DESTINATION WEST AFRICA PROJECT
I was privileged to attend the Destination West Africa project (DWAP) launched by Goge Africa and its Partners titled ‘Ecowas of our People’; it was a gathering of travel and tourism experts in West Africa.
The event happened at the Lekki Conservative center, Lagos, Saturday, September 24, 2022.
I represented Coworkstyle at the launch to support our partner Angel Style World Travels &Tours LTD, one of the DWAP partners. At Coworkstyle, we believe travel is an excellent form of education, relaxation and fun. So, when some events and conversations promote the cause, best believe we are there to engage.
The event happened at Lekki Conservation Center, famous for having the longest canopy walkway in Africa. It’s peculiar that this was my first time at the center (not for lack of interest), and I was also looking forward to the experience and the event. As with most things in Nigeria, I didn’t know what to expect, and I kept my expectations very low.
However, I was intrigued from the moment I got to the center. There was an event backdrop, a walkway with flags and a table covered with coconuts. At that moment, I was excited and couldn’t wait to get inside. Bearing in mind that it’s a conservatory, it completely went over my head that there would be wild animals running free, hence my surprise when a monkey grabbed a coconut from a woman close to me.
It then went ahead to eat it without a care in the world. Of course, it became the focus of attention for a minute, and the paparazzi were taking shots while it went ahead to lick the coconut husk clean. That was a funny side note, and I quickly reminded myself to hold on closely to my bag and wig before appearing on the front pages.
I proceeded to the event hall, and the ambience was faithful to the cause. Organizers decorated the chairs with African fabrics and prints, and music was in full swing. The movie veteran Segun Arinze anchored the event, and there were lots of familiar faces. One of the event’s highlights was when the delectable Madam Nike of Nike art gallery came in.
Her famous regalia was stunningly beautiful and showed how dignified we are as Africans if we stay true to ourselves and our identity. The events began in full force, and conversations started around African tourism and the industry’s problems. These are some of the significant issues touched on:
Inadequate knowledge about our culture– Unfortunately, our history is written and told more by foreigners than by us. There is little knowledge about the culture around us. There is also a degree of hostility to the other cultures around us, which prevents cross-cultural integration. Understanding cultures and people around us will bring about cultural appreciation and promote travel and tourism.
A panelist suggested a festival Map containing details of various cultural events, dates and places as a roadmap to understanding our culture by natives and foreigners.
Costly air travel– Costly air travel is a big issue that laments the plight of travelers. The panelists raised points about how it is more expensive to travel within Africa than in other parts of the world. The rise in the Dollar has recently resulted in significantly increased flight prices.
The COO of Ibom Air, George Uriesi, addressed the issue by stating that there is a lack of competition for big airlines that ply the African route. He states that because of this, they can fix the flight rates as they see fit. He goes further to say that if there are more competitors and players in the game, it will/might drive down the flight prices.
Absence of Product Development and Marketing– “The product “Nigeria” is not marketed properly to the right audience.” These were the sentiments of some of the Tour Operators. Traveling and tourism must be made attractive to the youth and younger generation.
Nigeria has the world’s largest youth population of about 70% below 30, meaning the potential is teeming and waiting to be explored by the government and tour operators. Creating a product appealing to the most significant market sector is therefore paramount. Also, the stakeholders must take the conversation to the youth, and the younger generation must be allowed to participate actively in the industry.
Visa Restrictions- African countries remain closed off to each other, making travel within the continent difficult. Africa is one of the regions in the world with the highest visa requirements.
This situation is even more restrictive for Africans traveling within Africa than Europeans and North Americans. Visa restrictions have broad economic consequences, notably for the tourism sector. Most agreed that Ecowas and the African Union should have solved this problem, but they haven’t been able to do so to date.
Insecurity – This was a significant point touched on. The issue of insecurity is a dire situation that plagues Nigeria and many African countries. These deter travel, as Nigeria is perceived as unsafe by many foreigners due to news of frequent kidnappings, terrorism, ritual killings, riots and more.
For tourism to thrive, the government must address and tackle the issue of insecurity. However, we can move beyond this issue- if miscreants become engaged as stakeholders. When every citizen feels like a key player in building the nation, we can finally move to take our place as the Giant of Africa. We have already seen this model working with locals running and protecting the beaches in Lagos.
Africa is not made attractive – Lastly, the panel concluded that travelers do not perceive Africa as an attractive destination. There are a lot of negative stories about Africa, especially Nigeria, with very few good stories.
We need to start telling our stories by ourselves, making sure to espouse the good ones. We may have successfully done this with music and our movie industry but not collectively as a nation.
However, it was not all tales of woes. With the launch of the Destination West Africa project, all hands are on deck to make the vision- of making West Africa the destination of choice- a reality.
With the nation and the continent endowed with vast natural and human resources, opportunities abound for growth and development when all stakeholders collaborate.
Chief Wanle Akinboboye, Chief Executive Officer, La Campagne Tropicana, emphasized the need for tourism operators across West Africa to work together in portraying in good light our culture, art, music and traditions to the rest of the world.
He further said we must make sure there is progress in the sector and that the results we seek are within reach if the private sector works together with government aid. The dream of a better Nigeria is looking brighter each day.