WHILE Nigeria marks the centenary of her existence as single entity, the tourism industry also had cause to also look back at the last 100 years of tourism in the country and honour individuals who had made contributions to the development of the industry. This happened towards the end of last month during the 2014 edition of Bantaba, Nigeria’s foremost speed dating event held annually in Abuja. The CEO of the organizing company, Mr. Ikechi Uko, explained the tremendous growth of tourism in Nigeria and the reason for putting together the awards for top tourism personalities: “Since the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914, one of the pillars of integration and growth of the country was the transport system built initially on the back of the North –South rail network which now includes road, air, riverine and pipeline movement. “The modern Nigeria is built on an integrated transport system that carries millions of people around the country which includes over 14 million air travellers through 22 official airports. Aviation was the last to join the rail, road and river travel in Nigeria.
“Today, Nigeria is one of the fastest growing hospitality hotspots in the world, and with a huge travelling public and aviation profile with its travel agents generating over $1.25b in a year. With transformation in progress, it is expected that the future of travel business in Nigeria is bright. “It is against this backdrop that the organizers of Abuja Bantaba announced its plans to honour certain individuals as well as companies in the tourism and travel business in Nigeria in line with Nigeria’s celebration of her 100 years together as one entity. The centenary of Nigeria comes with different landmark celebrations and for the tourism sector and players, the stage is set to roll out drums not only to assess and celebrate achievements, but also to encourage icons whose efforts are indelible at bringing tourism promotion to the limelight.” The Bantaba 2014 unveiled 100 personalities who had contributed to the industry in the last 100 years. The event began with the speed dating. It is to show the resilience of tourism that even in the cloud insecurity that has enveloped the Abuja after the first Nyanya bomb blast, travel companies from within and outside the country made it to the event. It was an opportunity for networking and brisk business.
It was after the speed dating that the award ceremony started. Among top recipients were the former Governor of Kano State, Police Commissioner Audu Bako, who put together some of the top tourism assets currently in Kano State like the Tiga Dam and many other tourism assets of the state. Other recipients included the former aviation minister, Princess Stella Oduah. She was honoured as a Legend of Travel in Nigeria. Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan was honoured as the Aviation Governor of the Year and Governor Liyel Imoke as Tourism Man of the Year. The New Minister of Land, Housing and Urban Development, Mrs Akon Eyakenyi, who was the Commissioner for Tourism in Akwa Ibom State was also honoured. Governor Liyel Imoke, on coming to office, consolidated the profile of Cross River State as Nigeria’s only tourist destination. He improved the content of the annual Calabar Carnival and succeeded in moving the carnival to the next level. He is currently building an international conference centre that would be conferencing to the already established leisure market. Commenting, event organiser and publisher of ATQ magazine, Ikechi Uko, thanked stakeholders for joining hands to make the event, which he said was a patriotic gathering, to encourage and celebrate pioneers in the tourism industry a success.
Uko said: “We are here today for the centenary edition of Bantaba. I give credit to two airlines, South African Airways and Emirate Airline, because they felt there was a need for them to have offers for people in the Federal Capital Territory to ease travellers of pressure.” Uko said this year’s Bantaba was different, commending governors of Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Ekiti states and others who have continued to build a sustainable platform for tourism to thrive. He acknowledged the private sector players who are major drivers of the industry, commending them for their contribution and investment 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. “Tourism from records 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,” Uko said. Minister of Land, Housing and Urban Development, Mrs Akon Etim 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.
“In this regard, I will say tourism is not an orphan, but what is required of us is to face the promotion and development of tourism squarely.”
The minister commended Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Dr Godswill Akpabio, for putting platforms in place to promote tourism, thereby encouraging others. Governor of Cross River State , Senator Imoke, who gave the audience a spice of the Carnival Calabar, said the tourism industry needed 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 organisers, Senator Imoke said Cross River State is in the forefront of making tourism the mainstay and driver of the state’s economy. “Having travelled out of Nigeria and seen the way people troop out to countries that have less than one-third of our tourism potential, it baffled me, but I later found that their governments gave them a strong support in teams of policies, structures, marketing edge and promotion. “However, we have what can make the world turn to Nigeria, if we get the same measure of attention nations that are enjoying tourism got from their governments,” he added.