They say ‘Africa is not for sissies’, and there are few travel destinations on the continent that require as much of a deep breath and stern resolve as Nigeria. But, it’s a place where plenty is happening, and where many African companies want to be.
With its huge mineral wealth and vibrant energy, balanced by grinding poverty and endemic corruption, Nigeria is a place you’ll either love or loathe. Often it is both, simultaneously. Either way, there’s no ignoring the economic powerhouse of West Africa. Named for the Niger River that flows through much of the country, the continent’s second-largest economy – after South Africa – owes much of its wealth to its vast mineral resources.
The export of crude oil – drilled in offshore wells and in the volatile Niger River Delta – accounts for two-thirds of its GDP, placing Nigeria among the world’s top 10 oil exporters. The country also has one of the world’s largest proven reserves of natural gas, along with substantial deposits of iron ore, limestone, lead and zinc. In a 2010 report, British bank Standard Chartered Plc suggested that Nigeria could overtake South Africa to become the continent’s largest economy by 2023, off the back of strong economic data, where GDP growth has topped 8% per year. Unlike many other destinations, there are plenty of hoops to jump through and pitfalls to avoid, on a business trip to Nigeria. But with all eyes on Nigeria as the next engine revving up to drive the African economy, it’s a destination the savvy corporate traveller can’t afford to ignore.
Business Travel Activity
It’s been a turbulent year for Nigeria’s airlines. But, it started off in a positive manner in March, when FirstNation, the country’s newest airline, received its Air Operator’s Certificate. But, it was downhill from there, set off by the tragic Dana Air crash in June, which saw 153 people lose their lives. Dana’s grounding in the wake of that tragedy was inevitable. That was followed in July by FirstNation voluntarily suspending its operations, after it jettisoned its A320 airplanes for a younger fleet.
FirstNation is hoping to be operational again in early 2013, but it wasn’t the only airline with operational issues. October saw Air Nigeria cease all operations. The decision was taken, according to management, because of ‘staff disloyalty and environmental tension, which were not conducive to business in the aviation sector’. All but 50 employees were fired by the chairman of Air Nigeria, who expressed the intention to re-launch the airline in 2013. That was just four months after Air Nigeria resumed its Lagos-Johannesburg flight. All of which left Arik, Aero Contractors, IRS and Overland Airways as the only serious local players. Med-View Airlines will add to that group, but Nigerian aviation will be hoping for a more positive 2013.
On the international front, the news was more encouraging, with Etihad Airways announcing the launch of flights to Lagos – six of them a week – from the 1st of July. That was followed shortly by the release of Air France’s summer schedule, which included plans to resume service to Abuja – a route previously operated by KLM. This new non-stop route is in addition to the daily flights to Lagos and Port Harcourt, and strengthens Air France’s services to Nigeria.
On the hotel front, June saw Protea Hotels announce that it was forging ahead with extensive expansion plans, with a number of new properties in the pipeline. Nigeria will see new hotels in the form of the Protea Hotel Ibadan – Oyo State (2013); Protea Hotel Select Emotan – Benin City (2013); Protea Hotel Select Ikeja – Lagos (2013); African Pride Avalon Hotel and Spa – Ikeja, Lagos (2013); and Protea Hotel Asaba – Delta State (2012). That was followed in July with the news that Starwood plans to open a Four Points by Sheraton hotel in Benin City, the capital of Nigeria’s Edo State, in 2015. It will be the first internationally-branded hotel in the city.
The news on the airline front was more positive for business travellers in August, when Delta Air Lines announced that from September, passengers flying on Delta’s daily non-stop between Lagos and Atlanta would benefit from fully-flat beds in the BusinessElite cabin. Delta is the only airline offering daily year-round, non-stop service between Nigeria and the U.S. Arik then flexed its muscles in October by announcing that it had begun scheduled services between Lagos and Douala, Cameroon. The route was Arik’s second foray into Central Africa, coming after the inauguration of the Lagos-Luanda (Angola) route in December 2011. Speaking of December – this time 2012 – the month saw ExecuJet Africa officially open its fixed-based operations facility at Murtala Muhammed International Airport.
Lagos is the commercial and cultural hub, while Abuja in the Federal Capital Territory has – since 1991 – been the legislative capital. The southern city of Port Harcourt is a major industrial centre for the lucrative oil industry. Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos is the main gateway, with a range of international airlines offering direct services to destinations across North America, Europe and Africa. The airport is 22 kilometres north of Lagos, although the journey can take hours, depending on the city’s notorious traffic. If possible, only travel with carry-on luggage, as baggage collection can be less than efficient.
