Nigeria

Nigeria is the ‘Giant of Africa’ and the most populous country on the continent, and in 2014 its economy surpassed South Africa’s as the largest on the continent.

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FACT FILE

Time zone: GMT+1
Plugs: Three-prong square
Dialling code: +234
Currency: Naira – $1=200NGN
Language: English

With its huge mineral wealth and vibrant energy, Nigeria is not only the economic powerhouse of West Africa, but the continent as a whole.

The country overhauled its gross domestic product data for the first time in two decades in 2014, and in doing so overtook South Africa as the African continent’s largest economy. Despite that move, 2014 and 2015 have been fairly unsettling years, thanks to a number of factors, including the Ebola outbreak, persistent Boko Haram terrorist activity, a falling global oil price, and a new political regime.

The export of crude oil – drilled in offshore wells and in the volatile Niger River Delta – accounts for much of Nigeria’s foreign exchange revenues, placing it 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.

But, all of this counted for nothing when the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia was made public around mid-2014. Countries issued travel bans, airlines suspended routes, and Nigeria was caught up in the middle of it all – not just thanks to its proximity to the three countries listed.

Even though the Nigerian government was commended for how it dealt with the Ebola crisis, the damage, from a business point of view, was done, and Nigeria felt the full impact of being labelled an ‘Ebola country’. Even now it is still in the recovery phase and hasn’t been helped by the instability around the change in political leadership, terrorism, and the drop in oil price.

All of that being said, there are signs that Nigeria is recovering, with business travel having slowly returned to the country in 2015. That’s despite the devaluation of the naira and resulting activity such as Standard & Poor’s downgrading Nigeria’s credit rating.

Fortunately, relatively peaceful elections took place in March 2015, although new president Muhammadu Buhari was criticised for taking until November to name his full cabinet and dithering over outlining clear economic policy.

Despite all of this, though, Nigeria remains one of the African continent’s premier business travel destinations, and it’s going to take more than a couple of bad years to cripple this economic West African giant.

What is clear, though, is that 2016 is shaping up to be another big year for Nigeria.

CITIES

The main business travel destinations in Nigeria are Lagos – the commercial capital – Port Harcourt, which is home to many oil companies, and Abuja, which is the capital of Nigeria and the seat of government.

Lagos is the most populous city in Nigeria, the second fastest-growing city in Africa, and seventh in the world. The latest reports estimate the population at 21 million, making Lagos the largest city in Africa.

It is a bustling city and a hub with a vibrant night life. Due to its size and population, there is heavy traffic around peak periods in the morning and night. It is also a coastal city, flanked by the Atlantic Ocean.

Abuja is known for being one of the few purpose-built capital cities in Africa, as well as being one of the wealthiest and most expensive. Most visitors to Abuja have business with the federal government, or are there to participate in large regional conferences or conventions, which means that most hotels in Abuja are geared towards business travel.

Port Harcourt is the capital of Rivers State. It lies along the Bonny River and is located in the Niger Delta.

AIRLINES & AIRPORT

International airports are located in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt and Enugu. There are also airports in most states of the federation and local air travel is widespread.

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, the Middle East and Africa. The airport is 22 kilometres north of Lagos, although the journey to Victoria Island – the main business hub – 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.

“Passing through MMIA for the first time can be frustrating, particularly if it is your first time in Nigeria,” says Nilesh Thakkar, Chief Commercial Officer of Satguru Travels and Tours. “There is air-conditioning, but it is still quite stuffy and hot. The internet in the lounges can be inconsistent and access to these lounges is pricey. But, the airport is safe and there are lots of uniformed men around.”

MMIA is exceptionally chaotic in the evenings, with several long-haul flights leaving at the same time, so the recommendation is to arrive a minimum of three, if not four or five hours before your flight, to avoid the longest lines at check-in and immigration. Immigration and airport officials are not among the friendliest people you will find, but courtesy and self-confidence go a long a way when engaging with them.

