My Experience at the 18th Akwaaba
My Experience at the 18th Akwaaba African Travel Market by Ebele Enemchuckwu
As though to reestablish why it has for years, retained the enviable spot as the biggest travel expo in West Africa, Akwaaba African Travel Market, once again delivered its promises to stakeholders from all over Africa who converged for the 18th time, at a single location, further lending credence to its well-thought-out payoff of being “Where Africa Meets The World.”
Even though officially a two-day event which I had the pleasure of hosting, Akwaaba 18.0 kicked off a day earlier with a party at a private beach (Wave Beach) in Lagos, as a way to give guests from all over Nigeria and Africa a warm welcome. I couldn’t find my bikini, so went in short shorts.
The National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) were great partners as they provided a rich variety of meals and drinks from the six geo political zones of Nigeria. Meanwhile, Wave Beach CEO, Bayo Adedeji, I don’t think we got the chance to thank you for that ‘Lion’s Platter’ of a meal you specially delivered to us. You dared us to finish the meal. You won! A Lion’s platter indeed!
By morning on Akwaaba Day 1, the exhibition area was set and buzzing with activities, an early indication of what it feels like being amidst the largest gathering of tourism and travel professionals. The 18th Akwaaba African Travel Market had as headline partner, Wakanow, the biggest travel company in West Africa, with billings of over a hundred billion naira. Turquaz Health, Turkiye, were great partners too. Co-founder, Idyl was one of those I had spent the welcome evening with. Her pretty red hair stood her out.
Among Special Guests and very eminent Personalities in attendance were:
• The Minister of Tourism, Sierra Leone, Dr. Memunatu Pratt;
• The Olota of Ota, HM Prof. Adeyemi Abdukabir Obalanlege;
• Director General, National Council of Arts and Culture (NCAC), Otunba Olusegun Runsewe;
•The President of Tanzania, Samia Hassan, represented by the First Secretary, Head, Economic Diplomacy Affairs, Mr. Peter Philbert;
• Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism, Arts & Culture, Pharm. Hamzat Akinbile-Yusuf;
• Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi;
• The High Commissioner of Namibia to Nigeria & Permanent Representative to ECOWAS, H.E. Mr. Humphrey Geiseb;
• The National President, Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), Mr. Nkereuwem Onung;
• Senator Princess Florence Ita Giwa;
• Ambassador to Benin Republic, Amb. Olukayode Aluko and wife;
• Head, Ethiopian Holidays, Mahlet Kebede;
• President, Aircraft owners and Pilots Associations of Nigeria, Alex Nwuba;
• Former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Arts & Culture, Princess Adenike Adedoyin Ajayi;
• Aviation juggernaut, Mr. Femi Adefope of HRG;
• Publisher of The Guardian Newspaper, Lady Maiden Alex Ibru;
• President of the Commission in charge of Benin Republic Tourism Development of CTMB (Consumption de tourisme pat millions au Benin), Mrs. Olanma Ojukwu;
• Aviation Consultant & CEO, Belujane Konsult, Mr. Chris Aligbe;
• National President, Nigeria Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), Mrs. Ime Udo;
• National Vice President, NATOP, Mrs. Bolaji Mustapha;
• CEO/Founder, The Xperts, Ms. Fifi Rurangwa;
• Member, Nigerian Youth Parliament representing Abia South Chairman House Committee on Tourism, Standhope Jasper;
• Celebrity Singer, Hadiza Blell, better known as Di’ja;
• Travel Journalists and media friends. So good to see you all again;
• Sales Manager, Ethiopian Airlines, Senait Atakilt;
• Director of Tourism Promotion, Lagos State Ministry of Tourism, Arts & Culture, Mrs. Ada Oni;
• Chief (Mrs.) Wanda Ibru. It was particularly good to see you, Ma’am. Your kind and encouraging words every now and then are appreciated. I shall find time to visit your beautifully designed 3.4 acre botanical garden by Pathways soon.
