BUSINESS OUTLOOK

Nigeria 2017 | TOURISM | FOCUS: MICE TOURISM

As the popularity of MICE tourism in the region grows, Nigeria is ramping up its infrastructure and facilities to grab a slice of the pie.

Africa will be the continent of the 21st Century given its bright economic future and cultural and environmental diversity. According to the World Tourism Organization (WTO), tourism contributes to 9% of the global GDP and accounts for one out of every 11 jobs worldwide. TBY had the opportunity to meet Sally Uwechue-Mbanefo, the now former Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), who mentioned, “In Nigeria, the sector's contribution is just below 5%. However, the Buhari government is determined, with its multifaceted push for corporate governance and the fight against corruption, to create an enhanced and enabling environment for businesses to thrive. In this light, we expect to attract long-term investments and push the levels of tourism to contribute more to the economy.” One way of further developing the sector is through MICE tourism, which encomposses meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions. In fact, according to the WTO Tourism Highlights 2016, 14% of total tourism worldwide is for business or professional purposes. In 2015, though international tourist arrivals in Africa fell, arrivals in emerging destinations between 2010 and 2030 are expected to increase at twice the rate of arrivals in advanced economies. This is why jumpstarting MICE tourism could serve as a catalyst for other types of tourism. Africa, and Nigeria in particular, has thus placed special emphasis on improving infrastructure and human resources in order to compete with destinations in Asia Pacific and other regions. According to the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2015 by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Nigeria is ranked the 131st most competitive economy out of 141 countries for tourism and travel.

Though Nigeria ticks all the boxes with respect to economic progress, tourism remains an outstanding issue. Nevertheless, MICE tourism promotion looks set to be the way forward. In fact, the country is investing in the construction of various convention centers built for this very purpose. In a short time span, the country has managed to stand out with brilliant architecture initially laid by Calabar in Cross River State. The Calabar International Convention Centre is a state-of-the-art multipurpose facility that connects, via the first monorail in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort.

Another project that will undoubtedly build on tourism in Lagos is the redevelopment of the iconic National Arts Theatre. Aminu Diko, Director General of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), told TBY this project is expected to have a large social impact. Around this facility, in the center of the city, lies 134ha of fallow land currently unutilized. “The government at one point thought about selling it or privatizing it but we advised that it was better to keep it as a national icon and proposed redevelopment through PPP,” Diko said, also adding, “There is already a preferred bidder for this project and the consortium includes some of the most well-known hotel brands in the world who will construct a hotel, office block, and recreational facility, with the National Theatre at the heart playing its traditional role. We want this to happen within the next two years.”

In Abuja, meanwhile, the World Trade Center project, a large-scale mixed-used development project, will provide greater options of facilities for MICE tourism.

As the economy of Nigeria diversifies and grows, professional and trade associations will also evolve, resulting in increasing demand for facilities, conferences, and services. These associations, be they national, local, regional, or pan-African, fuel the demand for venues, professional organizers of conferences and meetings, and suppliers. It is in fact due to this growing demand that initiatives like that of Andrew Airelobhegbe became a reality. He anticipated the need for venues and in collaboration with Airelobhegbe Impact, Praise Osagie, and Godstime Asine founded Ogavenue in 2015, an event booking platform that already has over 6,000 venues listed across Nigeria.

An additional factor that adds to the Nigerian appeal of business and MICE tourism is the growth of the professional middle class. Nigeria's competitiveness in the MICE travel market, though, will be dependent upon the quality and extent of the infrastructure.

Africa is becoming a viable new destination. Businesses can now not only hold conferences in an environment that is sophisticated but also have the opportunity to experience cultural diversity, wildlife, scenic beauty as well as wonders of the world. The continent has become accessible and the desire to experience its offerings can now be fulfilled.