TRANSFORMING THE STATE INTO THE MOST PREFERRED TOURISM DESTINATION HISTORICAL SYNOPSIS By Nsa Asuquo Etim

TRANSFORMING THE STATE INTO THE MOST PREFERRED TOURISM DESTINATION HISTORICAL SYNOPSIS By Nsa Asuquo Etim

January 06
06:16 2021

Nsa Asuquo Etim was born in Akpap Okoyong, Odukpani LGA, and grew up in Calabar and Lagos. He is a Church administrator, serial entrepreneur, tourism enthusiasts, columnist, Leadership expert and a writer.

Educated in PCN Primary School, Akpap Okoyong, Hope Waddel Training Institute and the University of Calabar where he studied History and International Studies with further exposure in media and Leadership from the Lagos Business School and Daystar Leadership Academy.

A growing voice in tourism and hospitality development, His Column “Destination Cross River in the Nigerian Chronicle, the Cross River government sponsored newspaper is specifically dedicated to deepening the hospitality sector in the state and the country respectively. He is adept and well-grounded in the political and historical evolution of the state.

He is founder and CEO of GoodHouse Ltd, an eponymous firm with interests in destination marketing, transport and Logistics and hair and beauty care. He lives in Calabar.

The development of tourism and the hospitality sector in the state predate Nigeria’s independence. Colonial tourism landscape was highly fragmented, unsophisticated, and lacking in investments and inundated and fraught with structural challenges such as lack of accessibility and connectivity, security concerns, poor content and products as well as private sector apathy. The creation of South Eastern State in 1967 brought renewed vigour with investment poured into hotel infrastructure, roads, rebuilding of Obudu cattle ranch and few other landmarks. Clearly, government investments and regulation over the years were inadequate to spur growth, attract the private sector and generate good tourists traffic. By the 1990‘s, declining tourists traffic was indeed the morsel of proof that there was dire need to restructure and overhaul the sector to align with global contemporary industry trends to forestall decline.

INSTITUTING SUSTAINABILITY FRAMEWORK

The hospitality sector is global by nature and is highly dynamic and ideas-centric. Growth in the sector is hinged on sensible regulation, implementation of business friendly policies as well as the development of support infrastructures such as excellent accommodation facilities good and durable roads, clean water, tax incentives, low crime rate, diversity in product offering as well marketing. On December 13, 2003, the state government reconstituted a new look, Cross River State Tourism Board1. The Board was eclectic in composition with members drawn in the main, from the academic, public service, as well as the private sector and headed by late Prof Ekpo Eyo2. The Board was mandated to ensure the sustainable development of tourism in the state as an integrated system involving the establishment of international, national and local tourism. The scope extended to cover the entire gamut of the hospitality spectrum: regulation, inspection and licensing of accommodation facilities, transportation services, dinning and restaurants, creation of exotic contents, as well as developing multi-channel marketing framework for destination Cross River3. The Board was mandated to initiate industry alignment between the private and public sectors and to fully embrace concerns for economic, social and environmental sustainability.

By 2007, the Board succeeded to engineer modest renaissance by transforming destination Cross River into the preferred location for meetings, leisure and holiday. Private sector investment totaled US$1.8bn and government investment was nearly N120bn, spread across road infrastructure urban renewal, airstrip expansion and modernization, cable car project, ranch resort redevelopment and several other landmarks4. Thus government policy and the selection of experienced executive team members with international exposure to implement such policies were responsible for the growth of the sector. By 2015, tourism work force totaled 23,000, surpassing the entire workforce of the state government5.

NEED FOR PRIVATE SECTOR ENGAGEMENT AND LOCAL PARTICIPATION

Sensible government regulations promptly attracted entrepreneurs whose investments were over concentrated in accommodation infrastructure. This led to oversupply of hotel rooms as there were over 41,300 rooms available for tourist in 20126. Basically, there are plenty areas in the sector that is yet to be explored which can generate close to US$2bn per year in income if fully harnessed by the private sector or entrepreneurs. These noticeable gaps are the next growth drivers in the sector.

Native Food & Dinning: Health concerns with rising cases of heart attack, diabetes, stroke and sundry ailments has created sudden demand for healthy food with emphasis on fibre, roughages, vegetables and vitamins rich meals. Our local cuisines are evidently rich as our signature meals of Afang, edikanikon, ekpan nkukwo and sea food if mixed with imagination and locally sourced spices can create a tasty meals and huge demand by tourists. Dr. Michael Pinder, the group general manager of Sun Heaven Hotels and Resorts opined that Nigeria is hugely endowed with a surfeit of food and meals and yet we do not appreciate our meals7.

