The AUN Hotel & Conference Centre, Yola, operated under the auspices of the American University of Nigeria (AUN), Wednesday, officially commenced operations as the hotel fully open its doors to guests. It partially opened guest rooms in the week of the University’s fourth Commencement Ceremony last May.

When fully operational, the hotel will boast altogether 52 rooms, 40 standard and 12 garden and VIP suites.

According to the University spokesman and Assistant Vice President, Mr. Abba Abubakar Tahir, the hotel facilities will include a spa, hair salon, restaurant, lounge, gift shop, and gym, while the AUN Club’s swimming pool, tennis and squash courts will be accessible to guests of the hotel.

A 24-hour security concierge and valet parking, plus a modern kitchen and a dry-cleaning/laundry service are also lined up.

The hotel’s conference centre designed to seat 400 people. A presidential aide had said that with a centre that size, the hotel will be able to secure group and convention businesses, while providing an ideal setting for local catering functions, including weddings and business-themed events.

Last Wednesday’s commissioning therefore marks the beginning of commercial operations for the hotel’s 52 rooms, while the next phase is scheduled for the last quarter of 2012.

Visa facilitation is central to stimulating economic growth and job creation through tourism, just as countries in the group of 20 (G20) developed economies of the world have a particularly important role to play in this respect.

This submission is contained in a preliminary research conducted by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and it private sector counterpart, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).

Preliminary findings by both organizations show that of the 656 million international tourists who visited G20 countries in 2011, 110 million needed a visa, while millions more were deterred from travelling by the cost, waiting time and difficulty of obtaining a visa.

Facilitating visas for these tourists, many from some of the world’s fastest growing source markets, could create over five million additional jobs in the G20 economies by 2015 and generate an additional US$ 206 billion in international tourism receipts.

In spite of the great strides made in recent decades to facilitate tourist travel, there are still important areas of opportunity, namely considering the possibilities to maximize the use of information and communication technologies in improving visa procedures. Further opportunities include improving the delivery of information, facilitating current processes to obtain visas, differentiated treatment to facilitate tourist travel, instituting e-Visa programmes and establishing regional agreements for visa facilitation.

Implementing any or a combination of these therefore, the organizations believe, can yield substantial returns in visits, tourism receipts and jobs for the G20 economies.

Referring particularly to the dramatic situation of unemployment, UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, called on G20 Governments to look into enhancing visa facilitation in support of job creation. “Small steps towards visa facilitation can result in big economic benefits. By facilitating visas, the G20 countries stand to gain five million jobs at a time of rampant unemployment across the world. These are in addition to the hundreds of millions of direct and indirect jobs already being supported every day by the sector.”

David Scowsill, President & Chief Executive Officer, WTTC, said: “Encouraging freedom to travel is a simple step that Governments around the world can take to encourage more travelers and the creation of millions of new jobs and billions of dollars of GDP – without compromising national security. For the first time, this report makes clear the extent of the opportunity – it cannot be ignored.”

Legendary funk jazz exponent, George Benson, will be the star attraction in the third edition of the now famous Love Music, Love Life Luxury Concert of the Smooth 98.1FM station, in Lagos, planned for Saturday, October 13.

With George Benson as the headline act, the Jazz Master and 10-time Grammy Award-Winning legend, brings his guitar to the forefront and is expected to perform his greatest hits at the Expo Hall of the Eko Hotel & Suites, Lagos.

In a career that spans five decades and with more than 30 recordings as a bandleader, Benson first came to prominence playing soul jazz with the likes of Jack McDuff. Benson then launched a successful solo career, alternating between jazz, pop, R&B singing, and scat singing.

By the mid to late 1970s, Benson began to put his vocals on tracks such as “This Masquerade” and “On Broadway”, which both won him Grammy Awards. While his triple-platinum album, “Breezin”, topped the Billboard 200 Chart in 1976.

Benson’s breakthrough pop album “Give Me The Night” made it into the pop and R&B Top Ten with the song “Give Me the Night” (produced by Quincy Jones and written by former Heatwave keyboardist Rod Temperton) having previously been almost unknown to the younger audience.

