starwood logoThe Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), the long-running loyalty plan from Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Tuesday, announced a new and discounted benefits programme for members tagged the; Triple Treat offer.

According to Mr. Alexander Gassauer, the Area Manager for Starwood Hotels & Resorts for West Africa, the special offer which will run for three months this year starting from July 1 through to September will see preferred guest members enjoy three exclusive benefits whenever they drink or dine at one of the 650 participating restaurants and bars of the hotel chain around the globe.

In Nigeria, Gassauer said the offer will cover the Crock Pot at Sheraton Lagos Hotel which offers a wide selection of international and traditional cuisine, The Vista Restaurant at Le Meridien Ibom Hotel & Golf Resorts in Akwa Ibom serving Le Meridien Signature Breakfast, lunch and dinner in addition to Special “Mediterranean and African’’ theme nights on selected days of the week.

Also included in the offer are The Ororo Restaurant at Le Meridien Ogeyi, in Port Harcourt offering Nigerian cuisine, The Brazzerie Restaurant at the Four Points by Sheraton, Lekki, Lagos, which offers French ala carte and delicious Nigerian food, and at the Sheraton Abuja Hotel-Luigis restaurant delivers a variety of Italian dishes, as well as the Obudu Grill, a Steak house with a unique dining experience, the Papillon which serves international and traditional Nigerian dishes and the Pool Terrace Restaurant (Iftar Venue) for traditional Ramadan cuisine.

alexander gassauer“All our restaurants feature an innovative interpretation of International and traditional dishes. Each participating venue will offer three Food and Beverage (F&B) benefits, including a 10-30 per cent discount, during this three-month promotion. Perks that members may enjoy include a free meal for kids under six and 50 per cent savings for kids under 12, bonus Starpoints when dining in a group, a 15 per cent discount on a relaxing spa treatment, as well as a complimentary glass of wine or a cheese platter,” said Gassauer, who also doubles as General Manager for Sheraton Lagos Hotel.

Explaining further, Steven Taylor, Vice President, Marketing, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Europe, Africa & Middle East in a statement said: “In our region in the last year, expenditure by SPG members dining in Starwood’s restaurants and bars when ‘out of stay’ has doubled. As a result we have launched Triple Benefits, SPG’s first global food and beverage marketing campaign, designed to give our guests even more reasons to enjoy Starwood’s F&B options when they are on the road or at home in their local destination. We believe these benefits will make SPG even more relevant to our members and encourage them to discover the unique and compelling experiences available in our restaurants and bars worldwide.”

An innovative, award-winning frequent traveller programme that unites each of Starwood’s 9 distinctive hotel brands around the world, the  SPG launched in 1999 with its breakthrough policy of no blackout dates, further offers enhancements such as Cash + Points, SPG Moments, and most recently Your24 and SPG Lifetime.

In addition to Free Night Awards at over 1,100 hotels and resorts and Award Flights on over 350 major airlines without blackout dates, the Starpoints that members earn through SPG can be redeemed for access like to no other to experiences in music, sports and the arts through SPG Moments.

On the rationale for the Triple Treat offer, Gassauer explained that the move was informed by the need to draw Nigerians to the online platform of the hotel chain more as well as boost the general online travel and tourism market, which he added has contributed to a 17 per cent growth in guest patronage for his hotel, a

Nigeria is still new to both loyalty programmes and online business transactions culture, so with this programme we intend to encourage both. We are trying to improve the SPG programme in Nigeria where we have less than 30, 000 members compared to the millions we already the world. So basically we want to drive online patronage especially to our websites by encouraging online bookings and reservations culture.

So far 17 per cent of all our bookings came from online platforms of Starwood, Sheraton or even the SPG.

Our intention is to get Nigerians to inculcate the habit of booking reservations at restaurants and hotel stays and flights through the online platforms. Booking tables at restaurants online instead of personal consultation. This is the way forward. America needed 100 years to get to where they are now in terms of online media, but Nigeria is taking just three years to equal that speed. The era of sending your driver with

N50, 000 to come and book a table at the restaurant is over. The cashless regime is taking over in Nigeria. We are looking to drive awareness of SPG Restaurant & Bars online and locally, drive incremental foot traffic to our venues & bars, drive local member engagement, drive enrolments through F&B, drive traffic to Restaurant & Bar website, and then establish SPG as a market leader in F&B loyalty.

