As this year’s edition of  Africa Travel Market (AFTM), a travel and tourism trade exhibition is billed to open in Lagos tomorrow, Mr. Ikechi Uko, publisher of the Africa Travel Quarterly magazine and organiser of the fair in this interview said it is a platform that best represents the ideas of Business to Business (B2B).

He shares his ideas on what to expect from tomorrow and the programs lined up for the three-day fairs with Jimoh Babatunde. Here is an excerpt.

On what to expect at this year’s Akwaaba This year is an improvement on our past events. We are having more home country representation than before, which means we are having more people coming from outside Nigeria than before where you had only representatives of those countries in Nigeria participating.

That is a measure of the acceptance of the platform as a major marketing tool in the world. We are also having more international organizations exhibiting. We are actually having for the first time more foreign exhibitors than Nigeria which further establishes us as the only international platform in West Africa. There will be more destinations, Hotels more tickets to give away in the raffles and more people to meet. It will be more exciting a proper Travel market experience and should not be missed as nothing like this has ever happened in West Africa.

Reasons for having more foreign exhibitors than Nigerians It has a lot to do without understanding of Tourism and Travels, we as a nation are still learning and do not know that travel is marketed through channels like the World Travel Market and ITB.

The most successful travel organizations in Nigeria are all exhibiting because they are well exposed.  The Jemi Alades, TBI, Touchdown travels, Remlords etc. these are the best travel companies in Nigeria and they know what a travel market offers but the others are still learning the ropes and that is why NTDC and NCAA are backing us to try and encourage players to tap into the available opportunities in Akwaaba.

Ask yourself why are 20 people coming all the way from Gambia, 25 people from Ghana many from Egypt, Kenya, South Africa and Ethiopia. There must be something they know. But we are making progress and we will get there as a nation. The states have all registered to participate but payment is an issue with them.

On the kind of supports from NTDC, NCAA and UNWTO
Thanks for that. In Nigeria most government agencies see the private sector as rivals. I know past NTDC heads who wanted me to hand over the programme to them even when they have not proven any competence in organizing things, but we have an NTDC that says ATQ has the ability, the necessary contacts and network to do this and comes out to back us up by first endorsing the event and we have noticed that we are probably the one with such an endorsement.

NTDC also helps us in some other ways not visible to the eye. You know the Nigerian copycat syndrome, I started a travel magazine everyone started their own, I started awards everyone started giving awards now the crazes is travel fair everyone is doing travel fairs and they are running from one government agency to another looking for endorsements.

I know from experience  that like the magazines and the awards they will fizzle out once sponsorship disappoints.
NTDC has chosen to allow the proliferation of these things. In other for Nigeria to establish its presence on the global map there should be some level of specialization. We have not depended on subsidies and have enjoyed tremendous good will from the industry.

Our relationship with UNWTO is even more strange. They adopted us maybe because of the poor figures of tourism in West Africa. I was with the secretary general Taleb Rifai and his team recently and he promised that despite the very tight schedule he will try and come. They have not given us any grant but have an elaborate plan to establish as a global player. This is goodwill of the great kind because UNWTO is supposed to be dealing with Governments but we have found favor there and in so many other places like NCAA.
NCAA has the most important job in travel business as tourist won’t come without Airlines so NCAA is the gatekeeper and along with FAAN they have given us tremendous support because they have seen a local company going global.

On the journey so far
It is exciting. This year alone we have been all over the world inviting people and despite the obvious image of Nigeria we are having a lot of positive response from all over. We also have some last minute cancellations because of the meltdown but the positives are many.
We have been supported by the media and my colleagues have taken this as their own. This we appreciate. We are excited that we are creating more than 5000 room nights in 3days that is an amazing figure. The amount of business done at Akwaaba is amazing that is why from one foreign exhibitor two years ago to 50 this year. It is now truly international as the four most powerful African nations are here from the east to the North West and south.

On sponsorship
That’s a matter for another day. We have received support in kind from mainly players in the industry but I have noticed that the sponsorship market isn’t as robust as it should be. We could do with a lot more. Now we have a strong brand.  It will change the game.

On the program lined up
The event will be opened by 1pm on Saturday the 24th by the former commonwealth secretary general, Sir Emeka Anyaoku and our special Guest of honor Sir Dawda Jawara the former president of the Gambia.

After that, the workshop and conferences begin. Saturday ends with the African Travel Awards dinner. The 24th is only open to exhibitors as it offers them the opportunity to mix and network before the public comes. The exhibition days are Sunday and Monday.
Just like in WTM where you have meridian day, there will be raffle draws on Monday to reward visitors.

The lead Speaker for the conference is the Israeli Crisis Communication expert Eran Ketter who will be speaking on” the role of festivals and local events in creating positive media coverage and attracting international tourism, using the Argungu fishing festival to demonstrate the concepts.”


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