The meaning of Bantaba, a Malinga word for ‘meeting’ came to the fore last Friday, 25th April when it celebrated Nigeria’s centenary at Ladi Kwali Hall, Sheraton Hotels, Abuja. It also marked the award ceremony that honoured 100 personalities who had in their chosen careers, developed the tourism industry. The award recognised different categories of awardees, from the Legend of travels that went to both living and dead pioneers in tourism development and promotion in Nigeria – late CPL Audu Bako and Goodie Ibru – to fore-runners in the industry such as Governor Lyel Imoke, Minister of Land, Housing and Urban development Mrs Akon Etim Eyakenyi, former minister of Aviation, and Princess Stella Oduah among others.
Abuja Bantaba was launched in 2011 by the organisers of the travel expo in Africa, Akwaaba African Travel Market (AfTM) to promote and showcase the tourism, travel and allied business of the continent’s rich potentials to the world. In its fourth edition, which coincided with the centenary celebration of Nigeria, it brought courage, hope and aspirations to genuine stakeholders who saw reasons for domestic tourism as not only a must to be promoted, but also developed and sustained for the economic relevance of the tourism industry and players. The event went further to add spice to its usual decorum of long hours of speed-dating and B2B structure to a strategic-free-for-all presentation time limit to double the intensity each travel, hospitality allied business sellers to potential buyers and trip advisers and vendors. With newer features that added value to the centenary edition, the speed-dating arena was on hand with different travel and tourism representatives dishing out first class information and updates of brand products and services ditto new destinations added to their list of offers.
Imoke came with the winner of the 2013 Carnival Calabar band, Masta Blasta that spiced up the night with their presentation. In addition, the Governor of Delta State was represented by a delegation led by the Commissioner for Information Chike Ogeah. All exhibitors were given their time on stage to talk about their products thereby enlightening the audience more. Imoke, who gave the audience a spice of the Carnival Calabar said, “being here is about the industry, about commitment to the industry. We need to understand that for this industry to grow, we need to understand and appreciate what we have and nurture them. We need to showcase our country even if we have beautiful people and country. It’s amazing we have 170 million people and we don’t have the numbers of what is happening to tourism. Today we have several flights going into Accra but we don’t have the same number coming into Lagos or Cross River State. For us in Cross River state, we are committed to the tourism industry and we are far from a one-product (Calabar Carnival) state. You find out more people come for conferences and meetings in Calabar and when they leave, they come back with their families and friends to enjoy more of what we have to offer. For us, we are the third leading destination after Lagos and Abuja. Opportunities in the industry are tremendous. Those of you who are passionate about it must continue to keep the passion despite the challenges because our tourism industry needs a strong Federal Government practical policy and structure to support the genuine commitment of state with good tourism initiative and brand destination.’
While appreciating the effort of the organiser of Bantaba and his team at giving tourism a preference in the scheme of things, Imoke said, “Cross River State is in the forefront of making tourism a mainstay and driver of the state’s economy. Having travelled out of Nigeria and seen the way people troupe out to countries that have less than one-third of our tourism potential, baffled me, but I later found that their governments gave them a strong support in terms of policies, structures, marketing edge and promotion.” Playing the market square for Africa tourism platform, Bantaba as a Nigeria’s only B2B forum was said to be a springboard for not only Nigeria market to thrive, but also to boost and showcase Africa’s rich tourism potentialities for economic gains. The personality and pioneer award went to Goodie Ibru, former Director-General, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, Capt. Chinyere Kalu, Chris Azu Aligbe, Wale Ojo-Lanre, Ahmed Ojuolape, Mohammed Sheriff, Nkereuwen Onung, Alhaji Aminu Agoha, Munzali Dantata, Alhaji Adebayo Salami, Mandy Ugwu, Kenneth Oudah, Chinedu Eze among others. In his opening remarks, the organiser of Abuja Bantaba and Publisher of ATQ magazine, Mr Ikechi Uko, commended all and sundry for making the event, which he described as a patriotic gathering to encourage and celebrate pioneers in the tourism industry a success.
According to Uko, “We are here today for the centenary edition of Bantaba and in Abuja, I give credit to two airlines; South African Airways and Emirate Airline because they felt there is a need for them to have offers for people in the Federal Capital Territory to ease travellers’ of pressure. Uko who said this year’s Bantaba was different, commended the Governors of Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Ekiti states and others who have continued to build sustainable platform for tourism to thrive. He acknowledged the private sector players who happened to be the major drivers of the industry, commending them for their contributions and investments to promote and sustain practical tourism in Nigeria. “The tourism industry, which was initially pronounced as the preferred sector of the economy has become an orphan struggling to survive. NANTA generated 2.4 billion for airlines in 2013. This is an industry to be taken seriously. “Tourism from record, has played pivotal role in most economies of the world and if it collapses, the economy suffers. Therefore, in our little way, we are recognising those forgotten pioneers who have given tourism a practical platform,” he said. Uko, however commended the NANTA, NATOP and HOFA for their strong support for the tourism industry as they have played sensitive roles attracting investors to Nigeria through their activities.
Eyakenyi said: “Tourism is the life wire of every economy, especially the transport, travels and the hospitality sector because without it, things would be difficult to thrive in any economy. It was in my tenure that Le Meridien Ibom was given birth to, placing Akwa Ibom State on the map of Destination states in Nigeria, especially with other amenities needed for tourism to thrive now readily available from good road network to friendly and amiable hosts.”