About 48,000 senior travel industry professionals, government ministers and international journalists from all over the world gathered last week in Custom House, ExCel, and London for the biggest travel and tourism event, the World Travel Market (WTM).
The WTM, now in its 33rd year last year generated £1,653 million of travel industry contracts and provided tourism professionals' opportunities to network, negotiate and discover the latest industry opinion.
Countries, airlines, international hospitality chains, IT solution providers in the tourism industry, resorts, top travel agencies, tour operators all come together under one roof to do business. That is why it is catastrophic for any country interested in its tourism growth to miss this annual event.
For a country like Nigeria seeking to create an identity for itself and build its profile as an emerging destination, the need to put up a very strong presence and also articulate and market its products was imperative.
Slowly over the last few years, due to Nigeria's strong presence and visibility in WTM and some other key travel fairs, the travel world is now conscious of the country as an emerging destination in Africa and is also taking a look at some of the things that are making Nigeria tick. The African Section of the fair came to a standstill as people trooped to listen to Nigerian music, watch dancers and have a thirst of the nation's cuisines. They had it so good that most refused to go and had to when the music stopped.
The high point of this year's event was the Nigeria Day.
The Nigerian tourism drive was given a boost by the 2012 Industry Report of the WTM which in addition to steady progress the country is making stated that: "The Nigerian film industry dubbed Nollywood has made the country the highlight of the African tourist industry with Africans making use of the increase no-frills airline routes to visit the country made famous in the movies."
Commenting on the WTM Global Trends report, Runswe said: "The report we are getting from the WTM is the sixth in the world in the recent past. That means Nigeria is making major impact in terms of tourism development. I want to be very grateful to the organizers for bringing out the real fact that Nigeria has made concerted efforts and still making until tourism becomes a major income earner for the country."
The Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) boss, Otunba Segun Runsewe, assessed the impact of Nigeria at the this year WTM: "Nigeria had its bold and imposing stand at the African section of the market, showing remarkable improvement in not articulating its presence in the market, but being able to create a platform for states and private sector operators to showcase what Nigeria has to offer in tourism.
While the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) co-coordinated the Nigeria's participation, key private sector operators in the tourism industry had the opportunity to market and network with their counterparts from all over the world. It was an encouraging participation by the Nigerian private sector practitioners.
States like Cross River State, Rivers and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) had a strong presence. The umbrella tourism body for Nigeria, the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), led by its President, Chief Samuel Alabi, led the private sector operators, including the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), National Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), and Arik Airline, Remlord Group, Eko Hotel and Suites, Tarzan Balogun Marine Services Limited and many others.
Runsewe said "In the 2012 World Travel market, we have seen that more countries are coming to the WTM and with the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) also opening their windows and bringing in their members, we have seen that it is an opportunity to bring very strong inbound tourists traffic to Nigeria.
"So, we are using the opportunity to showcase the strength of Nigeria basically in terms of our history which is also part of the history of the African-Americans. We are also looking at our craft, festival, waterfalls, and rocks and so on. So for us, it is an opportunity to invite more foreigners to Nigeria to come and see for themselves.
"The most recent thing that happened was the Americans that we invited to Nigeria who were pleasantly surprised. They were surprised by the number of tourism opportunities and tourist destinations we have in Nigeria.
He added "So, used the opportunity of the WTM to reassure every tourist coming to Nigeria of their safety and security. Let me use this opportunity to also explain one very important issue. There is no country in the world that has total security. We would have some challenges. What is more important is how to overcome them. That is what we are working on.
So, the World Travel Market was a total opportunity for us to showcase our strength as a people and invite more inbound tourists to Nigeria, considering the fact that two major factors are not a problem in Nigeria, in fact three, one language, two accommodation, all the major hotels in the world now have facilities in Nigeria, all the major airlines in the world fly to Nigeria.
So, the language, accommodation and transportation are not problems. We have also created an advantage to make Nigeria a preferred destination."
The NTDC boss explained that every country in the world has its challenges, especially in the area of security, but the most important thing is the efforts the country is making to combat it and also ensuring the safety of tourists that visit the country.