“When landing in Lagos, passport control consists of two stages, with one official checking the passport, visa and completed arrival form,” says Sonja Hamman, Director Strategic Client Management for Wings Travel Management. “The traveller then has to move across to a second counter for the passport to be stamped by another official. Once the traveller has collected their baggage, they will need to show their baggage tags to a security person, before exiting into the arrivals area.”

“If meeting a driver, it is important for the traveller to know where they can expect to locate the driver, how to identify him, and his phone number. On departure, travellers need to ensure that they do not arrive at the airport with little time to spare. The queues at the check-in counters can be very long. Before bags can be checked in, travellers need to go through a passport check, and all checked baggage is searched.”

Refurbishment of MMIA has been underway for several years and the airport does already offer a greatly improved experience. If possible, it’s recommended that you arrange a ‘meet and greet’ facility, particularly if you’re a first-time traveller to Nigeria.

“The changes to MMIA over the past couple of years have been positive,” says Hamman. “The most noticeable change is the passport control/immigration and security in the departure area of the airport. This has transformed from a cramped area with a limited number of counters to a large, bright space, with multiple counters to deal with the large number of travellers moving through the airport. There is also a separate fast track queue for business and first class travellers.”

On departure, there are several lounges that offer ‘fee-per-visit’ – in the region of $50 – and it is well worth taking advantage of them, as there are few general facilities airside. If you’re travelling in first or business class, you will probably receive complimentary lounge access.

“Both British Airways and SAA have their own dedicated lounges, which provide a good service,” says Hamman. “If the traveller does not qualify for access to an airline lounge, but holds a Priority Pass card, a Diners card, or is willing to pay the access charge, they can gain access to the Gabfol and other lounges. Free wi-fi is available in all of these lounges, as well as complimentary snacks and refreshments.”

HOTELS

Starting with Lagos, it’s another of those major African cities with a large supply of international brands, which are probably the safer bets.

The newest property is The George, a Mantis Group property that opened in Ikoyi towards the end of 2015. It has 61 suites, a host of high-end facilities, and is geared towards the business traveller who likes his or her comfort.

InterContinental has had a presence on Victoria Island since 2013, and the property offers 5-star accommodation and conference facilities. There’s a similar theme to the Lagos Oriental, which has quite an opulent offering, also on VI.

Starwood’s presence is in the form of a Sheraton in Ikeja and a Four Points by Sheraton on Victoria Island. Carlson Rezidor has the Radisson Blu Anchorage Hotel, Lagos VI, which re-opened towards the end of 2015 after being closed for about six months.

Best Western has a nice spread, with two hotels in Ikeja – in close proximity to Murtala Muhammed International – and one on Victoria Island, whilst Ibis has a similar approach, with one property near the airport and one in Ikeja. Golden Tulip has the Essential Lagos Airport Hotel and the Golden Tulip Festac Lagos, and the group also has a property in Port Harcourt.

Protea – now a Marriott brand – previously had the biggest presence of all the groups, with six hotels in Lagos and three in Abuja. However, since the Marriott acquisition in 2014 that portfolio has been whittled down to three properties, with two in Lagos – Kuramo Waters and Select Ikeja – and one in Benin City. BON Hotels – a South Africa-based hospitality company that owns, manages and markets hotels – has taken over management, marketing and reservations of four Protea Hotels in Nigeria, including two in Lagos. These hotels are expected to be re-branded as BON Hotels.

Sun International runs the Federal Palace Hotel & Casino on Victoria Island, Legacy Hotels & Resorts operates the Wheatbaker (a luxury boutique hotel), whilst Tsogo Sun has the Southern Sun Ikoyi, which has a good reputation and is renowned for its food and bar area, which has a great vibe.

If you would prefer something local, there are a host of home-grown brands and properties, such as Morning Side Suites, the Moorhouse Ikoyi (an Accor-managed MGallery property), S&S Hotel and Suites, The Regent, Avenue Suites, La Cour, Bogobiri and the Eko Hotel & Suites, which has the largest meeting and conferencing offering, with heaps of exhibition space.