With the cutting of the tape by dignitaries, and welcome remarks by the Organiser, Prof. Amb. Ikechi Uko, Akwaaba African Travel Market 18.0 was officially declared open.
The Royal Tour, Tanzania’s official tourism campaign featured for the first time, to market East African tourism products and services to Nigerians and other countries in attendance.
Shortly after that came the glamorous fun part…. the second edition of the Africa Travel 100 Women Awards, which recognized African women who have excelled in travel and tourism. Winners from Sierra Leone, South Africa, Benin Republic, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Burundi, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Senegal, Zambia, Namibia, Nigeria, were celebrated. They were drawn from categories across Aviation, Tourism/Tourism Leadership, Travel & Tours, Hospitality/Hoteliers, Conservation/Advocacy etc.
From sporting country-specific outfits, to the waving of national flags, it was a beautiful sight watching the awardees approach the front of the hall. I enjoyed hearing the tiny whispers and breaths of delight from many women as they walked past me to the centre of the stage to receive their awards and pose for priceless photos. I must have said “Congratulations” at least fifty times. It was easy to understand their joy, considering the tough selection process which spanned many months to earn them these awards. Well done to the Judges from all over Africa who handled the difficult job. The first edition of the awards was in 2017. In advance, I have a nominee for the third edition. Industry colleagues and Judges, please take note.
Akwaaba season 18 became another reminder as to why I cannot afford to be ‘bad’. I almost can’t even operate ‘codedly’ and this has nothing to do with the publicity from having reigned as Mrs. Nigeria and Mrs. Tourism for two years. People I trained years ago in Glo and more recently, in open/on-site physical and online trainings, have been approaching me too often these days, including when I’m outside Lagos. Am I that easy to identify?
Not even Akwaaba could shield me. I was in the exhibition area catching up with some tourism colleagues when a gentleman walked up to me, “you don’t recognise me?” I attempted, but quickly gave up. “You trained me in Glo. I am the P.A. to the Olota of Ota”. This must have been 2011 or 2012. Wow! By the way, I am not complaining. I am just reminded that Big Brother is always watching. Anyway, Biggie, there’s nothing. Olu has become royalty by association. I wished him well, then completed my assignment for the day.
BY DAY TWO, Akwaaba made headlines across online and offline news media, including the cover page of The Guardian Newspaper, with Participants greeted with waiting complimentary copies on their seats.
Once I was done coordinating the introductory items on the program, activities of the day went into full swing with the Medical Tourism segment, debuting as the first major medical tourism event in Nigera.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, was the first one on stage to share Mr. Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s blueprint for the transformation of the medical sector in Lagos State. This he did through an expertly delivered presentation on “MEDICAL TOURISM AND LAGOS: HOW LAGOS IS POSITIONING FOR MEDICAL TOURISM .” The plan was to enhance brain gain, as opposed to the disturbing brain drain situation being experienced in Nigeria. “They should go out and gain those specialist skills, then come back and use them here.” I must have heard a scoff or two.
Mr. Commissioner’s presentation was so good that our very own Professor of Tourism, Ambassador Ikechi Uko, denied his title shortly after, when I invited him to the lectern. As though not to ‘drag’ titles with anyone, he told the audience, in other words, Africa, the story of how I and my Ghanaian co-Compère, Ato, had given that title to him at an event in Accra some years ago. That I didn’t die of laughter on stage from this blatant disclaimer was just Go. Amb. Uko, that information was unsolicited na. No one had to know. Anyway, with the 6th AccraWeizo less than two weeks away, we shall definitely address that issue.
The CEO of Emblem Travels and Tours Ltd., Mr. Usman Isah, was next. He shared his presentation on “MEDICAL TOURISM IN AFRICA: HOW FAR, HOW WELL?” We got answers, which sadly, further revealed what many already knew, the fact that there was still so much work to be done in the sector.
