Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Another Tourism Revolution in Cross River

Photo: Akon/Facebook
Senegalese American star Akon

Several years ago, Andrew Carnegie, a famous motivational speaker, said "the men who have succeeded are men who have chosen one line and stuck to it." In other words and succinctly put, consistency is key to success.

No doubt,Cross River State under the reigns of its Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke has been unswerving with the promotion of tourism in the 45-year-old State since he assumed office in 2007. Before now though, the sector used to be driven by attitudes that could be qualified as laissez-faire. What was discernible at the time were sights begging to be seen, explored and tapped; and investors waiting to be hugged and given confidence in the tourism sector.

Amidst the new revolution, the culture of the people and tourism have been taken to the next level with yearly introduction of slogans and campaigns in line with global tourism needs.

This year, a new tourism campaign message has been introduced in the State: "CrossRiver:Africa's Warmest Welcome".

According to the State Tourism Consultant, Mr Mike Gendell, the message is not to replace the parent slogan of the State, "Destination Cross River: The Nation's Paradise". Rather, it is to echo and re-echo the commitment of government in tourism. And just tourism-the mainstay of the state economy.

No doubt,CrossRiveris blessed in this regard. Besides carnival, several new yam festivals are held annually across the State. Popular among them are the Leboku- celebrated in Ugep, Yakurr Local Government Area, Ikom Highlife of Ikom, Yala Yayawo Festival of Yala, alongside the Ogoja, Obudu, Boki and Obanliku New Yam celebrations.

The 2012 celebrations attracted corporate sponsorships and high attendance. Organisations explore the opportunities to showcase their existing and new products. Tourists relished the Ikom monoliths, also known as Akwanshi or Atal, among the Ejagham people scattered in over 30 different communities.

The good news, therefore, is that the monoliths, constructed between 2500 BC and 1 AD, were recently added to the World Monuments Funds list of sites in danger and are being reportedly considered for inclusion onto UNESCO's World Heritage Site list.

Few kilometres away is Obudu, where the Ranch Resort is located. The Ranch is 1,576 metres above the sea level. Its climate is temperate and with the longest canopy walkway in the entire globe. The thrill is chiefly for business and leisure .

The Obudu Conference and Leisure Resort has 20 African bungalows and 20 mountain villas providing 60 rooms.

It also boasts of a 250-seat ultra-modern International Convention Centre that can take up to 250 delegates at a time. It is the Presidential Retreat,Nigeria's version ofCamp David.

There is also an Executive Board Room for 30 persons; two Syndicate Rooms for 40 each, plus stylish restaurant, bar and an Internet Service Centre.

Accommodation and meeting spaces at the resort and elsewhere around the State are affordable and are being expanded.

Plans are also underway to grade existing hotels and guests' houses in the State in line with global requirements for the hospitality industry.

However, at the presentation of the tourism campaign message in Calabar, following the one that was held earlier in the month in Lagos, a participant worried that the grading may be politicised and place some hotels as second class, but the State Deputy Governor, Mr Efiok Cobham, who represented the State Governor at the forum allayed his fears.

In his words: "It is all about quality service. Once a hotel owner does the proper thing in terms of standards, sanitation and good reception, visitors would worry less about the grading of a hotel."

This is not the only modification being planned for the State tourism sector. The use of the media-local, national and international- for sustained advertisement of the tourism messages is being proposed as well as the development of the government website to convey the messages- the way government is proposing the establishment of conference centre in Obudu.

The construction project of railways from the Margaret Ekpo International Airport, Calabar to Tinapa Business Resort to convey fun-seekers and investors around Calabar has not been abandoned. The government has assured that the contract would be completed in 2013.

Innovations are also being carried out in the patterns of festivals observed in the State, coupled with music, costumes, crafts and food served visitors. This year's 32-day Calabar Festival promises to be scintillating in all aspects.

Some of its components are the Carnival Calabar, Calabar Carnival Queen pageant, the HIV/AIDS Walk/ Conference, musical concerts featuring local, national and international artistes; cultural fiesta, boat regatta, Christmas Camp for children, Children Carnival, African Food Expo, fashion shows, Film Festival, Carol Night, golf and soccer tournaments and fireworks.

Moreover, the government is also developing eco-tourism through exploration of the varied rainforests in the State- a unique way of expanding the agricultural needs of the people.

Through agriculture, which the government is passionate about, the State can now boast of food security, enhanced households' income and job creation. Investors such as Wilmar Group and Songhai Farms, the latter famous in Benin Republic, are taking advantage of the State temperate climate, general security, cleanliness and rich soil types to do business in the State.

In the area of Sports, government is intensifying sports tourism with the yearly promotion of Obudu Mountain Race, among other contests that investors and tourists are showing interest in.

Abebe Dinkesa, an Ethiopian, won this year's race, while another Ethiopian, Etenesh Dironeda, won the female category.

Each took home a $50,000 prize. Dinkesa, is said to have previously won the 2008 race, which took place at the Obudu Mountain Resort.

For Senator Imoke: "You are always welcome inCrossRiver. We look forward to taking good care of you. Once you have got thatCrossRiverfeeling inside of you, you will never want to leave.

"We are a destination of note and I know that more and more tourists and business visitors will be coming to see us in the near future. Calabar is just one hour's flying time from Lagos to Abuja. So I invite you to explore all of the options and attractions."

Mr. OTEI CHAM, a journalist, wrote from Calabar, Cross River State

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