Lagos is the commercial capital of Nigeria, and is a bustling, densely populated metropolis. Traveling across Lagos can be very challenging given the frenzied environment of the airport, inadequate infrastructure that doesn’t keep up with the current surge in business tourism, and quite importantly, the safety and security concerns one must be mindful of when traveling to the west African city. Furthermore, because a good portion of business travel is dominated by international oil company executives and staff, prices for hotels, meals, internal flights etc. are at a level fit for multinational oil companies.
The Wheatbaker is a one of the newest luxury boutique five-star hotels in Lagos. The hotel features a business center, conferencing for up to 200 delegates, and provides wireless internet access to guests. Additionally, the Wheatbaker offers airport shuttle and car rental services on request, which is extremely necessary when traveling to Lagos. There are many dining options, which include a restaurant, two bars, a delicatessen, as well as 24-hour room service. The hotel also has a fitness center and world-class spa, along with laundry services and a doctor on call.
The Southern Sun Ikoyi is one of the new five-star hotels in Lagos that should be on every business traveler’s list of preferred hotels. The business center is good, though slightly small considering the size of the hotel. The business center offers a full range of services including a number of onsite meeting areas. Importantly, complimentary Internet connectivity is stable and fast throughout the hotel. The hotel also offers fine dining at its restaurants, 24-hour room service, as well as a 24-hour fitness center.
The Federal Palace Hotel & Casino is a recently renovated, five-star hotel overlooking the beach. It offers the full range of expected five-star business class hotel services. The rooms include a kitchenette, which seems to be a legacy from the previous property users because not many business travelers today use them. The hotel hosts a business center, with full business service amenities, as well as boardrooms for meetings. Additionally, the Federal Palace Hotel offers guests assistance with organizing transfers, as well as local transport. The rooms are Internet accessible and room service is available 24 hours. The hotel gym is brand new and open 24 hours a day, with luxuries ranging from flat screens televisions to Wii-Fit.
The Radisson Blu Anchorage Hotel is an exceptional five-star business hotel that is managed by an international chain. This modern and trendy hotel is located directly on the water. The lobby is one of the see and be seen places among business professionals in Lagos. The hotel offers a business executive lounge as well as fully equipped conference rooms. Complimentary wireless Internet access is available throughout the entire hotel. Though there is no 24-hour room service, the three hotel restaurants offer a great variety, and are great for business meetings. Guests also have access to a fitness center, as well as 24-hour concierge services.
Lagos is perhaps the most intimidating airport we have ever flown into. Getting through the airport is likely to be the most stressful experience you will have during your visit to Lagos. Be extremely careful about who collects you. Do not arrive in Lagos without your airport transfer arranged in advance. This is one airport where there is no trusted taxi queue or any other officially sanctioned shuttle service so make arrangements with your hotel or hosts. Ask them in advance for the cell phone number of the person who is to collect you. Before you depart the airport with the person who represents that he is there to collect you, dial his phone number from your cell phone, and make sure that he answers it.
Getting around Lagos is difficult. The roads are congested and signage is poor or non-existent. Don’t even think about driving yourself. We recommend hiring a car and driver for the duration of your stay in Lagos. It may be pricey, but you will thank us for the suggestion.
While all of the hotels listed above indicate that they take credit cards, do not be surprised if using your credit card to settle your bill becomes a 30-minute mission, even at the best of hotels – it has happened to us more than once.
American Express is still not widely accepted in Nigeria, and we would recommend that you travel with a Visa or Mastercard.
Because many international credit card processors block transactions from Nigeria, it is best to advise your credit card company before you travel that you will be in Nigeria.
You will want to take more cash to Nigeria than you would were you traveling elsewhere. While the government has announced an aspiration to move to a cashless economy, the country is not there yet, and many transactions in restaurants, shops, taxis, hotels, etc. are still conducted in cash.
Hard currencies, like US dollars, euros and pounds are widely accepted. For a short business trip that lasts just a few days, we get away with not changing currency to the local naira. Instead, we travel with about 50 $1 bills, about 10 $5 bills, about 10 $10 bills, etc. We use these to pay for taxis, tips, etc. Most people are happy to accept US dollars. You will want to have exact change because you are not likely to get change in dollars, and hence we like to have the exact amount at the ready.
