Drawing well over a hundred top players in the banking, aviation, travel and hospitality sub sectors in Nigeria and other West African countries, the second edition of the annual West Africa Business Travel Conference and Expo ended in Lagos, last Monday with participants upbeat on industry’s prospects in the years ahead.
The one-day conference and expo, which took place at the Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, featured delegates discussing pertinent African business travel issues, in and around a series of engaging panel discussions, involving some of South African and Nigeria’s top business travel industry speakers drawn from mainly the organised private sector.
The theme of this year’s event which was Strengthening Business Travel in West Africa, also featured four panel discussions as well as presentations by some title sponsors like Mastercard, Sun International, Delta Air Lines, GHI Assets, and the W Hospitality Group.
Organized by the Future Group, publishers of Business Traveller Africa magazine, and their Nigerian partners, TopComm, the conference provided a veritable platform for participants in the aviation, hotels, travel management firms and banking sub-sectors to X-ray challenges and proffer solutions to burning issues affecting the sub-region’s and by extension, the continent’s economy as far as it affects the travel and hospitality industries.
Sponsored by Delta Air Lines and associate sponsors, MasterCard, W Hospitality Group and GHI Assets, the conference also attracted comments and suggestions from the participants on the floor during the four sessions which deliberated on such topics as: Airlines – The challenges that airlines face – the impact of the rising fuel price, poor track record, safety issues and relationships with travel buyers. What impact does this have on the business travel industry?; Banks/Financial Services – A look at what the current trends in travel financial services are, and their effect on West African business travel and trade. What are the talking points, both from a bank/travel finance group point of view, and from the perspective of the TMC?;
Other topics which occupied discourse included: Hotels – Raising the bar for service excellence in the West African hospitality industry, and why this is an important element in securing business travel business. Also, a look at the trends and where the activity is in West Africa, with regards new properties and options for the business traveller, along with an examination of West Africa as a viable option for meetings and conferences; TMC’s – What the issues are facing travel management companies and their relationships with airlines, hotels and car rental agencies. How do TMCs survive, where are the hotspots, and how do they secure the best deals for business travellers in and out of West Africa? Also, a look at African visa regulations and their impact on business travel between countries.
Featuring top notch industry players like; Mr. Ohis Ehimiaghe, the South African Airways Regional Manager for North, West and Central Africa; Mr. Hafeez Balogun, the Rwandair Country Manager; Ms Robyn Christie, the Association of South African Travel Agents Chief Executive Officer; Mrs Tinuka Nwakohu, the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agents 1st Deputy President; Mr. Olatunde Oluloye, chairman, Institute of Hospitality, U.K; Mr. Boela du Plooy, the Accor Hotel South East Africa, Nigeria & Indian Ocean’s Director of Development; Mr. Amaechi Ndili, the Golden Tulip Hotels West Africa’s Chief Executive Officer; Mr. Christian Tomandl, the General Manager, Four Points by Sheraton, Lekki, Lagos, the conference also had on the platform other notable practitioners drawn the aviation, banking and accounting subsectors.
Notable issues raised at the conference included the Open Skies vs Fair skies issue where participants argued over why governments of the continent should continue to provide protection for some of the local airlines in the aviation sector and thus shunning the Open Skies regime which tended to provide a level-playing field for all airlines.
While some participants argued for travellers’ interest by way of government allowing for Open Skies regime since according to them, domestic airlines in Nigeria in particular, have proved to be incapable of managing their firms effectively, another school posited that countries in Asia attained greatness today largely on the strength of the protection provided by their governments years back, hence their backing for the Fair skies regime.
For Ndili, during the hospitality discussion session, the lack of capital funding by the private sector has remained the biggest threat to private individuals setting up big chains in the hospitality industry which explains the reason for smaller hotels that dot the continent especially in countries like Nigeria that had been a long-time player in the hospitality sector, just as Oluloye corroborated by adding that the low demand for hotel facilities and rooms also contributed to the dearth of big chain hotels in Nigeria with the Sheraton Hotels Lagos for long the only +300 room hotel in the country up until the InterContinental Hotel Ikoyi, Lagos set to open tentatively next year.
“If there’s no demand to drive supply in the market then expect that there’ll be no supply for the product. That’s what happened to the hotel industry and for a long time there was only one +300 room hotel in Nigeria since the opening of Sheraton Lagos,” Oluloye said.
Ndili also scored the industry low on operability in the country when he described the cost of operating hotels in Nigeria as ‘astronomical’, adding that some 3-star hotels in the country were simply operating as 5-star in terms of running the costs.
“Hotels in Nigeria are unintentionally pricing themselves out of the ordinary Nigerian’s reach by operating 3 star hotels at the price of 5 star hotels and it may not necessarily be their fault. It is the economy. The cost of running hotels in Nigeria is astronomical what with cost of electricity generation and other amenities and facilities.
For Oluloye, the issue is complicated further as it negatively impacts on the system of grading the hotels in Nigeria as, according to him, when some 3 star hotels run as 5 star hotels it becomes an issue for the grading system.
“The cost of running a hotel in Nigeria is such that some clients now start to question the rationale behind spending $300 for a room in the country when less than half of that amount can guarantee you similar services or even better in Ghana or Gambia. And because these clients are lodged here they expect to get such services commensurate with the star rating you have given to yourself,” Oluloye stressed.
For Tomandl, even the issue of a hotel grading system remains guest-dependent and not for the hotelier or any government regulatory agency, as according to him, it is the guest who ultimately determines the proper rating of a hotel.
Highpoints of the conference was the presentation by Mr. Trevor Ward of the W hospitality Group, whose positive outlook on hotel developments in sub-Saharan Africa impressed participants as he further described the growth rate of the hotel industry in sub-Saharan Africa as having outstripped that of the previous leaders, North Africa in its 2012 report.
According to Ward, the company’s report also details the jump by Nigeria to lead the figures for hotel openings in 2012 for Africa in signed deals and second to Egypt for pipeline developments under the same period.
Responding, head of the Future group, publisher of the Business Traveller Africa magazine, Mr. Richard Lendrum, described the conference as having turned out beyond his own expectations, just as he promised to work towards a bigger conference for next year.
“This conference I’ll say has surpassed my own expectations not just by the turnout of participation but also by the volume of activities and responses seen today. For next year’s edition, we promise to work towards an even bigger package with the Lagos remaining the host city since it is the hub of business in the sub-region,” Lendrum said.
Also responding, Deputy General Manager of Golden Tulip, Festac, Lagos, Mr. Shousha Mohsen, commended the organizers of the conference as he further made a plea for more of such events to be held for the meeting of minds and in cities like Lagos, which, he said deserves it and also as an image booster for the country.
“A lot of people are apprehensive about coming to Nigeria but when you come here you find that you actually like it. Tell me one country that hasn’t got a problem of its own. There’s none, all of the countries have their own problems. It is with events like this that you advertise yourself to the world. That is what you should be doing. As much as I would commend the organisers for this wonderful opportunity I would like you to make more out of this. That is what other countries are doing,”
The conference also provided grounds for executives and decision makers across the business travel spectrum, including hospitality, airline, automotive, Forex, travel management companies, banks, travel finance services, government agencies, insurance, travel tour agencies and corporate business travellers to debate most pressing business travel issues and those that inform the industry itself.