To explore the various options of promoting medical tourism in Nigeria was International Business Development Manager, Ms. Sema Gun, representing Medical Park, one of the biggest Hospital Groups in Turkiye.
The next session was by Emergency Response Africa. Highly enlightening and practical. The props and simulations were impressive. Handling such emergency situations as a choking person or one needing CPR, was a quick takeaway.
International Award-winning Travel Journalist, Obinna Emelike, represented Uganda, and did well in selling the destination to the rest of Africa.
Then came the Big Boys’ panel which sought to answer the question, “CAN LAGOS BE A GLOBAL TRAVEL DESTINATION OF CHOICE?” It had on it, Head Consultant, Showbiz Network Services, Edi Lawani; General Manager, Eko Hotel & Suites, Danny Kioupouroglou; CEO of Wakanow and Proprietor of Wave Beach, Bayo Adedeji; CEO, DayoAdedayo Photography, Dayo Adedayo. For this lineup of Panelists with towering credentials and practical experience spanning Entertainment, Travel, Hospitality, it’d take one with a ‘broad-spectrum’ resumè to effectively anchor the session. And that’s where the expert moderation of Prof. Uko came in, as he guided the panel conversation, tailoring the questions to the strengths of each Panelist to ensure the audience got the most out of the engagement. As rewarding as the panel discussion was, the little gender balance it would have enjoyed was missing, as the Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Pharm. Hamzat, who was present minutes before the panel, had to attend to an emergency, so was conspicuously absent by panel time. We missed!
However, something we didn’t miss was the popular “Youth In Tourism Conference”, which has become the favorite of many, as it comes with an energy level, insights, experiences, conversations, that give hope for the future of tourism in Nigeria and beyond. “IS TOURISM A PASSION OR A BUSINESS FOR THE YOUTH?” was the question posed to this vibrant panel, made up of Daniel Bello of Visit Ososo; Mariam Iyiola of Travel With Mariam; Kingsley Nwachukwu, Anago Osho of Global Anago Adventures; Aminat Akanbi of Triplisters; Gideon Taiwo Oludayo of Aeroprt Group; Cordis Maria Umeokoli of Mardis Travels & Tours. They did justice, while enjoying superb moderation from South African Ntokozo Gumbi of Trust Joy Tourism, SA.
Entertainment was great. Performer-extraordinaire, Irè The Stage Devi, did not disappoint in bringing on her usual extra volts of electricity as she chanted and danced Guests into excitement. Speaking of dance, Wow 360 came through in providing major entertainment as people thronged their spinning booth to transform their dance moves into exciting video clips. Yes, when I was done with Compère duties, I found time to spin off some stress.
Then this lady walked up to me. She recognised me as “the same Comperè from last year” through “your lovely makeup”. She confessed to wondering how makeup could be this clean. At the time we were speaking at the end of the day, her additional wonder became how my makeup is able to stay in place all day. I thanked her for her kind words, but forgot to mention that my company, WABIO Place, offers professional makeup services, including Trainings for personal and commercial purposes. This is the type that the man I’m married to will hear now and weep at my ‘relaxed’ business sense. ‘Nwoke Nnewi’!
As if my Akwaaba experience wasn’t wrapping up nicely enough already, the CEO of WOW 360, Mr. Tokunbo Odebunmi, drops a heartwarming feedback on how my anchoring went, but with emphasis on his respect for my ad-libbing skills. I tried being modest, but it was exciting to see someone who beyond smiles and a seemingly perfect flow of activities, detected the many onstage scenarios that warranted that skill. That makes him a master at the game too.
DJ Excoba, this spot is for you! You were simply great. Super-responsive. A great playlist. No dead airs at all. Well done, and good luck.
The drums for the 19th Akwaaba African Travel Market have been rolled out, and registration has begun. So, if you are directly and/or indirectly in the business of travel and tourism, don’t say I do not bring you good tidings. This one is for you!
Congratulations, Team Akwaaba! You did it again!
Tourism is life.
Culled From Ebele Enemchukwu facebook page