing development to become among the twenty most developed economies. Last year our economy earned $500 million from tourism, my projections are to increase this figure by 25% within the next ten years.â€
He added, â€œTourism is playing a vital role in our countryâ€™s seven point agenda that includes education, security, transport, power and energy. We are planning to open tourist offices throughout Europe, followed by the Americas. I want to create a â€˜ new brand of TourismÂ for Nigeria. With the awareness already created among the Nigerian population and tourism related businesses emerging throughout the country it makes the target for 2020 realistic.â€
He concluded â€œNigeria has the potential for greatness, as the country is blessed with abundant natural and human resources, I want the Nigerian people to state their strength and de_emphasise the weaknesses.â€ Even Nigerians in the rural area where tourist sites are located are already taking advantage of the trend. Since I assumed my position three years ago, our image has vastly improved, leading to a better tourist traffic into Nigeria, while improving domestic tourism amongst the 140 million population.
The highlight of the countryâ€™s participation this year was the hosting of the Nigeria Day by the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, where the countryâ€™s cuisines were on display as well as the best of the countryâ€™s musical export while the best of Nollywood actors were present.