Bayelsa positions destination with WTD 2013 celebrations

Posted: October 14, 2013 in travel & tourism

nigeriaWorldwide, every September 27 is set aside annually to mark the World Tourism Day (WTD) as established in 1980 by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) of which Nigeria is a member. The event provides a platform to create global awareness of the role of tourism and demonstrate how it affects social, cultural, political and economic values worldwide.

This year marked the 36th edition of WTD with the theme: ‘Tourism and Water: Protecting our Future’ and United Nations chose the city of Maldives for this year’s celebration while in Nigeria, the Federal Government chose Yenagoa, the capital city of Bayelsa state to host the annual event.

The choice of Bayelsa was born out of the conviction that the state is truly the tourism hub of the Niger Delta, as till date, the state still have the relics of the European adventure in the land.

Some of the tourist attractions in the state include the Atlantic slave trade in Akassa, white men grave yard in Twon Brass, in Brass local government area of the state and other artefacts and monuments across the state which are now tourist’s attractions to behold.

There are other places of tourist attractions which include, Ox Bow Lake, the venue of the WTD celebration, Peace Park, Agge Beach and the Okao beach which are capable of generating employment as well as wealth creation for the teeming youths in the state.

This underscores the role of the tourism sector in the broader context of the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation. The essence of the theme was to stimulate awareness on the importance of sustainable water future, by spreading the good news of how clean and readily accessible fresh water can be one of tourism’s most precious resources.

This year’s event also highlighted the fact that tourism has the capacity to provide environmental solution and the political support for the conservation and sustainable use of fresh water.

Bayelsa State can be said to be witnessing a paradigm shift as the celebration was the first to be hosted in the state after the crowded events such as the just concluded National Festival of Arts (NAFEST) hosted by Bayelsa state government through the Ministry of Culture and Ijaw National Affairs, the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria pageant among others.

Consistent with the restoration policy of the state’s present administration, the state is poised to develop and promote tourism potentials as she also took the advantage of the celebration to showcase to the world her tourism sites and its rich cultural heritage.

The purpose of celebrating the event in the state was to promote Bayelsa’s tourism potential as well as to open her vast tourism resources to the outside world. With the just concluded celebration, the state has opened opportunities to attract investors to invest in the state’s tourism sector such as hotels, promote her as a safe destination for tourists; create awareness locally, nationally and internationally about the state as well as provide a platform for Bayelsa tourism operators to interact with their counterparts from other states among other benefits.

In the opinion of the minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke, a thematic consideration of this year’s celebration is quiet timely as tourism which is major dependant on water needs to assume leadership role in advocating that governments, companies and destinations invest in adequate water management throughout the value chain.

He urged Ministerial Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and the private sector that have direct linkages with tourism to begin to create the opportunities for the development of water based infrastructures to give tourism the necessary boost it deserves.

“Government’s recognition of this all important aspect of tourism, based on the 2013 theme, is indicative of the fact that if we could fully utilise our surface water for tourism, it will adequately create opportunities for individuals, micro, small and family-size enterprises to develop and market products that could be produced within their localities for the employment generation, wealth creation and poverty alleviation and contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of nations”, he said.

Duke said it was equally instructive to draw attention to the cultural input of the riverine states in Nigeria, Bayelsa state in particular which has developed a water festival that could be proudly refer to as a ‘Fascinating Boat Regatta’.

Remarking, the Baylesa State governor, Henry Seriake Dickson said the state accepted the challenge to host the WTD with a short notice because they have the infrastructure and facilities on ground to host any such international events.

Bayelsa he noted, has become a preferred destination for national and international conferences because of the availability of first class facilities and the sustained peace and security in the state.

The theme of the event he said is geared towards creating the awareness on the need for sustainable clean water, its accessibility in the present and in the future for all mankind.

Governor Dickson who was represented at the event by the Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John-Jonah (RTD) said as a state, they have taken a content analysis of what the state have adding that they are presently talking with partners to see how the state can provide freshwater to all residents in the state.

He disclosed that there is a wind of improvement from the talks particularly the partnership with the federal government, disclosing that the Otueke water project is in advanced stage and when completed, would provide water to neighbouring communities just as the N5 billion naira water project earmarked for the state by the federal government.

The efforts the governor said would impact on the water need of the state and her people. He also called on other international donor agencies to partner with government and provide clean drinking water for the people and boosting their health condition.

