By Jimoh Babatunde
Governor Liyel Imoke of CrossÂ Â River State has decried the lack of articulated policy that supports tourism development and promotion in Nigeria as obtained in other countries in Africa.
Speaking with journalists after this yearâ€™s Calabar festival, Senator Imoke explained that the real challenge of positioning Cross River as a destination of note in Africa has to do with the countryâ€™s image.
â€œI think as a state in Nigeria, we are far ahead of others. We are not near the level of competitive destinations in Africa as I see more Nigerians going to Accra from Nigeria.â€
The Governor explained that Accra from Lagos is 45 minutes while Calabar from Lagos is One hour and this is one of the challenges of getting people to come to the state.
He said whatever Nigerians are looking for in Accra is abundant in Calabar, but that the mind sets of Nigerians must be change that there is good Calabar is a good destination. â€œ So we must take our tourism to new height to be competitive in Africa.
â€œ The real challenge for us is the national image. Every country has a tourism program that attract people as in Kenya, Egypt and south Africa, but here in Nigeria there is no Federal Government policyÂ that supports tourism in the country.â€
While commending the personal efforts of the Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, the Governor said issues like entry permit is not within the power of the state, â€œhow do you drive tourism when people have problem getting visas.â€
He said with what is happening with the Calabar carnival that it is evident that the people are hungry forÂ tourism and that is why the state government is making the carnival the peopleâ€™s carnival.
Senator Imoke said the carnival is not all about dance as they give the people theme to prepare for every year and the band that is able to interpret the theme well wins.
â€œThere are lots of creativity that goes into the interpretation, so that every sections of a band interpreting a theme. Other carnivals are just dances, few of them reflect on their culture.
â€œFor us we still reflect our culture in the carnival. It is very unique as we are never satisfied and so we try to improve on the previous one by adding values.â€
Governor Imoke explained that they have a common vision on tourism development in the state as they have it in their economic blueprint right from the time of the former Government of Donald Duke.
He noted that experience garnered over the years have helped them in their tourism program and that the tourism sector in the state is becoming attractive to the private sector.
He said the vision for them is that by 2011 the carnival will be handed over to the private sector. â€œ We are also looking at the private sector working with us in the area of organisation.â€
Governor Liyel Imoke added that private sector participation in the hospitality sector of the tourism industry is encouraging as there are more hotels in the state now than before and all doing good businesses as they are fully booked.
The state, he said, is planning to have events that would stimulate traffic into the state regularly so as to have the hotels and other tourism facilities enjoy patronage.