Nigeria: Flexing its Muscles

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Nigeria hasn’t been sitting by idly during the global recession. As Africa’s major ‘black gold’ exporter, actively drawing multinational investors daily, this West African super power is the place to be if you’re a serious business travel player. Ulrich Janse van Vuuren takes a look at some of the reasons why, as well provides a few tips on what to look out for and where to stay, should you have a business trip to Nigeria in your sights. 

Nigeria’s travel industry has been growing progressively over the past few years off the back of government’s efforts to increase the sector’s contribution towards national gross domestic product.

As the continent’s largest oil producer, it is no surprise that the petroleum industry is the country’s primary money-spinner with exports accounting for 65% of national revenues. Despite oil’s dominance, the major driver behind the robust economy is the non-oil sector’s role in the annual 7.3% growth rate. Recent expanding areas include hotel and restaurant services, telecommunications and agriculture, as well as wholesale and retail trade. Adding further to Nigeria’s appearance as a viable and exciting international business travel destination is its location.

“It’s the hub of West Africa,” says Ade Ashaye, Country Manager for Visa in West Africa. “It’s also as warm and welcoming to visitors as anywhere in Africa. It’s challenging, but it’s exuberant and a true reflection of Africa. There is nowhere quite like it on the continent. Nigeria is a rich and diverse country with a wide variety of tourist attractions, as well. Infrastructure and development continues to grow and Nigeria’s unique character will leave a lasting impression on visitors returning home.”

Nigeria’s economy is experiencing an entrepreneurial rejuvenation of sorts. Barriers to business entry are far lower than other major continent states such as South Africa. This is especially the case in the tourism sector where there’s an escalating demand for hospitality products that can accommodate the influx of new investors and corporate consumers. However, major challenges facing the hotel industry include unreliable power supplies (power outages), poor infrastructure, lack of skills and training, and prevalent corruption. Despite these pitfalls, the tourism market is still very much buoyant and a great deal more focused than in previous decades.

Sun International operates the Federal Palace Hotel & Casino on Victoria Island in Lagos, and the group appears more than happy with its presence in this business travel hotspot, according to International Sales & Marketing Manager: Africa, Mbali Mngomezulu. “We are predominantly a corporate hotel, so December was slow but steady with flat occupancies,” she says. “However, from January it has picked up well.”

Mngomezulu is also incredibly optimistic about the road ahead. “The sheer number of opportunities across the industry and the consumer psyche of the nation make it a favourable destination for expansion,” she says.

It’s no secret that the international business community is increasingly looking closer at the African continent for growth, and to take their businesses into areas that remain largely ‘unconquered’.  Nigeria is top of the list, but it’s not that simple – one can’t just catch the first flight into Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, arrive on the ground and start to do business. Plenty of multinationals keen on establishing a permanent presence in the country have had their fingers burnt. The increased competition may be good for the economic health of Nigeria, but when it comes to the hospitality industry, there are some serious challenges.

“There are new competitors entering the hotel market all the time,” says Brian Davidson, Group Sales and Marketing Director for Legacy Hotels & Resorts. “But development takes much longer here, so one needs to plan accordingly.” Some of the players entering the market in 2013 include Mantis Collection with The Grand Towers Boutique Hotel in Abuja, and The George in Lagos. There’s also Rezidor’s Park Inn Lagos, although that is only expected to open in 2014, whilst a lot of fuss is being made over Marriott International’s new 5-star luxury offering on the Ozumba Mbadiwe waterfront – also set for a 2014 launch. There’s also plenty of anticipation ahead of the eventual opening of the InterContinental in Lagos, which is a long way behind schedule, but will add approximately 500 rooms to the market, once it is eventually completed. With the influx of these signature international brands, it seems this sector is not only thriving but also globalising by attracting familiar quality to West Africa.

More locally, from an African point of view, June 2012 saw South Africa’s 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. On the face of it, the ‘seller’s market’ in Nigeria appears to have gone.