“Lagos airport is really horrible, and not for the fainthearted,” says Trevor Ward, MD of W Hospitality Group. “The treatment of arriving international passengers is the worst I have experienced in Africa – and as I live here, I experience it very often! If you can, organise for a protocol officer to escort you through, although you will still have to wait ages for your luggage. Yellow fever vaccination certificates will be demanded only from white-skinned travellers.”
“There are no automated baggage belts and the immigration officers make no effort to make you feel welcome in their country,” says Shelley Summers, General Manager: American Express – Africa, Oil and Gas Division. “Once you enter the arrivals hall via the escalator, all the bags from the aircraft are waiting in an area where you have to show your baggage label to collect your luggage. There are often long delays in receiving your baggage, so expect to wait. It is advisable to request airport services for both arrival and departure in Nigeria. Included in this service are immigration and customs assistance, luggage retrieval, use of designated waiting area (located just outside the baggage hall), porter service, and use of car park shuttle carts.”
“It’s a nightmare, usually,” says Stuart Young, Director of News & Programmes for Continental Broadcasting Service in Lagos. “It depends on when you arrive. If it coincides with other flights, expect a long wait in the immigration hall. The luggage collection area is also chaotic. Don’t take any taxis from outside. Always arrange to be met by a driver too. Try to arrive in daylight hours.” A private car and driver is essential. If not organised in advance, local hotels and car hire agencies can arrange for you. Taxis are plentiful in Lagos and Abuja, but be sure to negotiate the fare upfront, and avoid hailing a taxi on the street at night. The traffic jams in Lagos are legendary, so choose a hotel as close to your meetings/office as possible. Allow plenty of time (twohours to be safe) to travel to the airport ahead of your return flight, especially in rush hour.
Citizens of countries outside the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) need a visa to enter Nigeria. But, if applying for a visa at your local embassy or consulate, make sure you allow for more than enough time, as some embassies are notorious for taking weeks to issue visas. As with other African countries, your application must include a letter of invitation from the relevant Nigerian party.
The Nigerian telecoms landscape has witnessed significant growth in the last ten years as result of the liberalisation of the market. The most reliable, quality Wi-Fi access is found in the major hotels, but also in shopping malls, cinemas, bars and even in cities outside Lagos and Abuja. Mobile roaming costs are relatively high, but affordable for corporates. Mobile phone coverage (South Africa’s MTN Group, India’s Bharti Airtel, Abu Dhabi-based Etisalat and Nigeria’s Globacom are the key industry players) is not limited to cities, but is only available in some towns and villages. It is advisable for visitors to obtain a local sim card on arrival. It is affordable, although latest regulations stipulate that you have to register the number.
Focusing on Lagos, it’s another of those major African cities with a large supply of international brands, which are probably the safer bets, as are the six Proteas in the city and the Southern Sun Ikoyi, which is renowned for its comprehensive Sunday lunch buffet!
“There are several hotels to choose from these days, but the best hotels in town are the Proteas, the Sheraton, the Southern Sun, the Radisson Blu and the Four Points,” says Ward. “Don’t be put off by the high published rates – there is always a deal to be done.”
“Most major hotel brands are represented in Lagos,” says Aaron Munetsi, SAA Regional General Manager: Africa & Middle East – Global Sales. “Sun International’s Federal Palace is a welcome oasis on Victoria Island, where one gets to do business in an enabling environment. The Southern Sun Ikoyi is ideally located and provides a nostalgic respite for not only us South Africans, but for most Southern Africans. There are several Protea hotels located in different parts of the city, and they provide the well-known Protea hospitality and experience.”
According to Ward, the upcoming new hotels in Lagos in 2013, apart from the InterContinental (which they hope will open in the second half of the year), are the 60-room Mantis Collection boutique hotel, The George, and the ‘extension’ to the Oriental Hotel. Taking a quick look at Abuja, the city will soon have a new boutique hotel in the form of The Grand Towers – a Mantis Collection property. But, otherwise, it’s difficult to look past the Transcorp Hilton Abuja.
“If you want to see and be seen, the Transcorp Hilton is a must – everyone passes through there at some time or other,” says Ward. “The Sheraton is old but friendly, with some great restaurants. The three small Protea hotels are more cosy than their bigger cousins, and the Hawthorn Suites offers an apartment-style product.”
“Otherwise, the road network is really good, and there always seems to be a new highway under construction in Abuja,” says Ward. “The road from the airport to town is undergoing a major rebuild, and delays are possible, particularly on the way in early in the morning, due to a security check. There are very few restaurants and bars outside of the hotels, and both the Sheraton and the Hilton have nightclubs and casinos. There are some good quality green taxis plying the streets, and you might even see the odd London cab!”