In the words of the governor, “water and tourism are inter-related. Tourists flow mainly to locations where there is water all over the world. In Bayelsa state, we have quite a number of fishing festivals which are directly related to water. The Odom and Amassoma Seighein fishing festivals clearly exemplify this claim and they are major delight to tourists. We also have other water related cultural festivals such as boat regattas, rivers cruises, water parks and boat clubs among others.

“These tourists’ attractions are major sources of income which can shore-up our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). We are also conscious of our challenges especially in the area of water pollution as a result of crude oil exploration by multi-national companies operating in our communities. I wish to appeal to the authorities concerned to join hands with government in enhancing water conservation in our society for the socio-economic benefits of our people”, he said.

The governor said the state have evolved a policy framework to make Bayelsa state a priceless tourism destination through the Bayelsa State Tourism Development Agency. He added that, apart from the state’s determination in ensuring peace, security and stability which are the catalysts for attracting tourists into the state, the state government have also diversified her economy from a largely dependent oil-based economy to corporate business in the field of tourism.

Mr Dickson said “our administration is poised to building an economy that would take advantage of the state’s extractive capability while also developing infrastructure that would enable the citizens take active part in the sector”.

Earlier, Director General of the nation’s flagship tourism agency, the Nigerian Tourism Development Cooperation (NTDC), Mrs Sally  Mbanefo said that whereas Nigeria’s economy is fast integrating with the Global economy, it does so majorly through Crude Oil exports, luckily the downside risks from the volatility of commodity prices is appreciated by our Policy Makers. This explains the renewed focus of the present Administration on re-energizing Nigeria’s Tourism Brand Campaign – Fascinating Nigeria! – as a Strategic Policy thrust to diversify the economy away from Oil Earnings and create a ‘Job-full’ economic growth through Tourism.”

Mnanefo who provided some insights into the potentials of the domestic tourism market said, “the domestic tourism market has very high revenue and job creation potentials. If we assume that a low estimate of 20 million out of 160 million Nigerians travel locally for business, leisure, culture, religion or sports annually and they spend only 10 per cent of Nigeria’s per Capita income of USD 2,000 annually, we will have a USD 4 billion dollar domestic tourism market and hence the focus of the NTDC on developing domestic tourism as the foundation for attracting international tourists.

“Given the desired objectives of the Federal Government to make the Tourism Industry, and indeed the NTDC, a source of Revenue and Jobs, we cannot afford to continue treating these issues and expectations in a piece meal manner as this would sub-optimize resources, time and talent for every stakeholder in the value chain and weaken the synergy between Tourism Development Initiatives with other governmental programs covering Infrastructure, Jobs, Financial Inclusion and National Security.”

Speaking on building a synergy between domestic and international tourism, she disclosed that NTDC has already set up an initiative that will leverage the spread of mobile technologies for capturing tourist data at international entry points and domestic land terminals for purposes of planning, statistical analysis and monitoring of industry patterns through surveys to create a Tourism Value Chain Information Management System.

“The project is nick named ‘Project Fundamentals’. NTDC has already commenced collaborations with Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and frontline agencies to fast track this project. In particular, NTDC plans to establish Tourism Service Desks at major airports and travel hubs.

“We are also working assiduously to obtain government approval to allow for the issuance of a locally and globally acceptable Nigeria Travel Card through our embassies and partner financial institutions so as to provide payment discounts for fast track services, tours, hotels, tickets, food and beverages from partner brands and subscribing operators”, she said.

The tourism boss said it was with respect to the Nigeria Travel Card that the NTDC signed an MOU with VISA Incorporated recently.

Mrs Mbanefo who spoke on her vision for a green city said, “NTDC has also designed Green City initiative as a differentiating platform for Nigeria’s Eco-tourism credentials with the potential to have in place Bio-fuel Refinery for the conversion of Waste to Wealth, Demonstration Farms, Botanical Gardens, Hotels, Housing Estate, Sports Facilities, Industrial Parks, Solar Farms, Water Parks and Health Malls. This Green City project when fully developed will create 20,000 jobs in two years and bolster Nigeria as a preferred destination for the growing eco-tourism market.  We also plan to create Travel Hub in each of the 774 local government areas in the country.

“The initiatives to grow the Tourism Value Chain are designed to create over 400,000 jobs and grow the revenue base of the latent domestic market from USD4 billion to over USD12 billion within a decade”.

The highlight of the day was a beautiful display boat regatta, wrestling competitions, and beautiful dancing steps from the 8 local governments and of special note was the Ogbogidi dancing group of Otueke, the home town of Nigeria’s President.

Courtesy: Onyinyechi Udemezue

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