We are planning on changing the whole idea of loyalty programmes with the new SPG triple Treat where your points entitle you not just night stays at our hotels but also flight bookings, restaurant and bar, shopping, and many more which you can access with your members ship cards via points gained.

Also remarking, head of public Relations for Starwood hotels and Resorts West Africa, Mrs Nanji Tyem, said the listed 650 restaurants and bars participating in the programme including those in Nigeria have been pre-determined based of their quality and standard, which number, she added is not therefore expandable.

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World Health Organisation (WHO) files no restrictions on tourism and travel or a requirement of health alert for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coroanovirus (MERS-CoV). WHO has not recommended any MERS-related travel restrictions, but says countries should monitor unusual respiratory infection patterns. The first recorded MERS death was in June last year in Saudi Arabia.

MERS-CoV is a viral infection that causes breathlessness and fever. There is a mounting concern about a potential impact on October’s Haj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to and from Saudi Arabia. It was from here that the infection and death were first reported in June 2012.

Since then the disease has claimed 45 lives across the globe and a total of 82 cases have been reported worldwide. Sixty-five of these cases have been reported from the Gulf region and most of the diseased had travelled to Saudi Arabia which also accounts for 38 of the total confirmed MERS deaths.

“No special alert has been sent out either by the WHO or the health ministry for the disease. Though our health officials are aware of the situation, there are no specific precautions related to MERS as of now. We are being vigilant, but treating it like any other infection such as yellow fever or H7N9 that’s prevalent in China,” said a health official responsible for international health.

“We follow international guidelines, and there is no specific directive about stepping up the health alert yet. We are keeping an eye on WHO directives, but no decision has been taken regarding the Haj pilgrims so far. A monitoring committee meeting will be held soon and a decision on the pilgrimage taken,” he added. Experts are struggling to understand MERS, which does not appear to spread easily but has raised major concerns because of the high fatality rate.

air franceTelecommunications services provider with operations in 20 countries across Asia and Africa, Bharti Airtel has signed a partnership Agreement with Air France which will enable customers to purchase flight tickets from the French airline via Airtel Money.

When operational, the mobile money platform, Airtel Money, allows its customers to conduct financial transactions quickly and easil, even as it has already been widely adopted by corporate, government and individual customers for the purchase of airtime, Person-2-Person cash transfers and utility bill payments.

“We are fully aware that a lot of our customers have hectic schedules and they don’t have time to go to travel agencies to purchase their plane tickets. Running petty errands can be time consuming. The introduction of this new payment method highlights the commitment of Airtel to finding convenient solutions for all its customers,” said Charles Alexis Boukinda, the Director of Airtel Money Gabon.

On his part, Nicolas Soulie, the director of Air France Gabon, stated that the use of mobile money for the payment of flight tickets is a first for the company, just as he further lauded the initiative for its innovativeness.

“Air France customers now have a wider choice of payment methods. Consistently providing convenience for our clientele is something we strive to achieve on a daily basis”, he said.

Soulie further explained that a prospective air traveller wishing to buy an Air France flight ticket via Airtel Money needs to make a reservation through an agency or on the internet. According to him, after that, he can easily make the payment via Airtel Money on his mobile phone, as the purchased plane ticket will be sent to his e-mail address along with a confirmation SMS on the purchase of the ticket.

“Airtel Money is a safe and secure service that is password-protected through state-of-the-art security systems”, said Boukinda, adding:“Many banks and other institutions use this method of payment in the 17 African countries where we operate in. It is a safe and effective way to conduct financial transactions.”

unwtoUnited Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has said it is targeting double-digit growth for Africa’s tourism sector this decade.

This is expected to be one of the major issues at the upcoming UNWTO General Assembly to be co-hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia this August.

