By Emmanuel Aziken
IT was the ambition of Senator Liyel Imoke on Assumption of office to make Calabar, capital of Cross River State, one of the five leading destinations for meetings, conferences and conventions in the country. However, few months before his exit from office, his success in that regard would be measured by the fact that Calabar is today only third after Abuja and Lagos for MCCs in the country. That landmark is complemented by the fact that Calabar, the capital of Cross River is about the country’s number one destination for holidays and tourism.
The attraction in Governor Imoke’s success in enhancing the tourism under his watch is underpinned by a firmness in character that is not common among the political class. Given the generally known fact that his predecessor conceived the idea of making Calabar a tourist haven, Imoke on assumption of office in 2007 could, like the normal politician, have decided to make his legacy in another direction. But he did not. Rather, he chose to build on the legacy of his predecessor, Mr. Donald Duke.
The Carnival Calabar which was the major offering passed over from the Duke administration has been strengthened and expanded to not only include the private sector but been stamped as a fixture in the international tourism roadmap.
The Imoke administration has also added a children bent to the annual carnival with the Children Carnival which holds traditionally on Boxing Day.
When on assumption of office Imoke pledged to reduce government funding for Carnival Calabar which was at that time 100% financed by the public sector, some had thought that it was a design to annihilate the then emerging industry. But his pledge of less government funding was ironically a motif to consolidate the industry.
Through carefully thought out policies and plans, the administration strategically engaged the private sector within and outside the state to the potentials of the carnival and remarkably by 2013, the last year for which records are available, the ratio of government and private sector spending on Carnival Calabar was N485,270,927: N264,000,000 which is a ratio of 64.77%: 35.23% respectively.
Governor Imoke’s recognition of the potentials of tourism to the state has led him to provide the infrastructure needed to drive the sector. The first point of attention for Imoke was to ensure access and hence his quick action in ensuring the recertification of the Bebi airstrip, to allow access by air to the Obudu Mountain Resort, one of the country’s major spots for retreats, conferences and getaways for business and political leaders.
The airstrip had earlier lost its certification from the national aviation agencies on the basis of broken down navigational aids and ancillary aviation facilities. Imoke’s prompt repair of the facilities led to the recertification of the air strip and restoration of air link between Obudu and the rest of the world.
The administration has also lifted the image of the Obudu Mountain Race, a challenging mountain competition that has increasingly attracted international athletes. The administration’s intention is to use the mountain race as a vehicle to project the Obudu Mountain Resort, the venue of the race.
The resort which is located on the Obudu plateau is on an elevation of about 1,500 meters above sea level and has an international hotel, golf course, airstrip and the cable car that has drawn many local tourists to the resort.
Besides ensuring that Obudu is accessible, the Imoke administration has also put forth some projects that easily complement the efforts towards boosting the state as a tourism hub.
The signature project in Imoke’s bid to firmly position Cross River State as the number one destination for meetings, conferences and conventions is the Calabar International Convention Centre which is to be opened in February. The centre is not far away from the Tinapa Business Resort. Other projects include a 200 bed four star hotel, an international 18 hole golf course and a carnival village.
In his efforts towards concretising the efforts in boosting tourism, the Imoke administration has laid down legal frameworks that mainly put the private sector as the key driver of the tourism industry.
With that in mind, the administration has also undertaken an aggressive international tourism marketing drive mainly to project Calabar to the tourist as the place where he or she can get “Africa’s warmest welcome.”
The campaign has been carried out not only through local and international tourism operators, but through the use of social media.
The facebook page opened to promote the state known as ‘Cross River Tourism’ has as at January ending attracted almost 170,000 likes.
To boost the capacity of Calabar to host international tourists, the Imoke government in partnership with a private concern, is promoting the construction of housing units known as Golf Residences consisting of 108 middle to high level residences. The administration is presently providing the necessary infrastructure including roads prior to the take off of the construction of the housing units.
Another infrastructural landmark of the Imoke administration is the monorail linking the Convention Centre with Tinapa which is set for commissioning any moment from now.
The essence of the monorail is to increase access into Tinapa especially by conferees.
Remarkably, while tourism is generally acknowledged as the signature success story of the Imoke administration, the government has not laid back on other details of governance.
In health, education, environmental awareness and road infrastructure the administration has within the limits of its income been applauded for its achievements. A new Calabar Specialist Hospital is set for commissioning. The 105 bed hospital is designed to provide extensive secondary health care including MRI and CT, radiology among other services to the citizenry.
The hospital project which is in conjunction with the private sector is scheduled to be commissioned before the Imoke administration exits office.