One of the exceptional of this year’s Akwaaba was the prominent presence of Dubai Tourism all through the three-day trade market. Dubai Tourism has maintained a continuous participation in Akwaaba now in its 15th series. In this interview with Travel journalists, the Senior Manager Campaign Management, Dubai Tourism, Salim Ali Mohamed Dahman, declared Nigeria as Dubai’s number one source market in Africa. He promised a stronger presence come next year Akwaaba and also spoke on the importance of Nigerian market to Dubai, participation in this year’s Akwaaba in a bigger way, expectation for 2020 Akwaaba and the Dubai 2020 Expo. Pearl Ngwama was there.
Q.What informed your decision to participate in Akwaaba African Travel Market this year in a bigger way?
A. Every year in the last three to four years with Akwaaba and in Nigeria in general, we have seen the growth, the destination has been growing steadily in double digits throughout and what we have decided as well is to sustain that growth.
Everybody knows that Emirates as one of the airlines operating direct flights to Dubai has increased their frequencies to Abuja and Lagos as well, so we want to fill the plane, we know that there is opportunity to fill the seats as well and in order for us to do that is to have a big presence at Akwaaba and also talk to decision makers and the trade directly to tell them what else is new, what else is happening. We brought our partners as well to talk about what they have in stock for people who need to come to Dubai, what they are going to experience. So next year may even be bigger, depending on that. We have seen the middle class in Nigeria growing, people are aspiring to go to Dubai whether it is education, health or general tourism to have a good time and also proximity in terms of seven hours going to the US versus the visa issues you might have, that is nonexistent with Dubai. Dubai is very straight forward, with your ticket, your travel agent will help you get the visa, you don’t need a thousand documents and it is either yes or no depending on the situation which I think helps people plan for travel.
Q.How important is the Nigerian market to Dubai?
A.Nigeria is one of our top 25 to 30 source markets in terms of visitation globally, and in Africa it is number one, because of the population and we want to take advantage of that. So that is why we want to take advantage of that. Dubai tourism comes at least four or five times every year to Nigeria to do training, do trade shows and also to interact with the talents, so we work closely with Nollywood talents and musicians to try and also have an exchange of culture between the two countries.
Q.Is this your first visit to Nigeria and what is your experience so far, we know Arabian Travel Market (ATM) is quite bigger?
A. For me, yes this is my first visit to Nigeria, but for my team, no. My experience so far; you know ATM in Dubai, you have the African pavilion, but it is usually overshadowed by Northern African countries, but here, you get the real feel of the industry and the professionals from the sub Saharan region. To me, I have not experienced that before and the insight I got by talking with different countries and tourism agencies. You get to understand their frame of mind, what is important to them, how they sell destination and their optimism for the future as well.
Q.Nigeria is connecting more with Dubai now unlike in the past when people do not really connect, what is the magic?
A. Initially the level of awareness is important because you can make them to believe as to come to Dubai. You need to tell them what is Dubai, so if I tell you to go to a new destination that nobody has heard of, let’s say South Sudan, a new country, so nobody knows anything and everybody is a bit reluctant, but Dubai, welcome to the scene, everybody knows the tallest towers, the big projects, so the perception is that Dubai is a super expensive. So our team really worked to educate people and say no, Dubai is easy to get through, there is something for everyone, from the ultra luxury, to the regular man and middle class can come and enjoy. We have free parks, we have transportation in place, so anybody can come to Dubai at any budget and have a great experience and that is what I was talking about there, we have summer and winter. Summer is usually when you can get those deals because it is the middle of the year, the weather is a bit challenging, so most people might go to cooler climates, but people do come to get a five star vacation by paying something very affordable, something of value.
Q.Is it deliberate that Dubai started selling culture now unlike when it used to be seeing the city and all that?
A.No, it has always been there, but what I think is that in the last few years, we have tried to show more of our culture. First of all, when you come to Dubai, you have a great experience at the beach or shopping, that is what people know Dubai for, so we said no Dubai should not be only shopping and amazing infrastructure. We wanted more, to get to the soul and understand what Dubai is. That is why we tried to push culture to show that yes we do have a history and we want to celebrate our history. People go to dessert safari but the desert safari is a different type of experience, is the Bedouin experience versus eating and then you have the dancers. That is not really what a desert safari should be, it should be culture, it should be massive and we are trying to push that so that people will understand. Same like us coming to Nigeria, when we see music, which is something like a cultural export from Nigeria to the world right now, now we understand Nigeria, so whatever bad perception the press has to show up about Nigeria has now gone away because the music and the movie industry is now creating a new narrative. Now we are all like, we will all come to Nigeria because Nigeria is a place to do business now. They are just like us, they are progressives. So the same thing with our culture, we are showing culture, we are showing women, we are showing Dubai is safe, accessible and that is what we would continue to do.
Q.What is your expectation for next year Akwaaba?
A. Next year Akwaaba, we will have a stronger presence because we would be pushing more of expo, because in October 2020 we would be going live, so when we do come here in September next year, it would be like okay this is what is happening and we show you the real expo site and say this is ready and ongoing now and not an animation. So we would be ready to show that, that would be like a preview and we would say look at that, that is the actual place you can go now and we hope to bring some of that technology and some of that experience here.