UNWTO regional director for Africa Mr Osman Ndiaye, who was in the country recently as part of a two-member inspectorate team, said the general assembly was an opportunity for Africa to strategise on increasing its world tourism market share from the current 6 percent to double- digit figures.

“Africa presently bears only about 6 percent of the global tourism market and we are hoping to increase the percentage to double digits by the year 2020,” he said.

Ndiaye said Africa’s current share of the global tourism market was too low considering that the continent is vested with extensive natural resources.

UNWTO is the United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism.

As the leading international organisation in the field of tourism, UNWTO promotes tourism as a driver of economic growth, inclusive development and environmental sustainability and offers leadership and support to the sector in advancing knowledge and tourism policies worldwide.

Ndiaye said Africa could only enjoy increased tourism by opening up the skies as well as easing up on visa restrictions.

“Open skies and open visas are some of the issues that need tackling for the growth of the African tourism market.”

UNWTO generates market knowledge, promotes competitive and sustainable tourism policies and instruments, fosters tourism education and training, and works to make tourism an effective tool for development through technical assistance projects in over 100 countries around the world

nigeriaNigeria is set to sign a Joint Commission Cooperation (JCC) with the Kenyan Government to boost trade and investment between the two countries.

Nigerian High Commissioner to Kenya Akin Oyateru told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) at the Kenya/United Bank for Africa Business Luncheon, in Abuja Monday, that the cooperation of both countries would explore the various trade and investment opportunities, which he said, was “quite low”.

“When our two presidents meet tomorrow, assisted by their Foreign Ministers, we will be able to sign the joint commission cooperation agreement which is the mainframe work to regulate our relations with Kenya.

“You have the area of horticulture and floriculture and you know that Nigeria is one of the main importers of tea from Kenya; we do about N2 billion every year.

“The trade between Nigeria and Kenya is low compared to our political relations, but that is going to change when we sign the JCC.

“The turnover is in Kenya’s favour annually, we do a turnaround of about N6 billion, which is not much given the potential that we have.

“When we have that agreement on ground, it will be able to regulate the various multi-sections of our relations, and that will encourage more trade and investment between the two countries,” he said.

He said Nigeria had begun partnering with Kenya in the area of agriculture, adding that a Nigerian team would be visiting Kenya to explore the areas of wildlife and tourism.

“In the area of agriculture, we are aware of the potential of Kenya.

“Taraba is already into a Joint Venture with a farm called Dominion Farms, and they are trying to replicate what is in Kenya in the state.

“Not only with the Taraba Government but with other serious private partners, who have invested up to 100 million dollars into the project.

“A team is also coming from Nigeria to look at the area of conservation and wildlife tourism,” he said.

The high commissioner also said the JCC would launch a business forum where opportunities for investment between both countries would be maximised.

“When the JCC gets on board, in another 12 months, we will see a lot of improvement in the areas trade. With this we will have the first business meeting of the JCC very soon,” he added.

Courtesy: NAN

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a travel alert to intending visitors and pilgrims alike to much of the Middle East countries and particularly the religious tourist destination of Saudi Arabia.

The world health body in raising the alarm therefore on Saudi Arabia, in particular, said the country has been found to be infected with the deadly MERS virus (Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome) caused by a coronavirus, a relative of the virus that caused SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).

The virus is said to have been picked from bats.

With over 40 already reported cases, Saudi Arabia is still reeling from the aftermaths of the war and much of the country is desolate. Houses are abandoned and are becoming breeding grounds of infectious bats that are said to have been spreading the virus in some way to humans.

There have been quite a few cases that have been identified amongst humans with MERS and the number is gradually increasing. Scientists fear that MERS may affect a larger population. The diseases have high elements of being contagious.  The origin of the disease is yet unknown but it most possibly has come from bats that have been tested for the disease.

The World Health Organization has so far confirmed of a total of 80 cases of infection, including 44 deaths worldwide. Cases have also originated in Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Travellers from the Arabian Peninsula have taken the disease to Britain, France, Italy and Tunisia, and have infected a few people in those countries. Health experts are also worried about the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage that will draw millions of visitors to Saudi Arabia in October.