“The key in Lagos is to stay close to where you need to be,” says Karl de Lacy, International Development Director for Best Western. “If it’s a visit for meetings that can be done close to the airport, there are various hotels in Ikeja and GRA. For visitors to Victoria Island, there is a variety of options to choose from.”

“With regards to Victoria Island hotels, it’s worth considering the InterContinental, the Wheatbaker, the Four Points by Sheraton, the Oriental, and the Eko Hotel,” says Thakkar. “If you’re looking for a mainland hotel, try the Ibis in Airport Road, the Sheraton in Ikeja, the Protea in Ikeja, and Best Western’s two hotels, also in Ikeja.”

The 5-star Transcorp Hilton dominates the Abuja hotel scene, and has done so for quite some time, even though it could do with some sprucing up. There is currently a Protea hotel in Abuja, but that has also changed hands to BON Hotels and will likely be re-branded. Hawthorn Suites is a fully-serviced extended stay property in the heart of Abuja, the Hotel de Bently is also in the CBD, and there’s a Sheraton, giving Starwood Hotels & Resorts a presence in the capital.

Port Harcourt has its share of international brands and it’s probably best sticking with them.

Starwood’s Le Meridien Ogeyi Place is situated in the heart of Port Harcourt, with three meeting rooms, a pool and spa. The Best Western GRA Port Harcourt has 48 rooms in the Government Residential Area, adjacent to the Port Harcourt Polo Club. Accor’s 4-star Novotel Port Harcourt is also situated in the heart of the city, with five meeting rooms. The Golden Tulip Port Harcourt is also located in the GRA area, whilst Swiss International Hotels has its Mabisel, Port Harcourt property.

It’s worth noting that several hotels in Nigeria require travellers to pay before issuing a room key. Many properties request an additional security deposit as well as the room rate, and you will be refunded when settling the bill at departure.

CARD ACCEPTANCE

Nigeria has been a predominantly cash economy. Travellers used to have to ensure that enough foreign currency accompanied any trip, in order to cover one’s costs. But the past few years have seen the Nigerian government embark on a “Cashless Nigeria” initiative, with “Cashless Lagos” representing the first phase of the project. This has received a good response, although much in the way of education, adoption and trust in card payments still needs to take place. That being said, cards are now being utilised in most shops, stores, restaurants and commercial or entertainment facilities in the country.

If you hold a Visa, MasterCard or Maestro Credit/Debit card, you can withdraw cash in Naira from various ATMs around the country. Visa machines can be found at Standard Chartered Bank. MasterCard/Maestro machines are found in Ecobank and some Zenith Bank branches.

The Nigerian payment method of choice is via MasterCard, Visa or Interswitch. The Interswitch Verve card is issued in 16 of the country’s major banks. There are currently over 10 million Verve cards active in Nigeria. Unfortunately, American Express is still very rarely accepted. Diners Club announced in mid-2015 that it was working exclusively with Stanbic IBTC Nigeria to be able to offer its members Diners Club card services in Nigeria by the end of 2015.

Many international credit card companies block transactions from Nigeria, so it’s is best to advise your credit card company before you travel that you will be in Nigeria.

Bureau de change facilities are available at Murtala Muhammed International, and it’s recommended that you carry a small amount of US dollars, broken down into small denominations.

While there are a good number of ATMs available and supported by most banks in Nigeria, opt for an ATM in a hotel lobby or bank building. Fraud is still a problem in Nigeria.

VISAS

Foreign nationals who are not citizens of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) need to apply for a visa to enter Nigeria. This can be obtained at Nigerian embassies, high commissions and consulates worldwide. It’s advisable to start the visa application process well in advance, in order to meet the deadline of your trip.

ECOWAS is made up of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

Visa on arrival: Kenyans can obtain a visa on arrival for a maximum stay of 90 days.