Religious Tourism: Another gaps waiting to be exploited by entrepreneurs is religious tourism. Cross River State is the headquarters and birth place to many religious organizations including the Presbyterian Church and the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star etc. Every year, thousands of faithfuls poured into the state from all over the world. Aside spiritual fulfillment, many of the adherents may not hesitate to experience the famed African hospitality by participating in local dance, cultural celebrations and the African folklore. Discerning entrepreneurs can package bespoke African entertainment for tourists can smile home with hard currencies.

AFRICAN CRAFTS: It is easier to purchase African crafts on the streets of London, Paris, Madrid and Lisbon than in Africa. There is the dire need of African crafts and mementoes by tourists. Entrepreneurs can exploit such need to create a robust demand by leveraging the social media for marketing.

FAMILY ORIENTED AMUSEMENT PARKS: There is absolute lack of standard amusement parks in Cross River State. France is the world leading destination not because of excellent beaches or Eiffel tower. The greatest traffic driver is Euro Disney land. Entrepreneurs can invest in a mini-zoo, aquarium, cruise ships or Yatch and other facilities that is family oriented. An investor in the hospitality sector in the state once told me that all the tourism facilities in the state is strictly for business travelers. There is a US$2bn annual market in income waiting to be made.

LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE: CROSS RIVER STATE TOURISM LANDSCAPE IN 50 YEARS

An average historian if challenged to predict the future, would gather and use the trends of today for they presage the future. How can I predict the future of tourism in the state without critically examining contemporary trends? Further, I will like to ask few questions. Is tourism taken seriously today as it was in 2005? What is the quality and the state of our roads and environments? Do we have clean, tasteless and odourless water flowing from our public taps? How many flights takes-off from the Margaret Ekpo International airport daily? What is the quality of ideas, vision and plans driving destination Cross River today? Do we have proactive, robust and aggressive marketing plans for destination Cross River? How safe is our streets today? And how many tourists do we welcome to the state currently? Your candid and objective assessment constitutes the basis of the sectors growth or lack of it in the near term. To succeed, the current framers of the state’s tourism plans must come to grasp with the fact that the shortest way to success in implementing specific vision is to summon the services of a talented, competitive and creative team with the knack for proactiveness that is totally free of clannish sentiments and political cleavages. Such is the superstructure.

Assuming current trends are altered with a robust vision and annual government investment around N30bn into the sector for the next 20 years, destination Cross River could without doubt, stand out, employing nearly 500,000 workforces, and generating nearly US$10bn per annum to the coffers of the state government and attracting nearly 15 million tourists per year. Overcoming structural impediments by visionary, practical and ideas-centric Tourism Board is key to unlocking the potentials of the future. The tourism sector can become US$30bn sector by 2067 with the implementation of the right vision and plans.

Such governments investments must be on durable roads, improvement and beautification of the environments, improved security, regulation of private investments into world-class shoping space, iconic global hotels brands, integrated and sophisticated transport system, multiple products development, incentives for meetings and a very aggressive global marketing in identified source markets across Europe, African, Asia, Australia and the Americas. Private sector must be encourage to invest in culture, amusement parks and facilities, entertainment, packaged tours, health care, education, native cuisines, waterfront hotel facilities as well as sports. Nearly 30 proven products that can attract tourists can be developed from such areas. Communities can be encouraged to invest in tourism also.

To guarantee sustainability, government must also invest and built strong democratic institutions, improve the ease of doing business in the state, provide uninterrupted power supply, review its tax ecosystem, invest in education as well as promote peace and hospitality. Such plans are capable of attracting private investment which are the major drivers of any economy.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1.       Nsa Asuquo: Still some Grounds to Cover (Nigerian Chronicle) Wednesday January 13 – 19, 2016. Pp 13.

2.       Nsa Asuquo & Ukene Daniel: Cross River Through the Lens of History, unpublished.

3.       Nsa Asuquo & Ukene Daniel: Cross River Through the Lens of History, unpublished.

4.       Nsa Asuquo & Ukene Daniel: Cross River Through the Lens of History, unpublished.

5.       Nsa Asuquo: Tourism, hospitality and Ayade’s stewardship (Nigeria Chronicle. Wednesday, June 29th – July 5th, 2016 pp 13

6.       Nsa Asuquo: Tourism, hospitality and Ayade’s stewardship (Nigeria Chronicle. Wednesday, June 29th – July 5th, 2016.

7.       Dr. Michael Pinder: Nigerian’s Don’t Appreciate Their Own Food (Sunday Telegraph), November 21, 2015. Pp 40.

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