The illness can be spread by coughs and sneezes, or contaminated surfaces, and people with chronic diseases such as diabetes seem especially vulnerable. However, Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the C.D.C. has said that the MERS is not highly contagious like the flu but he also added that the likelihood of spread is not small.

Health officials in Saudi Arabia have asked pilgrims visiting its holy sites to wear masks in crowded places to stop the spread of the MERS coronavirus. Pilgrims visiting the Mecca in Saudi Arabia pray together before the Kaaba should use a tissue when sneezing and coughing, and have the necessary vaccinations. Also great tourist destinations are situated in the UAE and one can only hope that the disease may fizzle off like SARS and may not cause any permanent damage to humans.

(L-R): Chief Executive Officer, Etisalat Nigeria, Steven Evans; Chair of Judges, Etisalat Prize for Literature, Pumla Gqola and  Chief Commercial Officer, Etisalat Nigeria, Wael Ammar,  at the Etisalat Prize for Literature Press Conference, held at Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos, last Wednesday, 5th June, 2013.

(L-R): Chief Executive Officer, Etisalat Nigeria, Steven Evans; Chair of Judges, Etisalat Prize for Literature, Pumla Gqola and Chief Commercial Officer, Etisalat Nigeria, Wael Ammar, at the Etisalat Prize for Literature Press Conference, held at Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos, Wednesday, 5th June, 2013.

Etisalat Nigeria has assembled a strong panel of judges for the maiden edition of its pan-African prize for literature tagged “Etisalat Prize for Literature.”

The panel of four is chaired by Pumla Gqola, an associate professor in the department of African Literature at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. Gqola is one of South Africa’s most influential public intellectuals and feminists. She is the author of What is Slavery to Me? Postcolonial/Slave Memory in Post-Apartheid South Africa and A Renegade Called Simphiwe.

Other great minds in the literary panel include Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Zakes Mda, and Billy Kahora. Manyika, a literature teacher at the San Francisco State University, comes with a repertoire of published essays, academic papers, book reviews and short stories. An alumnus of the University of Birmingham and Bordeaux, she completed her doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley. Her first novel In Dependence was published by Legend Press as well as Cassava Republic Press in Africa and featured for Black History Month by the UK’s largest book store chain.

Mda is a prolific novelist, poet and playwright. He is also a founding member and serves on the advisory board of African Writers Trust. He has won major literary awards for his novels and plays including the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of the University of Cape Town for his contributions to world literature and was a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Ohio. He is also a Patron of the Etisalat Prize for Literature.

Kahora is the managing editor of the literary Journal Kwani. He completed an M.Sc in Creative Writing with a distinction as a Chevening Scholar at the University of Edinburgh in 2007 and was in 2012 announced as one of the shortlisted writers for the 2012 Caine Prize for African Writing. Before this, he studied and worked in South Africa for eight years and worked as an Editorial Assistant for AllAfrica.com in Washington D.C. He was also a Regional Judge for the 2009 Commonwealths Prize.

Commenting on the choice of judges for the award, Chief Executive Officer, Etisalat Nigeria, Steven Evans explained that Etisalat is breathing life into the pan-African vision: “bringing together high profile writers, book critics and academics from Africa and beyond gives credence to home grown talent and encourages further participation in the world of literature.”

According to him, Etisalat engaged in extensive research coming up with the right judges for the literary award, and expressed the belief that the selected judges will bring their experience to bear on the Etisalat Prize for Literature. The judges, he said, will have the responsibility to develop the long list of nine novels as well as a shortlist of three novels before finally selecting a winner. Entries are ongoing, having opened June 5, 2013 and would close on the 30th of August 2013. The panel will unveil their shortlisted entries in January 15, 2014, while winners will be announced in February 2014.

The Etisalat Prize for Literature is poised to celebrate new writers of African citizenship whose first book must be over 30,000 words and published within 24 months of the period of the award.

lola shoneyinLining up a cast of 103 personalities that include musicians, sculptors, painters, literalists, art collectors, photographers, choreographers, lecturers, politicians, four more than the planned 99 dignitaries, the maiden edition of the Ake Arts and Book Festival (AABF) is now set to hold in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital.