“The hectic days of the early 2000’s where rooms were scarce and a traveller had to pay $500 for a 2-star room are distant history,” says Davidson. “Now, the hotels are of a better quality and the original properties, largely, have refurbished. Therefore, the traveller can now get far better value for money.”

Furthermore, Nigeria’s MICE market is a major talking point now, with serious moves being made to upgrade the conferencing facilities on offer in major centres such as Lagos. Currently, Eko Hotel & Suites is able to take the high ground on Victoria Island, due to its extensive conference space, whilst the Federal Palace is able to hold its own with functions in the region of a couple of hundred, depending on requirements and seating style. Most of the premium hotels in Lagos have some form of conference/meeting offering, but space is limited and much can be done to improve what Lagos has to offer in this area. “There is still a lack of quality conference facilities in the country, but I know there are active plans to change this,” says Davidson, and this space will be watched with interest, as MICE becomes an even bigger talking point in all prominent business travel destinations.

So, it’s a good time for the hospitality industry, but what about that other element to business travel? That important element of actually getting from point A to point B? There has been plenty written about the Nigerian aviation industry, which hasn’t enjoyed a good 18 months or so, from a PR point of view, due to last year’s tragic Dana Air crash and Air Nigeria collapsing in September under a cloud of financial mismanagement.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has already made it clear that the most pressing problem for African aviation is safety, with the continent’s record of accidents nine times worse than the global average. So, the Dana Air crash, where over 150 people lost their lives, did nothing for the negative perception of flying in Africa, never mind Nigeria. The demise of Air Nigeria leaves the country with just four domestic carriers operating scheduled flights, which is a serious blow to efforts to develop the country’s economy. The hospitality sector may be trotting along at a nice rate and showing some serious growth, but if travellers, business people, contractors, executives etc don’t trust the country’s aviation industry, then all that growth will be dead in the water.

According to IATA, African aviation supports seven million jobs and business activity worth nearly $68-billion, so it’s an area that needs serious attention from those with the power to take effective decisions at senior government level, if anything is to be done. With this being the state of play in Nigerian aviation, it’s no surprise that private companies have seen the gap in the market and dived in, offering safe and secure air travel to business travellers/corporates who have the financial means to afford this type of exclusive travel. “With such a large business community, we have noticed that the business traveller is flying on charter more and more,” says Stephen Paddy, Sales and Marketing Director for ExecuJet Africa.

Paddy and co are smiling from ear to ear, in the wake of the official opening of ExecuJet’s 3,000 square metre facility at Murtala Muhammed International Airport. Business has been good, with ExecuJet in the perfect position to exploit the high-end business travel that is now finding its way in and out of Nigeria. Not that it’s all straightforward. “It’s a mixed bag at the moment,” says Paddy. “The demand from the consumers of air business travel is high, but the regulatory environment is challenging.”

Regardless of governance and the state of the hospitality and aviation sectors, consumer culture ultimately determines industry growth potential. Nigeria is a notoriously cash-oriented economy, and it is no secret that hard cash transactions have encouraged robberies, corruption and other related crimes. Consequently, tourism trade along the value chain bears the high costs involved. With a vision of becoming among the top 20 world economies by 2020, the introduction of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Cashless Policy in 2012 is aimed at reducing the risks of physical cash circulation. But the country has a long way to go, to change a culture that has been ingrained over many years, and which has left the card companies with a serious challenge.

To their credit, they’ve remained undaunted, and the likes of Visa believe they have the products and the stamina to turn that culture around – in particular, in the business travel space. “Visa is actively helping banks in Nigeria to issue and accept card payments via credit, debit and prepaid cards for business travellers,” says Ashaye. “Visa Corporate Cards are ideally suited to manage and control business travel payments, and the Visa IntelliLink Spend Management solution provides great reporting and expense management functionality, to improve efficiency for companies and cardholders alike. Visa is also helping travel companies to do business online, and CyberSource is geared to make e-commerce more secure.”

