Behind the façade of half truths told by the foreign media is an opportunity to project Nigeria as a foremost Tourist destination without entirely dissociating her from some challenges. Lanre Odukoya writes
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Commission for Africa Conference held in Calabar, Cross River State recently provided the right platform for Nigeria to host the 53rd session of African Ministers of tourism with no less than 56 African ministers of tourism and 25 top officials of UNWTO in attendance.
Nigeria as host nation wasn't without its own challenges as UNWTO was rumored to have opposed it twice. A tough call it was for Nigeria as it scaled through despite cited instances of insecurity from competing host countries. According to chief Edem Duke, chief host and minister of culture, tourism and national orientation, the decision for Nigeria to host the meeting was taken last year in South Korea during the UNWTO General Assembly meeting. Countries that bided against Nigeria cited insecurity as a challenge but their argument failed to dissuade UNWTO which ratified its earlier decision which awarded the country the hosting rights,' he revealed on a trip to Madrid, Spain last month.
Nigeria hosted the meeting for the second time in six years, with Abuja being the first to do so in 2008. Unlike the previous host city, Calabar, Cross River, presents a beautiful contradiction with its bountiful tourist attraction, capital city enjoying modern infrastructural and cultural attributes and favourable weather conditions.
Guests from far and near graced the convergence of 56 countries of Africa to experience the most beautiful scenery, fashion and art, to hear the best music and taste the most delicious food Nigeria has to offer.
Rich fusion of music, fashion and culture
World acclaimed supermodel, Oluchi Onweagba who recently graced the cover of ID magazine along with top African fashion designers was tere to reveal some of their most recent creations. And Nigeria's pulsating music scene was represented by some of the country's biggest performers with renowned Nigerian actress Genevieve Nnaji also in attendance.
And for the first time, priceless African arts by the masters of the game was on display from the vaults of National Archive, under high security to Calabar where all and sundry were treated to a rare exhibition of the work of old masters plus contemporary arts by Nigeria's best new painters.
Commitments to tourism
In recognition of the current progression of tourism in the country, President Goodluck Jonathan described Nigeria as a land of limitless opportunity for investors, even as he reiterated the commitment of his administration to tourism development and growth.
Also, Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State, while speaking on the commitment of his government to making tourism the focal point of the state's economy, called on the Federal Government to support the sector.
The duo made the pledge at the opening ceremony of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Commission of Africa Conference holding at Tinapa Business Resort, Calabar.
Jonathan, who was represented at the event by the Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, Edem Duke, while expressing gratitude to the UNWTO for granting Nigeria hosting right of the yearly conference, said it had given the country the opportunity to expose its vast and rich potential to the world. He, therefore, called on the people to take advantage of this by exploring the country.
He further disclosed that it was this quest for a more economically viable tourism sector that led to the provision of the national tourism master-plan, which was being implemented currently.
Also, the President disclosed that the dream of Nigeria is to be rated among the 20 top destinations in the world. He listed capacity building, creation of enabling environment and the provision of infrastructure, as some of the things so done by his administration.
While insisting that the private sector remained the engine of growth for the industry, he called on the private sector investors to take full advantage of the various incentives that have been put in place by the government to grow the industry.
UNWTO Secretary General, Mr. Taleb Rifai reiterated, "The UNWTO plays an important role in promoting the development of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism, paying particular attention to the interests of developing countriessuch as Nigeria. We want to ensure that member countries, tourist destinations and businesses maximize the positive economic, social and cultural effects of tourism and fully reap its benefits, while minimizing its negative social and environmental impacts."
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) with 56 member states, based in Madrid, Spain, is an agency dealing with questions relating to tourism and also compiles the World Tourism Rankings.
A significant global body concerned with the collection and collation of statistical information on international tourism, it represents public sector tourism bodies, from most countries in the world and the publication of its data makes possible comparisons of the flow and growth of tourism on a global scale. It is also a member of the United Nations Development Group.
A round peg in a round hole
A man of many parts, Duke, is not a neophyte in tourism-related matters. Its no wonder he was appinted by the President as the minister of culture, tourism and national orientation. He is one of the few that facilitated the framework of tourism in Cross River State.
His accomplishments stand tall, He is the President of the Calabar Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture and was previously the President of the 'The Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria.'
He founded the Cross River Tourism Development Initiative (CRITODIN), a private sector driven tourism coalition and an organisation he has used to re-invent the tourism perspective of many Cross 'Riverians'. He has sponsored tourism and investments initiatives to London, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and the USA in order to promote private sector bi-lateral cooperation in Cross River State and Nigeria. Duke has also opened up collaborative platforms for cooperation with various tourism agencies in South Africa, Ghana, USA, Canada and United Kingdom.
A onetime Group General Manager, Public Affairs Department of the NNPC, Duke has served as the Chairman of the Cross River State/Akwa Ibom Joint Domestic Trade Fair. He created the now popular Acronym AKWA-CROSS.
The minister remarked; "this is a very proud moment for Nigerian tourism, a very proud moment for Nigeria because of the possibilities this meeting has opened up for our economy. We have always been seen as a mono-product economy and this conference with the theme Possibilities for Women and Youths. And when we think of the fact that our youths make up over 60 percent of the entire population of Nigeria and that our women a long history of entrepreneurship and advancement in commerce and trade, but tourism provides a new frontier to galvanize and aggregate the energy of the average youth and the women in Nigeria in fostering a new economic direction.
This comes to key in to the agenda of the President who wants to see tourism mainstreamed into the Nigerian economy and to explore the possibilities to diversify the economy and put bread and butter on the tables of families. So, we are very appreciative of UNWTO finding Nigeria, Calabar to stage this event"