By Andrew Iro Okungbowa
ABUJA, NIGERIA- THE Lack of understanding and not developing the right appetite for exploring the vast riches of tourism has be blamed for the poor state of the industry in Nigeria, so declared the Governor of Cross River State, Senator Liyel Imoke even as he called for a strong federal government support for the industry if the country ever hopes to reap the abundant benefits as other countries does.
Governor Imoke made this disclose at Abuja over the weekend while receiving an award as ‘The Tourism Man of the Year,’ at Abuja Bantaba, a one day travel and tourism trade exhibition organised by the publishers of Africa Travel Quarterly (ATQ) where 100 other Nigerians where honoured and recognised for their different pioneering efforts and contributions to the development of tourism over the last 100 years.
The tourism man of the year who was heralded to the stage by a presentation of what Cross River State tourism offers and colourful performances by the Carnival Calabar troupe, said his presence at the event was not so much as coming to receive award but to create awareness and promote the industry, which he said is in a sorry state because Nigerians totally have lack of understanding of what it is all about and what is it that we as a people offers to the world.
‘‘We as a people lack understanding of the industry and appetite for it, we as a people have to develop our appetite for tourism and until we do so we should not expect anyone from outside to do so for us,’’ said the governor, as he declared that the government and people of Cross River State are very committed and devoted to the tourism industry.
‘‘Working with Ikechi Uko (the organiser of the Abuja Bantaba) and his team has helped us to showcase what we have as a people,’’ he said, adding that ‘‘we have gotten understanding of the industry better and better over the years and that is why we are dedicated to the activities and projects that we have in the state.’’
To reach the expected height, Imoke sued for partnership with the private sector particularly that of the federal government, insisting that if the country and his state, which has taken to tourism as one of the basis for developing its economic, must make headway then the federal government must come out very strongly to support the industry.
‘‘The federal government must have strong support for us and some of the ways of doing this is by looking at it visas and immigration policies so as to create access and easy entry of people into the country,’’ According to him, the only reason why countries like Ghana, Gambia, Kenya and South Africa are making it big in tourism is not because they are better endowed than Nigeria but it is simply because they operate as a nation – state and backed powerfully by their various governments who through the years understood what they stand to gain from the industry.
Therefore, ‘‘Cross River State (Nigeria by extension) can’t compete with these regions and countries and not until the federal government realises this and put the right policies in place to help Cross River State then Cross River State can’t succeed that much,’’ he said Imoke even as he gave assurance that his state would continue to do all that are within its powers to nurture and promote tourism as the basis of the economic growth of the state and its people.
Some of the 100 Nigerians honoured at the event included the former Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah as a Travel Legend, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State as a Aviation Legend, the former governor of old Kano State, the late Audu Bako who was represented by some of his children and the Minister of Land and Housing, Mrs. Akon Etim Eyakenyi.