Where it’s At

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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. Richard Holmes explains.

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.

“Nigeria, with its offering of lucrative returns on investment, is deemed a frontier market country, full of possibility,” says Simon Phage, Vice President: Operations Africa for Wings Travel Management.  “Oil and gas and other mineral industries are performing well in this region, and as Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil-producing country, it has seen an increase in investments and business travel to the region.”

Years of military rule and wholesale corruption followed independence from Britain in 1960, but the current era of stable civilian governance under President Goodluck Jonathan appears to be bringing new prosperity to the largest economy in West Africa. 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 eight percent per year.

“Nigeria has been a classic example of the natural resource curse at work in the past, but is beginning to show signs of being able to solve the political economy problem of managing the exploitation of natural resource wealth,” said Citigroup economist Willem Buiter in his recent report on Global Growth Generator countries.

If Nigeria’s leaders “use the natural resource rents to enhance human capital and infrastructure and to encourage private sector enterprise and employment,” wrote Buiter, “the low-hanging fruits of growth are likely to be gathered.”

 And with economic prosperity, comes increased business travel. “There’s definitely been a lot of growth in the Nigerian market,” says Marc de Jager, Global Alliance Manager for corporate travel managers TWF Global. “SAA has grown their flights to a daily service, and Arik Air also offers seven flights a week into Johannesburg. You can also fly via Nairobi with Kenya Airways, which flies to Nigeria eight times per week.”

With a growing economy, business hotels are booming in the commercial capital of Lagos, driven largely by corporate, meeting and conference travel. Just five months after opening in Lagos’ commercial hub of Victoria Island, the new Radisson Blu Anchorage Hotel is often fully-booked, says General Manager John Grieg. “We deal mainly with corporate travel as there is no leisure market in Lagos. We have had to turn away a lot of bookings we could not accommodate. So, from our end, we would say the market is booming!”  

“Lagos is a popular conference destination, particularly for multi-national companies with investments in Nigeria, and for other West African delegates,” agrees Lidia De Atouguia of Sun International, which operates the Federal Palace Hotel in the city.  “Nigeria also offers direct flights to major global cities, including America, unlike other African countries.”

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.

 “If our client is travelling into Lagos we always suggest that they stay on Victoria Island, which is one of the safest areas in the city,” advises De Jager. “We only work with reputable hotel chains that have representation here in South Africa – the likes of Protea Hotels, Sheraton and Crowne Plaza. With those hotels we know they offer good security, and we know our customers aren’t going to be taken for a ride.”

While Lagos is “popular from a corporate business conference and local government perspective,” due to the city’s chronic traffic congestion, travellers should consider the “proximity to where they are doing their business,” suggests Hara Kavallieratos, Corporate Business Development Manager for Legacy Hotels, who adds that travellers must also look at the “safety and security offered by the hotel.”

Street crime is a constant concern in Lagos and Abuja, and outside the major cities kidnapping of foreign workers for ransom is not uncommon. “Self-drive is an absolute no-no in Nigeria,” warns De Jager. “Purely from a security perspective, you don’t want to get lost and end up somewhere you shouldn’t be. We usually recommend that the company or client in Nigeria arrange their ground transportation.”

“We strongly advise our clients to be vigilant when planning transfers in Lagos,” agrees Phage, who suggests that transfers should also be booked through reputable hotels. “We also recommend that the name and number of the chauffer be supplied to the client before arrival, to ensure a confirmed escort.” 

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.

Nigeria Fact File

Population: 155 million – Africa’s most populous country
Time zone: GMT+1, one hour behind South Africa
Plugs: Three-prong sockets are usually square, British-style
Dialling code: +234 + area code + number
Currency: Naira – one naira is divided into 100 kobo
GDP growth rate (2010): 8.4%
Language: English is the official language of business and is spoken widely. Over 400 indigenous languages and dialects are spoken across the country.
Important cities: 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.

Visas 101

Citizens of countries outside the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) need a visa to enter Nigeria. In South Africa, applications can be made at the Nigerian High Commission in Pretoria. Single/multiple entry visas cost R540/R1540, and officially take 10 working days to process. (But, be warned…….see Ed’s Letter hereFirst-time visitors travelling on a South African passport must also pay a R6,000 ‘repatriation fee’. This is refunded – on application – once you return to South Africa, although R350 is deducted for ‘bank charges’. Repatriation and visa fees must be paid electronically prior to application, as no cash is accepted at the High Commission.
nigeriapretoria.org.za or +27 12 342 0805

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 up to an hour, or even more, 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. Return economy fares start at R4255. 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
flysaa.com or +27 11 978 5313

Air Nigeria no longer serves long-haul destinations, but has a comprehensive network of domestic and regional routes. From its Lagos base, Air Nigeria offers regular services to the likes of Abuja, Kano, Sokoto, Port Harcourt and Owerri. Regional destinations include Abidjan, Accra, Banjul, Brazzaville, Cotonou, Dakar, Douala, Libreville and Monrovia.
myairnigeria.com or +234 1 271 1111

Dana Air connects four of Nigeria’s major cities – Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Uyo. They also offer luxury charter services using a Bombardier Learjet.
flydanaair.com or +234 1 280 9992

Travel Tips

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.

