Q&A: Primed to Capitalise

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The Hogg Robinson Group is one of the big players on the international travel management scene, with approximately 30 African partners – from Angola through to Zimbabwe, and including Nigeria and South Africa. Lola Adefope is the General Manager of HRG Nigeria, and she took time to answer some questions on Nigeria as a business travel destination.

Q: How would you describe the current business travel market into and out of Nigeria?
A:
Business travel had previously been dominated by trips exiting Nigeria, in the direction of markets such as the US and Europe. Any inbound business travel was short stay and specific. Inbound traveller patterns have since shifted, with an increase in the duration of time spent in the country, and more long-term accommodation has become available in the market, as well as meeting rooms and rentable office space. The volume of inbound corporate travel has definitely increased dramatically over the past five or so years.

Q: What are your thoughts on the hotels available to corporate travellers travelling to Lagos?
A:
Lagos and its surroundings is home to about 60% of Nigeria’s industrial base. Hotels in Lagos have been able to capitalise on the growth in this business trade in particular, as inbound tourism is still not yet a market driver. In the past year there has been increased competition within the market place, shifting this slightly from a seller’s market to a supplier’s, competing for room nights. The advent of African hospitality chains and more recently the introduction of global accommodation brands into the market have pushed up the quality of rooms and additional services being offered to guests. These chains recognise the presence of global companies within the market and position their brands accordingly, offering globally-negotiated rates and long-term housing/ transient rooming, reflecting the key business they wish to attract.

Q: Likewise, what is the Murtala Muhammed International Airport experience currently like?
A:
MMIA is slowly improving. New queuing systems have eased the congestion after the point of check-in, and additional luggage carousels have lessened the initial shock experienced by first time arrivals. The bathrooms are cleaner and the authorities are better briefed. However, there is still a lot more that urgently requires attention. Expansion plans are underway, but many feel this is a decade late and needs to be larger in scope. Lagos needs a world class airport.

Q: In your experience, how is the move towards a ‘cashless’ society in Nigeria going?
A:
Nigeria had always been the nation where “cash is king”. And now it isn’t. It is of course the most dominant payment method, particularly outside of major cities. But, following the Central Bank of Nigeria’s mandate limiting the amount of cash that can be withdrawn from banks, a much greater emphasis has been placed on electronic banking. Luckily, this has come at a time when online security and Internet banking in Nigeria have come on in leaps and bounds, and much of the scepticism that once met electronic trade is being dispersed. More and more point-of-sale terminals have become available at most commerce outlets, including hotels, restaurants and corner stores. Many banks have realised that in order to capture the corporate accounts they all vie for, they must have accurate customer friendly online banking solutions that operate in real time. Without this, they cannot compete. The market is expanding, although certain card companies such as Diners Club and American Express cards still cannot be processed. Facilities are available to Visa, MasterCard and Verve users who currently dominate the market.

Q: Has there been any discernable change in the business travel market, since the announcement that Nigeria now has the biggest economy in Africa?
A:
There is an air of excited expectation, as the entire business travel market prepares itself for the actuality of what this means. In spite of the security challenges, foreign investment interest in Nigeria is constantly increasing, and this alone is galvanising the inbound volumes and uplifting the industry. Of course there are sceptics, but many people are looking forward to seeing how this announcement creates a positive ripple that affects the entire nation.

Q: What would your advice be to someone travelling on business to Nigeria for the first time?
A:
Be organised. Make sure you arrive with the relevant paperwork (including yellow fever certificate), as this will be checked on arrival. Also, arrive with an open mind – the global media, along with Nigeria’s own reputation, has left the world with a particular image. Don’t engage in activities that you wouldn’t necessarily engage with at home, or take undue risks. The average Nigerian is very friendly, curious and fun, and we can’t wait to welcome visitors.