My first time at the Akwaaba African Travel Market was in 2016, when the travel and tourism trade show was already at its 12th edition. Apparently, I came late to the tourism party, I had missed eleven editions, and that was a lot. But putting things into perspective, I was already four years into the business of blogging, a thing I ventured into in 2012. Yes, I was already an unrepentant aviation Blogger. I talked about aircraft and airports, I talked about flights and passenger experience, I talked about takeoff and I talked about landing. But I wanted to talk about something more.
Although I had been a travel Blogger, the complementary travel and tourism elements were essentially missing and obviously so. So, discovering the Akwaaba ATM helped me find the missing links, it helped me chat a new course in my blogging career. And although the 2016 edition was my very first time at the trade show, it made a first good impression on me. Here are my thoughts and my two kobo about the Akwaaba ATM.
The Discovery Channel
My romance with Akwaaba started four years ago, with a social media chat. A casual Facebook chat with Paul whom I had been friends with (on Facebook) long before I knew what Akwaaba was. Incidentally and coincidentally, Paul was working for Akwaaba at the time (he still does). I don't remember exactly what the chat was about, but it almost certainly was related to travel and tourism.
Paul was (and is still) a member of the African Aviation Group - an online group which I had created to advance my love for aviation. I'm not sure how or when he became a member of the group, but we must have met on that platform. And it was about the same time that I came to know Ikechi Uko, the organizer of Akwaaba. I had been referred to him by the Ethiopian Airlines management regarding a proposal I was pursuing. Up until then, I didn't know him personally, although we were already friends online. Apparently, I knew the messenger before the message.
Anyway, how on earth did I know the Akwaaba ATM until it was in its 12th year? Where had I been? How could I have been an aviation Blogger without knowing the big players in the tourism circle? How could I not have known Ikechi Uko, the father and the promoter of modern tourism in Nigeria? You probably have more questions running through your mind. I do. Well, the simple answer is that I hadn't been around. I had been away in the UK and had lost touch with home. But that is a story for another day.
Love at First Sight
As I stepped into the exhibition hall of the Eko Hotel and Suites on Sunday September 2016, I didn't need to be told that I had stepped into serious business. The atmosphere was charged with positive energy, the ambiance was as attractive as it was inviting, and there was excitement in the air. In fact, the setting and the setup were very convincing, and they did something to my confidence level. If I had any doubts, it was cleared at that point. It was love at first sight.
Beyond aesthetics, the 2016 Akwaaba ATM offered me the opportunity to discover the other side of tourism events. It changed my perspective. I had the opportunity to meet and network one-on-one with hundreds of travel and tourism professionals as well as investment-ready and ready-to-buy delegates under one roof. And although it was September, Christmas came a little early for me as I was comprehensively entertained by the accompanying festivities. I originally set out to attend a travel and tourism event, but I ended up having an experience. I came, I saw and I believed.
No, It's Not a Jamboree
I had established what the Akwaaba ATM is in my previous articles, but this time the accent is on something different. Everyone who cares to know, already knows what the Akwaaba ATM is, but not everyone knows what it is not. One of the fundamental things I would like to establish about the Akwaaba ATM is that it is not a Jamboree. While I chatted with Paul as he made efforts to convince me to attend the 2016 Akwaaba, I remember saying to him "I hope it's not a Jamboree".
If you're familiar with tourism conferences and similar events in Nigeria, you would know that most are jamborees, especially those organised by the public sector. Delegates attend, they socialize and then they go home the way they came. No impact and no exchange of values. But Paul took his time, and painstakingly explained to me. He gave me a treasured insight into the authenticity, the validity, and the business-mindedness of the show. Paul didn't only convince me that Akwaaba was different, he also convinced me to attend the travel expo.
My experience at the 2016 and indeed, subsequent editions of Akwaaba ATM confirmed my little chats with Paul four years ago. I've come to learn that Jamboree isn't a concept the organizers are familiar with, it isn't an idea they could identify with even if they wanted to. The annual international travel show has evolved and grown beyond mediocrity and beyond the proverbial African mentality. It has become an internationally recognized tourism event, it couldn't be a Jamboree. So Paul was right four years ago. The Akwaaba ATM is not a Jamboree.
By the way, Paul has now grown into a very resourceful and energetic tourism personality in West Africa and even beyond. With respect to travel and tourism MICE, Paul is a youthful force to reckon with. Actually, he doesn't have a reason not to be all of that, after all, he's been raised and mentored by the tourism boss himself - Ikechi Uko.
My Two Kobo
With four Akwaaba ATMs in the bag, I think I'm now qualified to give an appraisal of the travel and tourism show. With respect to MICE, the organizer of the Akwaaba African Travel Market has, with resilience and years of hardwork, built a global travel and tourism brand. Popular and almost always fully subscribed, the trade show has recorded tremendous vertical and horizontal growth in contents and programming.
The Akwaaba African Travel Market is a globally recognized one-stop shop for genuine and business-minded players in the travel and tourism industry. With innovative programs like Jollof Rice War, Youth Tourism Conference, Aviation Day, and African Tourism Diaspora Conference, the Akwaaba ATM has gone beyond promoting tourism. It now connects people, cultures and ideas while raising future global leaders and influencers.
Indeed, the organizer of the Akwaaba ATM, Ikechi Uko, has written his name in the sand of time. He has put Nigeria and the entire African continent on the global travel and tourism map. The Akwaaba ATM is a highly rated travel and tourism MICE show, it's a global force. But the best is yet to come.
Chidozie Uzoezie is a Travel and Tourism Blogger and a Content Creator. He's the CEO of The Afritraveller, Africa's trendy travel and tourism blog.