By Jimoh Babatunde
Realizing that tourism contributes to the protection of one of our key assets, biodiversity, which is a critical responsibility of all business sectors, the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godsday Peter Orubebe, has expressed his ministryâ€™s willingness to collaborate with the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria [FTAN], to develop and market the abundant eco-tourism potentials in the Niger Delta region, describing tourism as a catalyst that could be used to drive the local economy in the region, with a view achieving the goals of sustainable peace and job creation in the Niger Delta.
The minister noted that the economic potential of tourism, being the worldâ€™s largest and fastest growing industry todayÂ creates one in every eleven jobs, contributes to international and regional economic growth.
Chief Orubebe made the remark while receiving executive members of the South_South Tourism Zonal Council of Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria, [FTAN], in his office in Abuja recently, where he reiterated the urgent need to develop the huge coastal tourism potentials in the region.
Chief Orubebe said heâ€™s disappointed that, though the region boasts of the finest beaches in the world; with rich wetlands, no attention has been paid to the huge marine tourism potentials in the area, informing that the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, under his charge, would collaborate with the South_South FTAN Zonal Council to explore the tourism potentials, with a view to creating job opportunities in the communities in the area.
According to the minister, the fine beaches in the Niger Delta region, also provide huge investment opportunities in the hospitality sub_sector of the travel and tourism industry, pointing out that the beaches in the region should boast of standard hotels and marine recreational facilities to cater for the leisure needs of tourists among other tourism infrastructures that would boost the local economy.
He said his ministry would also work closely with the tourism federation in the region to promote cultural tourism, through the promotion of arts, crafts and festivals, including creek boat shows to create opportunities for the local populace to develop talents, in order to sustain the growing peaceful atmosphere in the area, informing that his ministry was working toward establishing skill acquisition centres in each of the nine states that constitute the Niger Delta region, in addition to constructing ten football pitches across the region, to positively engage the youths in the area.
The minister described the visit of the south_south zonal council of FTAN as very timely, in view of his ministryâ€™s preparedness to boost the growth of tourism; saying that the ministry would partner with credible bodies like the FTAN to accelerate the development of the region. He also listed food security, through agriculture, as another area of focus.
Earlier, the chairman of the south_south zonal council and national vice president of FTAN, Mr. Andy Ehanire, had canvassed for collaboration between the Ministry of Niger Delta and FTAN, saying that such effort would create the necessary synergy for advancing the tourism potentials in the region, especially through joint pilot schemes and extension services that emphasise self help, leadership training and capacity development/exchange, amongst local communities, adding that, tourism, was a key tool for accelerated socio-economic development in the area.
Mr. Ehanire, who solicited for an FTAN endowment fund, also briefed the minister of a proposed annual FTAN South-South Zonal Tourism Stakeholders Summit for sensitization and mobilization of tourism stakeholders and the need for the development of a Niger Delta Regional Tourism Master Plan, for regional economic integration in aid of capacity growth and exchange.
He stressed further that most of the initiatives of the south-south zonal council would be implemented through relevant FTAN Technical Committees, having multilateral collaboration with affiliates and strategic partner institutions and organizations.
The south-south chairman opined that the task of mobilizing it constituent associations and stakeholders across the hospitality, travel and tourism industries, including guilds, curators, custodians, cooperatives and individuals, through capacity building programmes and pilot schemes that encourage creativity, heritage conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, which are critical to socio-economic well being of the communities.
He outlined some of the planned South_South Zonal Councilâ€™s programmes and projects, as â€œOne Village, One Productâ€ SchemeÂ Â a quintessential pilot scheme to assist local communities discover their tourism resource and to regenerate their cultural infrastructure, leading to social transformation and civic renewal, through various conservation initiatives for the vast ecological and cultural heritage of the region.
â€œThis would be carried out by heritage design experts., through research, advocacy, and management support, using an exponential community development template.â€ He said.
According to him, the zonal councilâ€™s programmes were meant to provide advanced skills acquisition and mentoring, especially in the areas of arts and craft, and to market their products through participation in exhibitions worldwide, including an FTAN South_South Craft EXPO.
He pointed out that, â€œtraining of tour guides in the region would create self employment for the teaming unemployed youths, even as they would use their local knowledge to earn a living in tourism, adding that tour guiding has become an important vocation which creates cultural and ecological ambassadors all over the world, pointing out that some of the ex_militants in the region might become very useful in tour guiding, as they were already familiar with the terrain in the region.
He said, FTAN was interested in identifying, upgrading, as well as promoting tourism schemes and projects that would offer meaningful recreation/informal education [including cultural exchange], which have the capacity to bring about cross_cultural understanding, with a view to reducing tension amongst communities, leading to the enthronement of peace in the region.
Some of those that accompanied the FTAN National Vice President on the visit include, the National Treasurer of FTAN Engineer Aniofiok Ekong, South_South Zonal Tourism Council Secretary, Mr Piriye Kiyaramo, the Chairman of Bayelsa State branch, Hon. Stephen Diver, the Protem Chairman, Delta State branch, Mr Eyinimi Omorozi, the secretary of Delta state branch, Mr Ken Embelede and the Financial secretary of Akwa Ibom branch, Dr. Roberta Edem.