For South African travellers to Nigeria there was good news in October 2015, when it was announced that a lodgement centre for Nigerian visas had opened in Johannesburg, approved by the Nigerian High Commission. Visas & Passports Unlimited have registered with OIS Services to be able to lodge Nigerian visas on the traveller’s behalf. Travellers will not have to appear in person unless specially requested, as the company will take care of loading the application online and completing the payment. Visas & Passports Unlimited also advised that a BVN (Bank Verification Number) will be required by all travellers using ATMs or internet banking in Nigeria. Travellers will need to complete an application form and pay the $45 enrolment fee, which Visas & Passports Unlimited can assist with.

CONNECTIVITY
Nigeria has one of the fastest-growing telecommunications markets in the world, with increased interest in the region by smartphone manufacturers.

The 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 and bars, and is widely available in most cities in Nigeria. 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 widespread, although some remote highways are not covered, and even in the centre of Lagos there are ‘black holes’. It is advisable for visitors to obtain a local SIM card on arrival. It is affordable, although regulations stipulate that you have to register the number. SIM cards can be purchased at the airport, hotel, or sometimes while waiting at traffic lights from individuals representing the mobile operators. The cost of a SIM card is usually less than $10.

“Wi-fi is generally good in the hotels, although connectivity can be lost from time to time during power cuts, until the generator starts everything up again,” says Hamman. “Outside of hotels, general access to wi-fi is not readily available, and mobile connectivity can also be unreliable.”

Pay special attention to data roaming costs. Most hotels offer complimentary wi-fi.

HEALTH

You must ensure that you are vaccinated against yellow fever before travelling to Nigeria, and you will be asked to show your vaccine certificate at the point of entry. Despite yellow fever vaccination being a visa requirement, visitors may still be denied entry if they cannot present their vaccination certificate on request.

Vaccinations against meningitis, tuberculosis and hepatitis B are recommended. There are special precautionary measures for diptheria, hepatitis A, malaria, tetanus, typhoid and yellow fever. It’s recommended that you consult a doctor well in advance of travelling to Nigeria.

Nigeria is part of the ‘meningitis belt’ of sub-Saharan Africa. It is recommended to take this vaccine if you plan to visit Nigeria during the dry season (December–June), when the disease is most common.

In the wake of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in mid-2014, Nigeria did report a few isolated cases of the disease, but it was successfully contained, and the country was commended on how it responded to the outbreak. Nigeria has since been declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation. That being said, complacency is not a threat, as the country remains on high alert to ensure there are no new cases.

All tap water should be regarded as being potentially contaminated, and bottled water is the way to go. Most hotels recognise this, and there’s usually plenty of bottled water in hotel rooms.

Remember to pack all regular prescription medications, plus any recommended medications, insect repellants and other supplies.

TRAVEL TIPS

Nigeria has received unwarranted negative publicity, and reading or hearing horror stories ahead of your trip is not advisable, particularly when visiting Lagos. Go with an open mind and common sense, and you will be pleasantly surprised, as Nigerians are very welcoming.

First-time travellers should listen to the advice of their hosts, and ideally make use of a ‘meet and greet’ service, as well as a hotel transfer. Public transport is not reliable. Avis offers a chauffeur service. Self-drive is not advisable or readily available from car rental companies, so a driver with your hire car is essential.

Lagos has some great restaurants, although the better ones are quite expensive. If you can spare some time in the evening, the night life can be quite enjoyable.

“I recommend the Surface Bar & Grill at the Radisson Blu Anchorage,” says Hamman. “It’s a terrace restaurant, overlooking the lagoon. It has good quality food, a nice view and a very good atmosphere. It’s definitely worth a visit.”

When arranging meetings in Nigeria, travellers should ensure that the contact is known to them, and that the meeting is held at a secure location.

Nigeria has an almost even religious split between the Christian and Muslim faiths. However, the country does have the largest Muslim population in sub-Saharan Africa. One should exercise discretion in behaviour and dress – in the north particularly – as well as during the holy month of Ramadan.

