I sacrificed my Christmas to be at Obudu. I gave up family time to make sure everything worked out well.
I am happy I did. The resort was full to the Limit that chaos was almost erupting at the small restaurant every morning for breakfast. Families everywhere and not enough seats so we have to take turns. But we were among the first to ride the Cable Car since it was re activated.
For the staff who had been idle for a long time this was like being dropped at the deep end. One of the staff looked at me when I asked her to smile and confessed ‘Oga I am really Tired’. She has been standing since morning. They were simply overwhelmed.
Despite the seeming chaos at breakfast I need to commend 3 groups of people for filling up Obudu. I will start with the Tourism 100 Club and Naija7wonders members who ignored all the negative reviews and the hostility from peers to sell Obudu. We promised to fill up the resort by Christmas and we over delivered.
I want to commend Bobby Ekpenyong the Special Assistant (SA) to the Governor of Cross River State on Obudu.
We gave him a list of 25 snags we identified at Obudu when we visited in November and he told me “Ikechi I will surprise you in December. I will implement almost all your demands”. He kept his words. The Cable Car is working, the bed sheets were changed. The buildings were repainted. The Mountain Villas were functional and there was running water. The Waterpark was functional and the meals were warm. Other listed items are in the works.
The most important commendation goes to the Governor Professor Ben Ayade who agreed to reopen the ranch and appointed a capable hand to handle the task. He released money to pay the salaries and arrears for the Staff who are mostly Locals. He approved the funds for the renewal of the Facilities.
Now To The Problems.
Obudu Mountains is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Sometimes in 1952 the colonial masters decided to build a small ranch. That served until Governor Donald Duke decided to upgrade the ranch into a World class resort in 2004/2005.
There is the Governor’s Lodge, the African Huts ,the Mountain Villas and the Presidential Lodge. He installed a Cable Car with 30 Gondolas and built a Waterpark at the foot of the hill. Protea Hotels of South Africa were hired to run the resort. Later African Sun from Zimbabwe took over the hotel business.
After African Sun pulled out the new government felt that the cost of Keeping the hotels open was not sustainable. The hotels stopped somehow. The roads also were bad.
When we started the Naija7wonders Zoom Series in June on where to Visit in Nigeria as part of the Seven Wonders of Nigeria Obudu was Rated as the Number One Destination in Nigeria. So we started to Promote Obudu and the Reactions Started.
I started to receive messages and phone calls from many people surprisingly from indigenes of Cross River State. They were warning me to stop promoting Obudu Ranch as the RANCH IS DEAD. I asked them how the ranch died and I was told the Governor has killed the ranch. So my question is this. Did Governor Ayade demolish the Mountain? Did he landfill the 6 waterfalls at Obudu? Did he bomb the Holy Mountain or Burn up the morning Clouds? The Answers are funny. Mr. Ikechi you don’t understand, we are indigenes. You live in Lagos and always abroad so you are not on the ground. So I invited the SA to Obudu to join the Zoom Conference to answer to the stories. He came on and debunked all the floating stories. After his appearance the criticism increased. “Mr ikechi that man Bobby Ekpenyong is lying to you”. So I decided to visit and arranged a Fam Trip with the support of Remlords Tours and IbomAir. I took 24 operators and media to Obudu. We went through all the facilities and drew up a list of what can be done ASAP. We promised that we will fill up all the rooms available. The hotel was reopened in December 2019 and had to close down in March because of the pandemic so it is barely functional.
People confuse Obudu Mountain with Obudu Resorts. This was caused by the past promoters who promoted the hotel and not the Mountains so when the hotel closed people claimed the ranch is dead. But as a traveller I will still visit Obudu Mountain even if there is no hotel because if I wanted a hotel I can stay at Eko Hotel or Transcorp Hilton. I am in Obudu for the Mountain and not the Hotel.
This little choice of words is the albatross Obudu is carrying.
In the midst of all that negative reviews the real Tour Operators kept arranging tours to Obudu. They made alternative lodging arrangements. Social Prefect Chiamaka Obuekwe and Bolaji Seun kept doing packages. I trusted their reviews more. This was at the time so called SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCERS were running negative commentaries.
When I decided to get involved I ignored any review not done by a Travel Professional. Social media reviews are not for a Professional who knows his Onions. So when people sent me screen shots of reviews, I checked the profile of the writer first then trashed the review. Only travel professionals will know what is wrong I reasoned. And I was right. It is perception and bad management of expectations.
We went to work with travel professionals. We sent them pictures of the rooms. We gave truthful assessment of the facilities and the challenges. We packaged the Christmas tour and sold them very cheap. We sold a 5 day package including return flights for just $300 and $400. This included tours and meals with a night in Calabar.
The result was the packed restaurant on Christmas day. All these were done between November 14th and December 22nd. We still ignored the negative reviews. You don’t go to Mount Kilimanjaro because of the Hotel so you should not be coming to Obudu because of the hotel.
Now to Challenges.
You need to pump water uphill every day and that takes almost all night.
You need diesel to power the generators. There is a generator for the Presidential Lodge. There is a Generator for the Mountain Villas. There is a Generator for the African Huts.
There is a Generator for the Governor’s Lodge. There is a Generator for the Cable Car. There is a Generator for the Waterpark. So power is a problem. We suggested Solar and that is almost ready I am told. There is no National Grid up to 2300 feet high Mountain.
The Old Restaurant is too small for the whole ranch so the new restaurant should be opened. That is also on the cards.
The staff are not fit to type. Honorable Bobby Ekpenyong told me on arrival that he has a challenge in personnel. We saw that the Staff are committed but lack the needed Skill. Training and new blood will change that.
A Project Manager should handle the Non Hotel part while the hotel is run well. We should not continue to sell Obudu as the Hotel. I can choose to stay somewhere else and visit the ranch. Obudu is the Mountain. Non Pareil.
The Big Elephant is the access to the ranch.
Makurdi is 3 hours away by road. Enugu is 4 hours by road. Calabar is 6 hours by road. Obudu is at the end of Nigeria the Border with Cameroon. The Bebi Air strip is not functional now. Please always use a tour operator for your trip to handle the logistics. That will minimize complaints.
We tested the changes and found some gaps. I am leading another tour to Obudu in February and in April. We will help them to keep upgrading. The cheer leader for the project was the Mrs Tourism United Nations 2015 Ebele Enemchukwu .
It is our job to bring the Top attraction in Nigeria up to speed. That should be our benefit from The Covid19 Pandemic. We restarted domestic tourism in Nigeria. Thank you Governor Ayade and Honorable Bobby Ekpenyong for the good work so far. The challenges are still there but we can see the effort at restoration so we commend you.
This project was done in partnership with Geraldine Itoe of Novarosta Travels, Brisk Travels and Remlord Tours supported by Helen of Domina Nostra, Monty Suites Calabar and IbomAir .