July 04, (THEWILL) – Governor Emmanuel Udom of Akwa Ibom has advised tourism stakeholders to device new methods that would make the country’s tourism industry attractive and economically beneficial.
Speaking during the two-day meeting of Nigerian Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), Udom lamented the dwindling fortunes of the tourism sector despite its vast potentials in Nigeria.
The AGM with theme “Restarting Tourism in Nigeria: A New Template” Udom, however, applauded new level of commitment and zeal demonstrated in recent times by the tour operators and other stakeholders in promoting tourism saying if sustained, it could generate huge revenue for both practitioners and the government.
According to him, Akwa Ibom State is blessed with many cuisines and natural tourist sites, including the residence of Mary Slessor, the Blue River, the longest coastline in Nigeria, while the annual Christmas Carole and Christmas Village have become major events in the calendars of lovers of tourism.
He pledged the assistance and partnership of the state government to NATOP but urged them to adopt measures that would project their services and attract goodwill to the country.
In a keynote speech, an oil magnet, Mr Akanimo Udofia, said with improved commitment and institutional attention, tourism could generate more than crude oil and gas for the country. Udofia added that many countries not blessed with natural resources had thrived and prospered through tourism.
He stated: “You will be pleased to hear that a country like Thailand, which is a developing country, ranks as the fourth highest earner for tourism in the world, earning a whopping $60 billion a year.”
At the event, a former Minister of Tourism in Ghana, Mrs. Catherine Afeku, urged Akwa Ibom Government to utilise the opportunity of the Bridge of No Return to welcome back descendants of Nigeria lost to the Atlantic Slave Trade.
Afeku urged government and practitioners to focus on domestic tourism, lobby for tourism incentives, adopt a policy of Right of Abode for relatives in the diaspora, repackage tourism sites, and patronise Made in Nigeria products and services.
The Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Tourism, Mr. Orman Esin, applauded NATOP for choosing Akwa Ibom and expressed hope that the conference would usher a new partnership between the state and tour operators.
Esin pointed out that the state had pioneered several aspects of tourism in Nigeria, being home to the earliest missionaries.
National President of NATOP Hajia Bilkisu Abdul paid tribute to NATOP’s former president, Mrs. Fatima Garbati. But Abdul regretted the loss of revenue in the tourism sector occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. She said, however, that the tour business had gradually returned, with Akwa Ibom being one of the star destinations for tour operators.
“As we begin to breath back life into tourism, insecurity and high airline tickets prices became a big problem.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Mrs. Ifeoma Anyanwutaku. Mohammed urged NATOP to work towards restoring the damaged tourism reputation of the country and urged them to increase international partnerships while adopting international best practices for networking.
The minister called for increased participation from the private sector while urging stakeholders to work towards packaging the country’s investment and tourism potential by repositioning the image of the country.
Chairman, NATOP Board of Trustees and Acting President of FTAN, Nkeruwem Onung, canvassed for a separate ministry in order to exploit and develop the full tourism potential of Nigeria.
Mr. Ikechi Uko, the Organiser, Akwaaba African Travel Market, in his remark listed “leisure, religion, visiting friends and relatives, trade and business as some of the major drivers of international outbound travel and tourism in the country.”
Statistics provided by Uko indicated that at least 559,430 passengers travelled out of Nigeria in 2019 to various countries.
According to him, 29 per cent of these travellers went to Dubai, while others travelled to London and other parts of the world.