Benson accumulated three other platinum LPs and two gold albums. He also recorded the original version of “Greatest Love of All” for the 1977 Muhammad Ali bio-pic, The Greatest, which was later recorded as a cover by Whitney Houston. In 2009, Benson recorded the album titled Songs and Stories, with Marcus Miller, producer John Burk, and session musicians David Paich and Steve Lukather.

His newest album, Guitar Man, is a 12-song collection that includes a mix of jazz and pop standards – some in a combo setting and some solo, but all of them tied together seamlessly by Benson’s soulful and exploratory signature sound. A solid team made up of veterans and newcomers alike – pianist Joe Sample, keyboardist and musical director David Garfield, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Harvey Mason, feature on this album. Benson has used his jazz roots as the foundation for an engaging mix of pop, R&B, and other shades that add up to a style that appeals to a broad mainstream audience.

Smooth 98.1FM came on to the airwaves in 2009, launching its annual Love Music, Love Life Luxury Concert series in 2010 with performances by renowned artists, Angie Stone, Gerald Albright, and Richard Bona featuring Mike Stern complemented by Tiwa Savage, Bez and Pure & Simple.

In 2011, the concert featured Asa, Pamela ‘The Saxtress’ Williams, and Jimmy Dludlu.

This year, audiences will gather once again to enjoy a once in a lifetime performance from the 10-time Grammy Award-Winning jazz guitarist George Benson, as he and his acclaimed band grace the stage at the Eko Hotel and Suites for the first time ever in Nigeria.

A number of Nigerian top artists have been lined up to perform at the Grand Awards Night of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, scheduled for the Civic Centre, Lagos, September 8.

Leading the pack is the masked artiste, Lagbaja who is expected to thrill the audience with his brand of Afro-Jazz and Afro-Calypso genre of music, a product of various influences ranging from traditional Yoruba music to jazz.

Also expected to add colour to the night are the Crown Troupe of Africa and Nerfetiti, a new sensation with their unique style.

The fourth edition of Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa sponsored by telecommunications firm, Globacom ends with a Grand Awards Night event following the earlier announced longlisting and the subsequent shortlisting expected to be unveiled next week.

Organisers of the event, the Lumina Foundation, have also confirmed that former President of Ghana, Mr. John Agyekum Kufour will grace the occasion as the Chairman, just as it has confirmed the attendance of the Executive Governor of Lagos, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola as host, while Mr. Ibikunle Amosun, the Executive Governor of Ogun State is expected to be the Special Guest of Honour.

It was established by the Lumina Foundation in 2005 as a Biennial Award for the best literary work produced by an African.  It honours Africa’s great writers and causes their works to be appreciated. It celebrates excellent writing, promotes scholarship and makes books available and affordable by subsidizing the publication of books in the top list of the judges.

The first edition of Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa was held in 2006.

The fourth edition has so far assessed four hundred and two (402) entries from 26 African countries, and the organisers said that the three short-listed candidates for the grand finale will be announced soon by the board of trustees of Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa.

Art advocacy group, the Committee For Relevant Art (CORA) is leveraging on the Bruce Onobrakpeya at 80 programme to line up an art stampede that is expected to examine emerging trends in Visual Arts Documentation.  Bruce Onobrakpeya was cited by the art historian Dele Jegede, in the 90s, as the most published and publicized artist in Nigeria.

After spending considerable time and effort publishing coffee table books about his own art, he attracted international scholars who stepped in and rigorously documented him in beautifully laid out and bound coffee table books. Now that “tendency” is gaining momentum.

Thirty years ago, the debate among the Lagos arthouse crowd was that exhibition brochures were so poorly produced that critics and reporters could not use the pictures to make sense of the works they were supposed to represent. Today, the Nigerian art scene has largely solved that problem and seemingly moved to bigger things: producing fat, thoughtful, coffee table books on art that reside in private spaces in the country.

The stampede titled; From Brochure To Books, Emerging Trend In Visual Art Documentation, which is scheduled for this Sunday, August 26, at the Kongi’s Harvest, Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos, will feature panellists, some of them collectors, some co-producers of such new books, to discuss the challenging process of production.