Based on data available to Visa for the period October 2011 to September 2012, 60% of the total spend of Visa Commercial Card transactions in Nigeria occurred at hotels and other merchants in the ‘lodging’ category – the majority originating from cards issued in the UK, USA and South Africa. Commercial cards typically include Visa Corporate and Visa Business cards used by business travellers. “These cards accounted for 23% of the total spend on Visa cards during this period, and the volume grew at 15% compared to the same period from 2010- 2011,” says Ashaye.

As Nigeria continuously adopts these global standards and practices to meet a mounting demand, it is no surprise that this West African powerhouse is rated as one of the fastest growing emerging economies in the world. This proverbial train of opportunity is speeding ahead, so best jump on soon while there are still a few seats left. But don’t be daunted if it’s your first trip. As with many African countries, your approach will often dictate how much value you derive from your visit. As Ashaye says: “Embrace the culture…”

FACT FILE

POPULATION: With 162.5 million citizens spread across 36 states, Nigeria has the largest population in Africa, according to the latest World Bank 2011 statistics. Over the past 50 years, the country’s population has increased by 260%.

TIME ZONE: GMT+1.

BUSINESS HOURS: Business office hours are 08h30-17h00 Mondays to Fridays, while government offices are open weekdays 08h00-16h00.

ELECTRICITY: Three-prong sockets are usually square, British-style

DIALLING CODE: + 234 + area code + number required

CURRENCY: Nigerian Naira – $1= NGN157

GDP GROWTH RATE (2011 est.): 7.3%

LANGUAGE: Nigeria is a juncture of African cultures, visible in its vast linguistic diversity. English is spoken throughout urban areas, and is the official language of business, government and education. Other major languages spoken are Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Fulfulde, Kanuri and Ibibio.

IMPORTANT CITIES: The port city of Lagos is the country’s business hub, with Victoria Island’s high-rise central business district. However, the city’s most distinguishing attribute is the loud, hustling markets attracting masses from afar for wholesale, textiles, technology and a multitude of other commercial purposes. For a burst of culture, Benin City in the southern Edo state has a large bronze and wood carving trade with a number of annual arts festivals. Inland sits the capital Abuja, the political and legislative heart of Nigeria, while Port Harcourt in the wealthy Rivers State is the epicenter of multinational industrial and petroleum industries.

ROADS: The Nigerian road network spans more than 190,000 kilometres, the most extensive in West Africa, with major and minor arteries connecting all the core economic hubs. Roads are generally not well maintained, with the exception of a few places in state capitals and Abuja.

VISAS: All business visa applications and payment of fees must be made through the Nigeria immigrations website at immigration.gov.ng. Documents required for a business visa include:

  • Current Passport (with at least six months validity)
  • Completed visa application form
  • Confirmation of online payment
  • Two passport size pictures
  • Letter of invitation from host company in Nigeria, accepting full immigration and financial responsibility, as well as stating purpose of visit and duration of stay
  • Letter of introduction from applicant’s company or organisation
  • Copy of airline ticket or flight itinerary

 

AIRLINES AND AIRPORTS

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 a couple of hours, depending on the city’s notorious traffic. If possible, only travel with carry-on luggage, as baggage collection can be less than efficient. International and domestic flights also serve Nigeria’s second-largest airport – Abuja’s Nnamdi Azikiwe International. With its proximity to the lucrative oil industry, Port Harcourt International Airport has direct flights to Europe, along with a handful of domestic services. 