A creation of author Lola Shoneyin, the book festival organized by the Book Buzz Foundation, a non-governmental organization, involves a six-day programme of events that is expected to include readings, master classes, workshops, performances and talks delivered by both Nigerian and international authors, poets, thinkers, filmmakers, artists and academics as resource persons.

The event, which is themed; The Shadows of Memory, will also include schools visits, a stage play, film showings, a musical concert, library openings, as well as a comprehensive book fair.

With personalities and resource persons that include, Prof Wole Soyinka, Dr Nasir el-Rufai, Peter Badejo OBE, Nnedi Okorafor, Pius Adesanmi, Orlando Julius, Omawunmi, Teju Cole, Charles Novia, Dele Momodu, Kaine Agary, Governor Kayode Fayemi, the ancient city of Abeokuta is expected to come alive from November 19 through to 24 for the duration of the festival.

According to Shoneyin, during a press briefing Thursday, in Ikeja, the Ake Arts and Book Festival is planned to be the biggest and finest annual event on the African calendar, just as she further disclosed that the festival might adopt a rotational structure for subsequent editions going by the huge interests shown by some state governments who also want the festival to be hosted in their states.

“We seek to explore the impact of Africa’s rich but chequered past on the present, and the extent to which this has been captured in African literature and the arts,” said the author.

The festival’s maiden edition discussions are also expected to focus on important issues as the public and individual perception of nationhood and how truly freedom of expression is in Africa as more targeted sub themes such as women’s rights and child literacy will be examined from the perspective of how arts can contribute to development in these areas.

Shoneyin further disclosed that some of the festival’s events will be sponsored by multi-national corporations, international cultural institutions and media organizations in the country as well as some state governments.

Notable events like the music concert, according to Shoneyin, will be a collaborative effort with the Elder’s Corner featuring an eclectic mix of musical talents, illustrating the evolution of Nigerian music over the last 60 years in a performance showcasing no less than 20 artistes including MI, Orlando Julius Orits Wiliki, Jimi Solanke, Ras Kimono, Paulkson Kalu, Seun Kuti, Stella Monye, Daddy Fresh, Brymo, Beautiful Nubia, and many more.

“We are also launching 10 books at the festival. Book chats are 90 minutes long and each book chat session will feature two authors. The events will be moderated but the audience will have ample time to interact with the author. We are collaborating with Bounty Press to ensure that all the books written by our visiting authors are available at the festival bookstore,” said Shoneyin.

On films, the author disclosed that two films have already been selected as the AABF 2013 Films, which are Home, starring Gbenga Akinnagbe and Pariah, starring Adepero Oduye, which she added will be open to the general public.

“At our events where Nollywood and Hollywood stars will be present, it will be possible to interact with the screen stars present. And also a prominent drum and dance tradition in western Nigeria, Bata will feature at this year’s Ake Arts and Book Festival,” she said.

For the writing competition, Shoneyin revealed that the AABF will collaborate with both Lantern Books, and the Book Buzz Foundation to launch the first in its series of ‘Inspired Writing Competitions for Children’ which will be open to children of between 11 and 16 years of age.

“After our judges pick the winning 400-word story, the work will be published as a picture book and will be available for purchase at the festival”, she said.

Grace IhejiamaizuNigerian and Google’s 12 Brightest Young Minds nominee Grace Ihejiamaizu has made the shortlist of 10 nominees including Mara Group founder Ashish Thakkar, Helvetic Solar founder, Patrick Ngowi, for The Future Awards 2013.

The Central Working Committee (CWC) of The Future Awards Africa, which the World Bank described as the ‘The Nobel Prize for Young Africans’, unveiled the list for its Young Person of the Year category, Tuesday.

Commenting on the list of nominees, Dr. Raymonde Agossou, Head, Division for Human Capacity and Youth Development, African Union Commission, said: “As is the tradition, the nominees for Young Person of the Year – The Africa Prize, were drawn from a huge pool of talented trailblazers across Africa, who are making tremendous contributions around the globe.”