Some of the books for discussion at the parley would include: Making History, African Collectors and The Canon Of African Art by Sylvester Ogbechie; Nigerian Artistry, by Pat Oyelola; New Trees In Old Forests; Contemporary Nigerian Art in Lagos Private Collections, edited by Jess Castellote; The Architecture Of Demas Nwoko, by Farafina Books; Ben Enwonwu: The Making of an African Modernist, by Sylvester Ogbechie.

According to CORA facilitator, Mr. Jahman O. Anikulapo, the discussion will be used as a peg to look at prospects of documenting arts generally in other format like film and audio.

One of Starwood Hotels and Resorts brands in Nigeria, the Sheraton Hotels Abuja has joined with the rest of the hotel chain’s other brands in the world for the global launch of Sheraton Social Hour, a first-of-its-kind, brand-wide premium wine programme.

The new programme, developed by today’s premier wine experts and the brand’s global food and beverage team, offers guests a menu of premium wines and weekly tasting events at more than 240 participating Sheraton hotels around the world.

Designed to create and foster social interaction among guests, all participating Sheraton Hotels around the world will host evening Social Hour tasting events one-four times a week featuring a selection of specially curated wines.

Transcending lifestyles, generations and geographies, Sheraton is the world’s gathering place and the trusted friend for the social traveller.  The brand’s signature programmes, including our new Social Hour programme, are designed for social interaction with welcoming spaces that bring people together.

The inaugural Social Hour unveiling at the Sheraton Abuja Hotel attracted top dignitaries, business professionals and members from multinational organizations.

Newly-appointed General Manager Sheraton Abuja Hotel, Mr. Boris Bornman, said:  “Most of our business clients welcome this new and unique initiative which fosters networking opportunities and life-long friendships.”

Thirty-seven Sheraton hotels in Europe, Africa and the Middle East are participating in the programme, including hotels in Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, UK and Ireland, Gambia, South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia, UAE, Levant and the GCC countries.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., with 1,112 properties in nearly 100 countries and 154,000 employees at its owned and managed properties, is a fully integrated owner, operator and franchisor of hotels, resorts and residences with the following internationally renowned brands including: St. Regis®, The Luxury Collection®, W®, Westin®, Le Méridien®, Sheraton®, Four Points® by Sheraton, Aloft®, and Elements.

Following a recent statement by the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) that the country would soon experience unprecedented boom in tourists traffic from the African American community in the United States, tour operators in that country have also urged the Federal government to reposition the country’s travel and tourism infrastructure to fully attract the market.

It would be recalled that the NTDC at the conclusion of its tourism roadshow to the United States had stated that the country’s inbound tourist figure was about to witness to a boom following reports that more than 70 per cent of African-Americans have found that Nigeria is their root.

The operators while acknowledging the efforts of the tourism regulators at marketing Nigeria’s heritage tourism potential, also identified with the position of the NTDC that Nigeria will see a boom in African American citizens’ traffic into the country.

Recently, an NTDC delegation led by the director general Otunba Olusegun Runsewe was in the United States on a tourism explorative road show.

A press statement issued by the corporation in Abuja, quoted an official of the African Channel – an intercontinental TV station, Mr Mark Walton, as revealing that Nigeria was about to witness a rise in African-American tourist influx following the positive DNA tests on their roots.

Walton, the statement adds said that the new brainwave in Europe and America which prompted many into finding and knowing their behavioural pattern by embarking on DNA test has exposed that majority of the African Americans are indigenes of no other place than Nigeria.

He had exposed that many African-Americans who have gone for the DNA were not only shocked to find out that their tests synchronised well with the Nigerian gene but happy that they have their root in the most populated Black country with huge resources waiting to be tapped, further adding that DNA testing has been generating new wave of awareness across the United States, just as “a Senator had already found out and traced his root to Nigeria.

According to Walton, following this discovery by the senator, several congressmen and prominent individuals have undergone the test and most have traced their roots to Nigeria.

While commending Runsewe for coming into the United States at such point in time when things were working in favour of Africa and Nigeria in particular, Watson said this was the first time the Nigeria’s government would be approaching the issue of its image and understanding of fundamental issues using the right people and channel.

Reinforcing Walton’s assertion about the import of DNA testing Mr Jim Holden, President African Travel Association (ATA), noted that request for information on Nigeria by African Americans has been on the increase since the DNA issue came up.