CONTACTS

www.visasunlimited.co.za

COMMENT

Trevor Ward
MD – W Hospitality Group
Arriving on an international flight at Lagos airport can be a real test of one’s patience. Grin and bear it.

Most flights from Europe, plus SAA, arrive in Lagos in the early evening, and the airport is hot and chaotic. For that reason don’t wear thick clothes and take a good book to read in the queue.

Through immigration, take a car hire with a driver from one of the big names in the arrivals hall. There are dozens of touts offering taxis – ignore the lot of them. You can also exchange money at the bureau de change in the airport. Touts are, again, outside, and to be avoided.

The roads are incredibly congested most of the time and the driving is poor. So, sit back and let the driver fight it out. The airport is in the north of the city, where there are a lot of businesses, industrial concerns, all the airlines and the Lagos State government. If that’s where you need to be, it is a 20-minute drive from the international terminal – or possibly an hour in heavy traffic.

Hotels in Ikeja include the Sheraton, currently undergoing a complete face lift, the Protea Hotel Select Ikeja, two Ibis hotels, and a couple of Best Westerns.

Downtown Lagos, which is Victoria Island, Ikoyi, Lagos Island and Lekki, is where most of the business activity is located, and consequently the main hotels, restaurants, bars and other leisure spaces. To get there, your driver will take you across the Third Mainland Bridge, which is one of only two routes from the airport to the south of the city. Although it is the better of the two, it is incredibly congested during peak hours. Even at 05h30 the bridge is clogged going south, and in the afternoon the traffic starts building up from 16h00.

Down in the south of the city, there are many hotels from which to choose, from the gigantic Eko Hotel in VI to the small boutique-style Wheatbaker and George hotels in Ikoyi. It’s best to choose a hotel within easy reach of where you are doing business, because of traffic. Global and regional brands such as Radisson Blu, InterContinental, Best Western, Southern Sun and Four Points by Sheraton all have a presence in VI and Ikoyi, and you should expect to pay anything from $300 upwards per night, with breakfast extra.

There are also several very good small, independent hotels, such as La Cour and Bogobiri, which offer value for money, but not the extensive facilities of the ‘big boys’.

All the big hotels have a variety of dining experiences – both the InterContinental and the Eko have Chinese restaurants – and buffets serving Nigerian and ‘foreign’ dishes are popular. Make sure you try the buffet at the Southern Sun Ikoyi. Eating out is expensive, but the portions tend to be large. Try Talindos for great steak, Ocean Blue for fish, Chinaville for Chinese, Lagoon for Lebanese, and Churrasco for Brazilian. For more casual eating and drinking, try Shades (a new sports bar with big screen) and Crust&Cream (patisserie).

To get around the city, take an air-conditioned hired car from your hotel. There are yellow taxis cruising the streets, but their cars are awful. Whether in a hired car or a taxi, you have to know how to get where you are going, as most of the drivers don’t know street or place names. The concierge desks in the hotels are there to help.

On the way out of Lagos, leave five hours before your flight’s scheduled departure time, to be safe.

At the airport, queues to check-in for the USA and European flights can be lengthy, but if you only have hand baggage you can normally ‘prioritise yourself’, if you know what I mean. There are lots of business class lounges airside, most of which take Priority Pass. I like the SDS one on the ground floor and the ASL one upstairs. If you can’t get into any of them, the Heineken lounge is nice and has free wi-fi, along with coffee and beer you have to pay for.

AIRLINES

Aero Contractors – acn.aero
Air Berlin – airberlin.com
Air France – airfrance.com
Arik – arikair.com
Asky – flyasky.com
Azman Air – airazman.com
BA – britishairways.com
Camair – camair-co.cm
Cronos – cronosair.com
Dana – flydanaair.com
Delta – delta.com
Discovery – discoveryair.com.ng
Emirates – emirates.com
Ethiopian – ethiopianairlines.com
Etihad – etihadairways.com
Iberia – Iberia.com
Kenya – kenya-airways.com
KLM – klm.com
Lufthansa – lufthansa.com
Med-View – medviewairline.com
Middle East – mea.com.lb
Overland – overlandairways.com
Qatar – qatarairways.com
Royal – royalairmaroc.com
RwandAir – rwandair.com
SAA – flysaa.com
Saudi – saudiairlines.com
Turkish – turkishairlines.com
United – united.com
West Link – flywestlink.com
Virgin Atlantic – virgin-atlantic.com