While there are a good number of ATMs available from the wide range of well-respected banks in Nigeria, we prefer to stay away from putting our bank cards in local ATMs. Fraud is still a problem in the west African country, and we would prefer to avoid any problems by keeping our debit cards in our wallets. We may get flack for saying that, but, we are just trying to be real with Africa.com’s users by telling you what we do and don’t do on our business travel throughout the continent.
The major cell phone operators in Nigeria are MTN, Glo, Etisalat, and Airtel. We recommend all four for your local calling needs.
When traveling in most major cities in Africa, Lagos included, you have a choice of a) using your cell phone and phone number from home and making roaming calls or b) buying a local SIM card, thus operating with a local number, charging it with airtime locally. The difference in price is huge.
For international calls to the US, Europe, etc., we highly recommend using Skype or Google voice. You should set up these accounts before you leave home. If, for example, you are in a hotel with free wifi, a Skype account that has been set up for unlimited calls to US phone numbers for a flat $4 month, will allow you to dial any number in the US with unlimited talk time. This is the best way to stay in touch with people in the US, Europe, South Africa, etc.
Mobile telephony is highly sophisticated in Nigeria, and many people you will come in contact with, from your taxi driver, to those with whom you are meeting for business, will expect you to have a Nigerian phone number. For local calls, we recommend purchasing an inexpensive cell phone that is “unlocked” before you leave home (or using an old cell phone that you no longer use). Unlocked means that the phone can take a SIM card from any carrier. If you have a US or European phone that is locked (i.e., tied to a carrier), you can ask the carrier to “unlock” it. Alternatively, there are any number of websites that for a small fee of under $10, will provide you with specific instructions on how to “unlock” your cell phone. Simply Google the words “unlock cell phone” and you will find a large number of choices.
When you arrive in Lagos, you will be able to purchase a SIM card 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. At the same time you purchase your SIM card, you can buy a scratch card that will allow you to load your card with a certain monetary value of talk time. With phone in hand, you can now call ahead to confirm your business meetings, use the phone to call your taxi driver to collect you at the end of your business meetings, follow up with those you are meeting for business etc.
Is it safe to travel there?
Africa.com’s editors travel to and from Nigeria frequently.
We find that the most informed, level headed, comprehensive and up to date information on travel safety to Africa is that published by the British government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We advise business travelers to check their website frequently to get a sense of evolving dynamics in the country. Click HERE for a link to their Nigeria travel advice.
Another useful source for assessing safety and security is the Ibrahim Index, founded by Sudanese businessman Mo Ibrahim. The Ibrahim Index ranks African countries relative to one another, and ranks Nigeria’s personal safety as 51 out of 52 countries, in other words, 1 up from the bottom of the list. You’ll find more information on the Ibrahim Index score for Nigeria HERE.
The official is English, and most people, including cab drivers, hotel staff, etc. speak English.
Business attire in Nigeria is formal, as it often indicative of relative importance. Unless your business meetings are in a sector that has a clear informal dress policy, like the internet industry, expect your male counterparts to wear a suit and tie, or traditional attire which is generally considered to be formal, and a corresponding level of formality for women.
As a sign of respect, when meeting someone in business for the first time, and a handshake is anticipated, you should wait for your host to offer his or her hand first. To make sure that the other party knows that you are showing respect, and aren’t just “slow,” you can hold your hands behind your back until a hand is extended to you, and only then bring your arms around front for the handshake.
Should you want to be especially polite when meeting someone very important and/or older than yourself, a brief bowing of the head (akin to a nod) will go a long way in showing respect.
Do not assume that you can call the other person by their first name. If unsure, use Mr or Mrs (and if they are a Dr, by all means use that). Continue with that title until given permission or asked to use the first name.
Nigeria uses type D (“Old British plug” with three round, large pins in a triangular formation) and type G (British three-pin rectangular blade plug, also known as the 13-amp plug) electrical outlets. Electrical outlet: voltage: 240 V, frequency: 50Hz.
Additional reporting by Dexter Padayachee