However, reacting, Mr Stephen Richer of the National Travel Association, the umbrella body for travel trade in the United States, who confessed that demand for tour package to Africa especially Nigeria has leaped significantly following the DNA testing fever in America, said the problem of infrastructure needed to be addressed.

Richer who commended Runsewe for the roadshow urged the Nigerian government to gird its loins, beef up infrastructure and set in motion favourable policy that will endear and attract the home sick African-Americans who will soon be scrambling to Nigeria.

S/Arabia plans big for Mecca

Posted: August 20, 2012 in travel & tourism

The Saudi Press Agency reported that US$16.5 billion will be invested to improve the transport system in the holy city of Mecca. Improvements said to include the building of four metro lines across the city with 88 stations.

Every year, people making the pilgrimage to Mecca for Haj and Omra, account for a portion of the 6 million that will visit the city from around the globe. The sheer number of visitors is burdening the existing transport system of narrow roads that was created many years ago. It is expected that the improvement project will take ten years to complete.

There are also long-term projects planned for around the Grand Mosque. These include the construction of hotels, malls, and cafes. The Saudi Arabia government also plans to spend billions to upgrade the transport system of its capital, Riyadh.

In the works is a high-speed rail line that will connect Mecca with Medina, the second holiest city in Islam. The Saudi government also hopes to build foot bridges near the Grand Mosque.

With no end in sight to the global financial crisis which has seen many industries continuing to suffer, a survey by an online booking firm, has revealed tourists’ preference for hostel accommodation as well as their reluctance to pay for accommodations higher than $100.

Research released from, the number one hostel booking website, in association with Lonely Planet, the world’s leading travel content provider, shows that 94 per cent of people going on holiday this summer would consider hostel accommodation instead of hotels.

The global study, which questioned over 5000 people in 141 countries, found that the accommodation of choice for today’s traveller is governed by cost. Of those questioned, nearly 90 per cent would not be prepared to pay more than $100per night for accommodation, with the majority (54 per cent) prepared to cut their accommodation budget to have their holiday of choice.

The result is a booming trade for the global hostel industry with holiday makers reaping the benefit by making their trip go further. Half of those surveyed said they are looking to take a longer holiday than usual – 15 days or more.

Feargal Mooney, CEO from said; “We are extremely honoured to be selected as the most trusted hostel booking website. And the message coming through from our survey is loud and clear -people want value for money and they are seeing hostel accommodation as a way to do that. There has been a renaissance in the way hostels are perceived, driven by exciting new innovations at hostel properties worldwide and by more people looking to stretch their travel budget. This is opening up a new market to the hostel industry and one that we expect to see coming back now they have experienced the high quality of accommodation available.”

Judging panel and organizing committee for the prestigious United Nations World tourism Organization (UNWTO) Ulysses Prize and Awards have announced the commencement of nominations ahead of this year’s edition of the prize.

Since 2003, the UNWTO Ulysses Prize and Awards have honoured those individuals and tourism initiatives that have made a significant contribution to the advancement of tourism through knowledge creation and innovation, in line with the UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In addition to the Ulysses Prize and Awards, this year a new award category has been announced; the UNWTO Award for Lifetime Achievement, recognizing individuals who have demonstrated excellence throughout their career in tourism and who serve as inspirational role models.

UNWTO confers awards in the following categories: For individuals: UNWTO Ulysses Prize for Excellence in the Creation and Dissemination of Knowledge; and the UNWTO Award for Lifetime Achievement.

For tourism initiatives: UNWTO Ulysses Award for Innovation in Public Policy and Governance; UNWTO Ulysses Award for Innovation in Enterprises; UNWTO Ulysses Award for Innovation in Non-Governmental Organizations; and the UNWTO Ulysses Award for Innovation in Research and Technology.

Winners will be selected by an international jury of tourism experts and awarded during the prestigious UNWTO Awards Ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey (November 15, 2012).

Following the Ceremony, winners will be invited to deliver a lecture and present their projects to tourism business leaders and public officials meeting at the UNWTO Knowledge Network Symposium (November 16, 2012).

According to the UNWTO, nominations will be accepted until September 21.