Carnival has Attracted International Recognition, N10bn Economy, says M/D Tourism Bureau

Dec 28, 2023 - 11:44
Dec 28, 2023 - 11:54
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Carnival has Attracted International Recognition, N10bn Economy, says M/D Tourism Bureau

How has it been like since you joined the tourism sector in 2005?

Yes, I have been in the tourism industry for about 19 years running and have gone through series of training under Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke’s administration. Along the line of duty, I have headed marketing desk officer, Flight-to-Paradise for four years, desk officer for Leboku Festival, desk officer sports tour and now the Managing Director, Tourism Bureau. You will agree with me that Cross River state is the first runner of modern tourism in Nigeria; we are one state that has invested more in tourism. We are the only state that has tourism master plan, the only state with a tourism marketing plan, the only state with an airstrip within the state.

In all of this, I was the one who listed the first 45 tourism facilities in Cross River State in 2006. As a desk officer for Flight-in-Paradise, I was moving people from Kaduna, Kano and all over the world booking flights for people 3 times a week between 2007 and 2010. We are witnesses to what Cross River State was in Donald's time when we started tourism. This is one state that does not have oil, we lost our oil wells and then we choose tourism as our policy drive. The whole world came here, the state was welcoming people, our food our people, it was good. For eight years under former Governor Ben Ayade, we had an administration that was focusing on industrialisation, that was where we veered the ship and then we lost everything to #EndSars and COVID-19 pandemic.

Thank God for the God that gave us Senator Prince Bassey Otu who is an exceptional leader, who has demystified that office and gives you the opportunity to explain yourself, he gives you that calmness, he gives you the opportunity to bring your vision to bear. Once he's convinced, he is putting his ink on paper. If you look at the 2023 Festival Calendar you'll realise that the 32 fiesta is back. What made us thick then is that we brought Lucky Dube to Calabar from South Africa, we brought Big Joe that was what changed the game, it was a game changer because bringing Lucky Dube was asking people from Ghana from South Africa, and his fans from all over the world to come to Rross River. Don Moen came here so the Christian Community collapsed into Cross River. That is how to drive people into a destination.

That is exactly what His Excellency Senator Bassey Otu has done to our festival. He has restored the biggest event that made us stronger. Carnival is a one day event. Yes, it is big but after one day what happens? The Children Carnival, I remember for 8 years, we never heard it is back, he has restored our clean and green environment; he has restored our security and he is bringing people back to the destination. We use to have 3 aircraft's a day in Donald's time, we lost it, it was difficult to have one. Senator Bassey Otu has fixed the 2 aircrafts and he has promised that he's bringing the 3rd one, in just in four months. So, we are truly back.

For over a decade, what can you say Carnival has brought to the state and the people?

Carnival has brought International recognition to Cross River, created an economy of over N10bn.  I'm already engaging my team on statistics and data collection  when you have over 10,000 people coming to a destination spending money to buy water, bread, recharge card, eat groundnut, transportation with a minimum of least N300,000 in 7 days. And if you consider Transcorp Hotels, which is N60, 000 a night just for accommodation, and they have about 150 rooms which are filled already as at December 14, so you can imagine the income that Carnival generates. There are about 300 hotels in Calabar with about 3,000 rooms. If 3,000 rooms at 50,000 are filled a night, do your mathematics. 

Besides, go to Christmas Village, we have 180 businesses that will run for one week and none of those businesses is set up with less than N300, 000 from stocking your drinks to edibles.  So, go around this town, people who have spaces that can accommodate 30 people are building stages for this one month.  The woman in beach market is selling mudfish, the tax-man is getting much demand and the woman in Ugep is releasing more bags of Garri. The festival creates a chain of economy that is endless. My team is doing data analysis on the festival and we'll have an analysis on the ripple effect of the festival then you will see what I'm talking about. Tourism is a cobweb.

