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‘AKWAABA Travel Tourism Market aims to show Nigeria can thrive on tourism’

Akwaaba Africa Travel Market founder Ikechi Uko


Ikechi Uko rings a bell when travel tourism is mentioned. A prominent writer and consultant, he spoke in an interview with Frank Udeze.

Tell us about yourself?
I’m Ikechi Uko, the founder of AKWAABA Travel Tourism Market. I studied Geography. I lived in different parts of the Nigeria and I’m from Abia State. I grew up in Enugu, went to the University of Ibadan (UI). I served in Bauchi. Later, I worked in Kano and went back to UI for my master’s and finally settled in Lagos. I consult for Calabar Carnival; so, I’ve been to different parts of the country. I don’t like dishonest people. My likes, uh, I like to travel. My mantra is ‘I love to travel’. I don’t like it, but I love to travel.

What is AKWAABA?
AKWABA is a travel market. It’s a platform that enables people to market their travel products to travel buyers. You have Dubai; they are selling their tourism. You also have Rwanda; they are selling their country’s culture.

Being an adventurous person, where are the most inspiring places you have ever been to?
Uhm… Lots of places in Nigeria, One is when I was driving from Maiduguri to Kano, the places affected by Boko Haram sect and it left one the greatest experiences. That was like ten to fifteen years ago and another place was Ogbodu.

What can’t you do without?
Family. Family, because I travel more than 200 days in a year, so the anchor, what holds me together is family. I have something to come back to.
What do you feel is the challenge facing the travel tourism sector in Nigeria?
We have a lot of money from oil so we don’t look for any other means of generating revenue. Rwanda doesn’t have oil so they invested in tourism. Dubai also uses the oil to get tourism.

What’s your suggestion?
Keep the oil and be like Dubai. Use the oil to get Tourism.

Why did you choose the name AKWAABA?
I wanted a welcome word for West Africa. Because I was hosting the event in Nigeria, so I chose a non-Nigerian word to represent Africa. I either had to choose Jabama or Akwaaba. Akwaaba has its origin from Ghana and Cote d’ivoire. It means Welcome.

Being the CEO and Founder of AKWABA, what has been the major challenge so far?
Everything! Nigeria is a difficult place to market tourism. I bring in close to five hundred tourists every year to Nigeria. Things are improving now. There is a change because Nigerians are beginning to see success.

How do you do what you do, bringing travel professionals from all over the world to Nigeria?
It started as a vision and visions have to be backed up by power. Yea, I will give God the credit for bing able to convince people to come to Nigeria when people ordinarily would not want to come. There are so many first timers from Dubai, Kenya South Africa. We were able to make ourselves look important and desirable. This is what Nigeria can do; we can make ourselves look important and desirable for tourists.

Why did you choose this career?
It could have been any other thing but I have always loved to travel. Since I was a child. My father worked in the railways, so, he gave me passes; so I travelled anywhere that I wanted to and because I lived, schooled there, I moved around. I’ve always loved to see new places.

What is your advice to those that want to do the things you do?
Get a good vision, grow it to the highest level in your mind, and then start very small. Immediately, start working towards that vision, you’ll get there. I went to WTM, I saw a brand and I wanted to do something like that in Nigeria. I started small and I started working. This is the 13th year and it’s big.

You are always seen wearing a hat, what does it signify?
It’s my brand. The scarf and the hat stand for my brand.

You sure have gotten so many awards and recommendations. How does it feel?
I think it’s just a part of the brand to say ok “You’re not foolish”. Some people thought I was foolish, that I was not working on something that could pay but now it’s beginning to yield profits. I can go home to my family and say I wasn’t foolish after all. I can say that my family feels happy. My kids in school read about me in the papers. “Oh, your father did this, your father wanted to build a museum, your father named a gorilla and they return home asking questions about how I achieved so much in a short while. I appreciate that fact; at least if I can’t give them an aircraft, or a mansion, I can give them a name.

How does it feel being the international tourism consultant for the prominent Calabar Carnival?
I love the carnival and I’m happy to be associated with it. I’m happy to have helped make it great and global, most especially to take it beyond Nigeria. Before it was something we consume for ourselves but as an international travel person, I wanted that touch; that this is something we can bring the whole world into and the Governor asked me to help him drive that mission.

What is the focus of AKWAABA this 2017?
On youth and women. Monday was women while Tuesday is for youths. Domestic tourism in Nigeria can only grow when young people start driving it, because I started in my 20s. So that’s why I’m encouraging youths to get into tourism and it will thrive.

Do you have sponsors or are you the only one funding AKWAABA this year?
Yea, it’s funded by AKWAABA. The only sponsor we have this year, aside from Eko Hotel that supported us, is OLAM. OLAM provided us with rice.

We heard about your plans to build an aviation museum for Nigeria. How true is this?
When we had the vision and we were able to get the people interested, the people running the aviation sector did not buy into the vision. They told us they wanted to crush the aircraft; they didn’t want to get it away from the airport. They didn’t buy into the vision we had, and I didn’t own an aircraft.

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