HOTELS
ABUJA

3 J’s – 3jshotels.com.ng
Angeles – angeleshotelsabuja.com
Bolingo Hotel & Towers – bolingohotel-tower.com
Chelsea – chelseahotelabuja.com
Citilodge – citilodgehotel.com
Hawthorn Suites – hawthorn.com
Hotel De Bently – hoteldebently.com
La Don – ladonabuja.com
Mediterranean – mediterraneanabuja.com
Nicon Luxury – niconluxury.com
Nordic Residence – nordicresidence.com
Nordic Villa – thenordicvilla.com
Protea Abuja – bonhotels.com
Rockview Royale – rockviewhotels.com
Savannah Suites – savannahsuitesgroup.com
Shafami Suites – shafamisuites.com
Sheraton – starwoodhotels.com
Transcorp Hilton – hilton.com
Valencia – valenciahotelsabj.com

LAGOS

African Garden Lodge – africangardenlodge.com
Avenue Suites – theavenuesuites.com
Best Western Plus Lagos Ikeja – bestwestern.com
Best Western Starfire – bestwestern.com
Best Western The Island – bestwestern.com
Bogobiri House – bogobiri.com
Bon Voyage – hotelbonvoyageng.com
Citilodge – citilodgehotel.com
Eko Hotel & Suites – ekohotels.com
Elion House – elionhousehotel.com
Federal Palace – suninternational.com
Four Points by Sheraton – starwoodhotels.com
Golden Tulip Essential Lagos Airport – goldentulip.com
Golden Tulip Festac – goldentulip.com
Hotel Ibis Lagos Airport – ibis.com
Hotel Ibis Lagos Ikeja – ibis.com
House J – housej.com
InterContinental – ihg.com
La Cour – lacourboutiquehotels.com
Lagos Oriental – lagosoriental.com
Lekki Oxford – lekkioxfordhotels.com
Moorhouse Ikoyi – accorhotels.com
Morning Side Suites – morningsidesuites.com
Nekore – welcomecentrehotels.com
Protea Ikeja – bonhotels.com
Protea Kuramo Waters – proteahotels.com
Protea Select Ikeja – proteahotels.com
Protea Victoria Island – bonhotels.com
Radisson Blu – radissonblu.com
Regent Hotel – theregentlagos.com
S&S Hotel and Suites – sshotelsandsuites.com
Sheraton Lagos – starwoodhotels.com
Solitude – solitudehotel.com
Southern Sun Ikoyi – tsogosunhotels.com
Sunfit – sunfitltd.com
The George – thegeorgelagos.com
Three Arms – threearms-ng.com
Victoria Crown Plaza – wvcphotels.com
Wheatbaker – legacyhotels.co.za
Yellow Tulip Courtyard – yellowtulipcourtyard.com

PORT HARCOURT

Best Western GRA Port Harcourt – bestwestern.com
Claridon – claridonhotels.com
Elkan Terrace – elkanterrace.com
Golden Tulip Port Harcourt – wgoldentulipportharcourt.com
Hotel Presidential – hotel-presidential.com
Juanita – juanitahotels.com
Landmark – landmarkhotelsng.com
Le Méridien – starwoodhotels.com
Novotel – Novotel.com
Swiss International – swissinternationalhotels.com

CAR HIRE

Avis – avis.com
Hertz – hertz.co.uk
Sixt – sixt.com

TMC

Amex – amextravel.co.za
BCD – bcdtravel.com
CWT – carlsonwagonlit.com
FCm – fcm.travel
HRG – hrgworldwide.com
Wings – wings.travel

 

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