Plan Ahead Whether it’s meetings or conferences drawing you to Nigeria, it’s a country where it pays to plan ahead and seek professional advice before travelling on business. Reputable hotels should be booked well in advance, and transfers from the airport must be pre-arranged.
Money Nigeria is a cash economy. Outside of international hotels, credit cards are rarely accepted – and a prime target for fraud. Although ATMs are becoming easier to find in major cities, it’s best to travel with US dollars, which can be exchanged for naira at major hotels, banks and foreign exchange offices. Exchanging traveller’s cheques can be tricky.
Out & About Nigeria is a friendly and welcoming country, yet crime is widespread in Lagos and Abuja. Unrest is often quick to flare up in the Islamic north and troubled Niger Delta. Kidnapping of foreign workers for ransom is not unheard of, so always arrange for an escort from the airport.
Malaria is found across Nigeria and prophylactics are recommended, especially when travelling outside the major cities. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required. Make sure you visit your travel doctor at least 10 days before travelling, and that he or she stamps your passport with the correct date. Otherwise, entry into Nigeria will be denied, or you may find yourself shelling out a bribe of sorts.
“Lagos is not as near as daunting as people think,” says Ward. “Sure, you have to be plenty street-wise, but with sensible precautions you can have a good time, and without it costing an arm and a leg. Check out Pat’s Bar on Victoria Island – well-priced drinks and food, plenty of TVs to watch the game(s), and live entertainment some nights.”
“Lagos is one of my favourite cities – never a dull moment and it’s a 24/7 city,” says Munetsi. “The energy levels are at peak levels all the time. Stay focused, meet plenty of people through acquaintances, relax and enjoy the sounds and tastes of Lagos, be it on the mainland (Ikeja side) or on the islands. Traffic congestion (fondly called “go slow”) is legendary in Lagos. Be very careful when planning your journey to the airport and make sure you give yourself as much time as possible.”
Websites – www.cometonigeria.com and www.nigeria.co.za
Population: 162 million
Time zone: GMT+1
Plugs: Three-prong square
Dialling code: +234
Currency: Naira and US dollars. Exchange rate: US$1=157NGN
Language: English and over 400 indigenous languages and dialects
Aero Contractors – acn.aero
Air France – airfrance.com
Arik Air – arikair.com
BA – ba.com
Delta Air Lines – delta.com
EGYPTAIR – egyptair.com
Emirates – emirates.com
Ethiopian Airlines – flyethiopian.com
Etihad Airways – etihadairways.com
Iberia – iberia.com
IRS Airlines – flyirsairlines.com
Kenya Airways – kenya-airways.com
Lufthansa – lufthansa.com
Med-View Airline – medviewairline.com
Overland Airways – overland.aero
Qatar Airways – qatarairways.com
RwandAir – rwandair.com
SAA – flysaa.com
Tuifly – tuifly.com
Turkish Airlines – turkishairlines.com
United – united.com
Virgin – virgin-atlantic.com
Avenue Suites – theavenuesuites.com
Best Western Ikeja – bestwestern.com
Best Western The Island – bestwestern.com
Eko Hotel & Suites – ekohotels.com
Elion House – elionhousehotel.com
Federal Palace – suninternational.com
Four Points by Sheraton – starwoodhotels.com
Golden Tulip Festac – goldentulip.com
Grand Towers (Abuja) – mantiscollection.com
Hotel Bon Voyage – hotelbonvoyageng.com
Ibis Lagos Airport – accorhotels.com
InterContinental – ichotelsgroup.com
Lagos Oriental – lagosoriental.com
Lekki Oxford Hotels – lekkioxfordhotels.com
Moorhouse Ikoyi – accorhotels.com
Morning Side Suites – morningsidesuites.com
Protea Ikeja – proteahotels.com
Protea Ikoyi – proteahotels.com
Protea Kuramo Waters – proteahotels.com
Protea Leadway – proteahotels.com
Protea Oakwood – proteahotels.com
Protea Victoria Island – proteahotels.com
Southern Sun Ikoyi – tsogosunhotels.com
Radisson Blu Anchorage – radissonblu.com
Regent Hotel – theregentlagos.com
The Wheatbaker – wheatbaker.co.za
Transcorp Hilton (Abuja) – hilton.com
Victoria Crown Plaza – vcphotels.com
Access to Africa – access-to-africa.com
BCD Travel – bcdtravel.com
Carlson Wagonlit – carlsonwagonlit.com
Club Travel – clubcorporatetravel.co.za
FCm Travel – fcm.travel
HRG – hrgworldwide.com
Sure Travel – suretravel.co.za
Tourvest – tourvest.co.za
Travel With Flair – twfglobal.com
Uniglobe – uniglobetravel.mu