Arik Air is West Africa’s largest commercial airline, with a modern fleet. The airline offers daily direct flights between Johannesburg and Lagos, although lie-flat Business Class seats are not currently offered on board the 5½-hour service from South Africa. From Lagos, Arik Air offers an extensive route network within Nigeria and West Africa, as well as onward connections to London and New York.

arikair.com or +27 11 289 8070

South African Airways flies daily from Johannesburg to Lagos, using an Airbus A340 that offers fully-flat beds in Business Class. 

flysaa.com or +27 11 978 5313

ExecuJet manages 150 jets and flies charters to just about any destination in Nigeria where aircraft are able to land. With the country’s extensive airstrips, corporate travellers have the flexibility to fly directly to their business destination. ExecuJet’s permanent bases are located in Cape Town, Johannesburg Lanseria and Lagos Murtala Muhammed International Airport.

execujet.net or +27 11 516 2300 / +27 82 330 7399 (24hrs)

AIRLINES FLYING INTO NIGERIA

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

 

GETTING AROUND

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 (two hours to be safe) to travel to the airport ahead of your return flight, especially in rush hour. If you’re a bit more adventurous, give the Keke Marwa (three-passenger tricycles) and Okada (single passenger motorcycles) a try, although be prepared to hold onto your hat!

“Travellers are advised to travel in cars provided by established organisations, and with evidence of good maintenance. Should they be going hinterland, an SUV is recommended,” says Abiodun Olusanya, Managing Director of Fleet Masters Limited, a franchisee of Europcar. Trusted hire companies have comprehensive insurance packages, but these do not usually cover the passengers, who will have to arrange their own or buy additional insurance. “My take is for the traveller to arrange his or her own insurance,” advises Olusanya. “Advanced payment is required except on account with key clients. Generally, we don’t have complications, because we offer a chauffeur drive service.”

CAR RENTAL BRANCHES – MURTALA MUHAMMED INTERNATIONAL:

Avis avis.com
Europcar europcar.com
Hertz hertz.com
Sixt sixt.com

THE HOTEL SCENE

There’s a large supply of international brands, which are probably the safer bets, as are the six Proteas and the Southern Sun Ikoyi. “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 Trevor Ward, MD of W Hospitality Group.

“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.”

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.”

RECOMMENDED HOTELS

THE WHEATBAKER

Tucked away in residential Ikoyi, and 10 minutes from the central business district, this 5-star boutique-style hotel is one of the newer options in Lagos offering four luxury room selections. It’s a Legacy Hotels & Resorts property. Look out for the comfortable Grillroom Bar which links up with the pool terrace and offers a more intimate alternative for any social or business meeting.

wheatbaker.co.za

SOUTHERN SUN IKOYI

Tasteful and uncomplicated, but above all convenient, are the words used by regular guests to describe this Lagos hotel – a member of the well-known South Africa-based Tsogo Sun. Both leisure and business travellers are accommodated in 195 elegant rooms. Guests have unlimited access to the restaurant, gym and business centre. Take advantage of the free high-speed Wi-Fi access, a range of conference and events venues, or meet with colleagues at the cocktail bar – to catch up on work of course. Look out for the legendary buffet the hotel offers on a Sunday. Well worth a visit.

tsogosunhotels.com

THE FEDERAL PALACE HOTEL & CASINO

With a new casino and pool club, this hotel is perfect if you’re combining business with a bit of holiday downtime. All mandatory luxuries are included along with all-day room service, dry cleaning and chauffeur. Choose from seven boardrooms or a fully-equipped business centre. Alternatively, for a bit of nostalgia, opt to use the same boardroom where Nigeria’s Independence Declaration signing of 1960 took place. This is another property with a great bar area, whilst their pepper soup comes highly recommended, if you don’t mind a bit of spice!
suninternational.com

TRANSCORP HILTON ABUJA

The Hilton brand brings familiar eminence to Abuja’s hospitality scene. Whether hosting a grand conference of 1,200 delegates or seeking a modern corporate base in the city, this hotel steps up to the plate. Entertain clients at a selection of eight restaurants and bars, the casino, or 24-hour Piano Lounge. Transcorp Hilton is 40 minutes from Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport and rather conveniently situated, five minutes’ drive from government ministries. The rooms and suites are all designed in an Art Deco style with views of Abuja’s city life below.

hilton.com

Hotels

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

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