By Sade Williams
Organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market (AFTM), Mr. Ikechi Uko, has advised Lagos State government to develop its already existing infrastructure to international standard in order to join the big league in global tourism.
Uko spoke recently at the just concluded Lagos State Tourism Summit held at Eko Hotel & Suites, Lagos.
Speaking on the topic: Meetings, Incentives, Conferences/Conventions and Exhibitions/Events (M.I.C.E) and creative Content as tourism sector panacea, Uko said M.I.C.E is already a driving force in tourism development in Africa, adding that some African cities have recognized that this type of tourism has put their sectors in global perspective.
MICE is a type of tourism in which large groups, usually planned well in advance, are brought together for a particular purpose.
He said Lagos therefore, needs to follow suit and first look inwards to bring out the best in its tourism in order not to be left behind as the sector develops globally.
“Today, MICE is driving Tourism growth in Africa. Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda are crediting the industry for the growth of Tourism in 2017. Today, if you notice most events are heading to Kigali and Accra. With the new Airport in Victoria Falls and the exit of Uncle Bob Mugabe Zimbabwe with be the big player along with its poor neighbour Zambia.
“While the scramble for Meetings are going on in Africa, Lagos has to take advantage of its natural assets to play in the coming years. You (Lagos), do very well in areas where you have a natural comparative advantage but here is where Lagos comes in. Africa’s center of Cool. Brand power, value for money because of devaluated currency and great night life”, he said.
Uko, who is also a travel business consultant and publisher, added that in the creative economy which encompasses the Arts, Lagos might well the Natural creative Capital of Africa if it deeply harnesses the opportunities presented by the recognition accorded to Nigeria’s Nollywood globally.
“Despite the fact that most of our products are not captured in organised data, it is a known fact that Nigeria’s Nollywood is the leading movie production centre in Africa and the dance halls of Africa are driven by Nigerian Music. So we can lay claim to be the entertainment Capital of Africa.
He acknowledged that the Eko Convention Centre with 5,000 seater capacity, became the game changer for Lagos to compete in the events and exhibition category, saying, ‘automatically, you can count Lagos as a contender in hosting entertainment events and today along with Landmark Centre Lagos seek to host exhibitions and events’.
“For Lagos to join the Big league of MICE, we should concentrate on areas where we are well disposed to thrive. In the MICE spectrum, we can chase the Events, Exhibitions and the Congresses. Our specific areas based on the already existing audience and our infrastructure should be: Creative Arts, including music e.g. AFRIMA, Movies e.g. AMMA and Lagos Film Festival, Fashion is one that needs a headline event as Lagos is the trend setter in that Area. Arise Fashion Show is a good one. A craft and art event should emerge.
“Financial Services: with some of Africa’s largest banks the material exists for this too; Religious Congresses: it is a known fact that the biggest churches in Africa are all based in Nigeria. So this is the lowest hanging fruit, already they draw huge audience.
“Telecoms; huge opportunity as the largest Subscriber base in AFRICA reside here; Sports and with such a huge population of travelling sports lovers, Lagos can act as a pull centre for sport events and Travel and Tourism: with the largest travel population outside South Africa, Lagos should be a travel hub and the success of Akwaaba Travel Market attest to that.
“Combining what we have to get what we want is to use the popularity of Nollywood, our musicians and the Cool label of Lagos to draw the missing tourism fruits”, he added.
To achieve this, Uko itemises steps that need to be taken.
According to him, Lagos needs a Convention Bureau to organize and market the city as a destination to attract these events.
He noted that Convention Bureaus subsidize events and assist in attracting more people.
He said the next step is to create clusters of events, prioritize and then choose one or two of the events and support one that is already successful so it can grow in scale.
Uko, who however itemises the obstacles to successful development of MICE, noted that accessing the state is one major issue.
According to him, Lagos is one of the most connected cities in Africa with daily flights to the leading capitals of the world but with the absence of a national Carrier and a strong indigenous Airline, it depends on 3rd party Airlines to bring in the visitors.
“This increases cost as Airlines will offer cheaper flights for packages outbound to their destinations and not inbound”.
Visa procurement, he said, is also another obstacle to visitor numbers but noted it’s a Federal Government list to address.
He identified lack of rating and grading of hotels, Culture and absence of Tourism assets as other issues mitigating against MICE.
“With the rising number of quality hotel rooms, Lagos can host a medium sized event, but needs to now make sure the Hotels are of international standards, rate and grade them and make sure the top venues measure up to standards.
“Again LAGOS is the only water bound city I know that has no public waterfront. We live in Lagos but do not have access to the waterfront anywhere. There should be a change, create a Boardwalk and a Promenade for Lagosians at Yaba, Oworoshoki, Epe, Ikorodu, Ijora and Apapa. These are Tourism draws. Water is the biggest source of Tourism income in Africa.
“So Lagos can start by organising what is already on ground choosing the Top 15 events that have survived 3-5 years, from the identified areas of Music, Movies, Religion, Fashion, Tourism, Financial Services, Sports, Food and Telecom and package them for International consumption in 2019 and 2020 and by 2021, Lagos would have learnt enough to start bidding for Mega international events”, Uko added.