Some of the 10 nominees include Mara Group founder Ashish Thakkar, Helvetic Solar founder, Patrick Ngowi, and Google’s 12 Brightest Young Minds nominee Grace Ihejiamaizu.

According to the organizers of the awards, “the honourees automatically qualify as one of the 50 Young Africans Making a Difference on the Continent to be celebrated by the African Union at its 50th Anniversary Celebration in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in October.”

Previous Young Person of the Year winners include malaria scientist Ify Aniebo, award-winning writer Chimamanda Adichie, NASA scholar Tosin Otitoju, agriculture entrepreneur, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, and multiple award winning journalist, Idris Akinbanjo.

The organizers also disclosed the African Union (AU) as one of its partners in this year’s edition of the awards which will be held in August.

Last year, the United States Department of State selected Grace Ihejiamaizu as September’s State Alumni Member of the Month in recognition of her dedication to the developing Nigeria’s next generation of leaders.

Ihejiamaizu had participated in the 2010 Study of the United States Institute for Student Leaders (SUSI) Program on the theme of Social Entrepreneurship. Since she has applied these entrepreneurial concepts in Nigeria by founding an after-school youth programme.

In 2010, she was recognized by SIFE Nigeria for her Outstanding Contribution towards a Better Society. In 2011, she was named one of of Google’s 12 Brightest Young Minds in the World and was invited to attend Google’s prestigious event, the Zeitgeist Minds 2011.

Also in 2011, Grace won a grant from the Young African Women Leaders Forum Small Grants Program in support of her Raising Young and Productive Entrepreneurs (RYPE) initiative in 2011, which itself now has more than 150 Nigerian youth.

Most recently, she was one of 60 young people selected from more than 200 applications to attend the British Council’s Global Changemakers event.

A graduate of Sociology from the University of Calabar (Unical), Ihejiamaizu, served as Project Director of the Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) of the University of Calabar team.

chimamanda ngozi adichieNigerian contemporary novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s third novel, Americanah, has been awarded the2013 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for fiction. The Heartland Prize is a literary prize created in 1988 by the Chicago Tribune Newspaper.

The prize is awarded yearly in two categories, fiction and non-fiction, to books that are concerned with American issues, causes and concerns.

“I’m very pleased,” Adichie said on receiving news of the prize. “You never know what will happen when you write a novel. And for me, a Nigerian, to have written this book which is partly about America, and to receive this quintessentially American prize means that I have said something about America as seen through Nigerian eyes that Americans find interesting. I take that as a wonderful compliment. It reminds me of the ability of literature to make us become briefly alive in bodies not our own.”

Adichie writes about two Nigerians: Ifemelu, a driven, gorgeous girl who leaves to study in America and her love, Obinze, a pensive, careful man. When bureaucracy keeps Obinze out of America, he falls into a dangerous life in London, while Ifemelu pursues an education and thrives as a blogger. After years spent an ocean apart, the two reunite, but their lives are not as carefree as they were when they were young.

One of the many ideas that Adichie’s book explores is that of American tribalism.

“I think if you (asked) the average American, ‘Is there tribalism in this country?’ they would say no, but I think America is quite divided in many ways,” Adichie said during a phone call from her Maryland home. “There is ideological tribalism, which is fascinating to observe how people on the political left and people on the political right sometimes seem to come from two different planets. I think there is also racial tribalism, so that race doesn’t seem to matter until it matters, and I think there is also class tribalism, which has become much worse in the past five years. … People belong to tribes and these tribes depend on things people have in common whether it is race, class or ideology.”

Adichie, a participant in the 2010 Printers Row Lit Fest, said she was surprised and overjoyed to hear she had received the Heartland Prize.

“I was particularly happy about this prize because it just seemed to me to be quintessentially American,” she said. “I don’t think I necessarily write about the heartland, I don’t know what the heck the heartland is, but I do think that I choose to see (this prize) as somebody saying to me that your book has said something about America. Something that is recognizable and something that is interesting and something about America that is worth knowing, and that is a huge compliment to me.”

Past fiction winners of the Heartland Prize include Jonathan Franzen for his novel Freedom and Marilynne Robinson for her novel Gilead.