Safety 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. Consult your travel doctor three weeks prior to travel.

Business attire in Nigeria is more formal than in other parts of Africa. For men, a dark business suit and tie is standard, while women should err on the side of modesty – avoid short skirts, low-cut tops or anything too revealing.

Where to Stay

Check in at these top business hotels, but remember that – as with much of West Africa – prices are steep at all reputable hotels.

Four Points by Sheraton Lagos
Located just minutes from the Mobil and Chevron offices, this stylish, modern hotel boasts 234 rooms. The on-site spa and wellness centre allows you to wind down after a day of meetings, while the five restaurants offer both local and international options. There’s free Wi-Fi in the lobby (charged for in-room), and a selection of meeting and event facilities.
Oniru Chieftaincy Estate, Lekki Peninsula, Victoria Island, +234 1 448 9444, fourpointslago.com

Protea Hotel Ikeja, Lagos
Set in the quiet suburban streets of the Ikeja government residential area, this new hotel is a respite from the craziness of downtown Lagos. Just 15 minutes from the airport, the 92 upmarket rooms offer complimentary Wi-Fi. There’s a swimming pool and 24-hour fitness centre, along with conference facilities for up to 160 delegates.
42/44 Isaac John Street, GRA, Ikeja, +234 1 448 2000, proteahotels.com

Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos
Despite being situated in the commercial hub of Victoria Island, this resort-style hotel doesn’t feel like it’s in the city. A mix of luxury rooms and apartments – some with sea views – offer mod-cons and free Internet access, along with 24-hour room service. There’s a garden, casino, gym and swimming pool, and the hotel can also arrange a chauffeur service from the airport.
6 – 8 Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, +234 1 277 9000, suninternational.com

Southern Sun Ikoyi, Lagos
Strategically located in the government area of the city, this 195-room hotel is a great option for the business traveller, just five kilometres from the CBD and even closer to Bar Beach. On-site services include Wi-Fi throughout the hotel, fitness centre, free parking, and a state-of-the-art business centre.
47 Alfred Rewane Road (Kingsway Road), Ikoyi, +234 1 280 5200, southernsunikoyi.com

Radisson Blu Anchorage Hotel, Lagos
The ‘new kid on the block’ is nestled along the Lagos Lagoon waterfront, close to the Mega Plaza shopping mall, the consulates and the banking district. This 5-star property offers 170 rooms and suites, complimentary high-speed Internet, three restaurants, fitness centre, four meeting rooms, two boardrooms and views of the lagoon or city.
1A Ozumba Mbadiwe Avenue, Victoria Island, +234 0 708 061 0000, radissonblu.com/hotel-lagos

The Wheatbaker, Lagos
One of the city’s more stylish options, this chic hotel is 5-star on all fronts. The 65 rooms and suites are beautifully furnished, and the on-site Grill Room is perfect for doing deals over dinner. The versatile Rufkatu Room is a popular option for meetings, conferences and events. The only downside is the 35 kilometre journey to the airport.
4 Onitolo Rd (Lawrence Rd), Ikoyi, +234 1 277 3560, legacyhotels.co.za

Transcorp Hilton Abuja
While the décor of this 670-room Abuja landmark is a little dated, it remains one of the best full-service hotels in the capital… at a price. Situated close to government offices, the hotel offers a good selection of dining and event facilities, while after-hours there’s a fitness centre, jogging track and driving range to help you wind down. With a noisy shopping arcade in the same complex, it’s best to ask for a room on the upper floors. Wi-Fi is limited to public areas, and Internet access is expensive.
1 Aguiyi Ironsi Street, Maitama, +234 9 461 3000, hilton.com

Hotel de Bently, Abuja
If you’re watching your bottom line rather than bells and whistles, this mid-range hotel offers great value for its cheap-and-cheerful lodgings. Although spotlessly clean, the 100 rooms are far from luxurious and the bathrooms are in need of a revamp. Regardless, its affordable (for Nigeria) rates and decent accommodation make it the top-rated Abuja hotel on TripAdvisor.
N. Okonjo Iweala Way, Utako, +234 803 970 6606, hoteldebently.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 going the car rental and driver route, the following agencies are recommended:
Avis Nigeria 6 Degema Close, Off Park Lane, Apapa, Lagos, +234 1 764 6442, avisng.com
Europcar Nigeria
Radmad House, 1E Ligali Ayorinde Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, +234 1 850 2624, europcar-nigeria.com
Hertz
Leasing House, 2 C & I Leasing Drive, CBD, Lekki Phase 1, Lagos, +234 1 270 3700, c-ileasing.com

Need a Hand?

Access to Africa is a destination management company (DMC) with a network of agents across the continent. They have an association with an established DMC in Lagos, allowing them to provide a host of services, including:

  • Access to hotels, apartments and other accommodation
  • Facilitation of prepayment
  • Arrival and departure assistance (meeting, luggage, passport control)
  • Airport transfers (with or without security escorts)
  • Transport services (chauffeur drive)
  • Excursions
  • Meeting arrangements
  • 24-hour emergency support