We are also working with the private sector like the banks and hoteliers. His Excellency, Governor Bassey Otu, did one of the best outings in Lagos ever in the history of our tourism initiative. He had an investment forum meeting, everyone who was interested in our vision in that discussion was wowed. People will come when you carry trust, when they can see an air of confidence and trust.  Sincerity from the man who's talking to them and that was what we got and started from the private sector, they were falling over themselves to talk to the governor because they could see sincerity and integrity.

 

We have noticed that Kada Cinema at Marina resort is fully back. What was the magic that your office performed and what is the prospect of Cinemas?

The youths of this country are looking for where to expend their energies. Families leave Calabar to  Uyo just to watch movies.  I met a family who told me that the best thing which happened to Calabar is the cinema. Kada Cinema bid was done in 2019, for whatever reason the investor was now reluctant to come. When I was appointed, I took a memo to the state governor and said it was time to reopen the Marina despite the decay of 13 years.  Marina Resort was last painted in 2006 and the gray paint turned to white. When I got that approval, the first challenge was power, Marina was in darkness for 3 year because there was no light because the resort was disconnected from PHED for non-payment of electricity bill of about N7.8 million. I wrote to the governor and the governor approved the component. Then I asked myself what kind of light are they even being giving is it this epileptic light of 2 hours in 8 hours out?

I need a dedicated line. I asked what it will cost us to get a dedicated line for the Marina and they said it will cost about 9 million or there about. I said ok, I have your N7 million, take it for your N9 million and trust me if you give me a dedicated line from CBN and my governor hears there's 24 hours light at Marina, he'll approve your NEPA bill.  Because I came with grace, the agreed and trusted me. So I commissioned the Marina in my 1 month in office. We now reached back to the investor, Chief Lucky Igbenidion, and told him Marina now has 24 hours light, he flew in to come and see for himself. When he saw the power, he granted a press conference, took me to the governor and told him he doesn't know where the governor brought me from, but I'm the guy who understands the job that he can't do this business without power and because of that Kada Cinema will be back in a short while. He moved all his equipment from wherever he wanted to go to, gave a standing order and in less than one month, on November 7, 2023, we commissioned Kada Cinema. Marina was opened on the October 1. So that is the magic.

I can tell you that the patronage is fantastic. Once there's 24 hours light. Let me tell you, Dubai is light, America is light, UK is light, take away the light there everything collapse. The rail lines, the bus station, the hotels, everything works with light. The automation you see everywhere that makes life look better is light. So, everybody wants to go to the Marina, everybody wants to go where there's Air Conditioner. Security wise, we are ready. You go there now you'll see a gunboat there, Navy is there, Operation Akpakwu have stationed one truck of their security men for this 30 days. I don't joke with security, we're spending about N2 million on security. On cousines, we have different types of food. Marina is a water front resort so you're expected to have fish, seafood, roasted plantain and coconut water. Take a tour of the marina, go to the slave history museum... we've fixed the central music system. So, now the music you hear at the car park, is what you hear at Tortuga so it's home away from home.

 

So, what's the sustainability plan of the resort after the Christmas?

 

No! it’s not only for Xmas, remember we opened in October. It is about the experience we give. As I speak with you, we are trying to sign up a custodian who will come and build an entertainment centre at the Marina. It's a plug and play for me and this is my game and I'll change it. The hotel at Marina is a work in progress, by the time we get the right persons to handle it, we'll do better than what we have.

 

What efforts is government making to also bring back other tourists sites such as Tinapa, the ranch, the museum, kwa falls?

 

You need to understand the true components invested in Tinapa, private sector. As we speak now AMCON is throwing spanners because Tinapa was built by private sector money with a certain investments in some states. Investors were to recoup their money and handover the investment finally to the state. We had issues with operational license, in terms of free trade zone so we lost good number of years. If Tinapa had started the way it was built without that gap there's no way #ENDSARS would have destroyed it. It was because we had empty shops, nothing was there, no security. So, 80% of Tinapa is gone. But the good news is that His Excellency Prince Bassey Otu is full of ideas. Tinapa will turn out to be a production center; production companies are beginning to be interested. There are already setting up, pursuing their licenses and operational documents. It is now people understand what it means to have a free trade zone. If you are operating from the Free Trade Zone you have already cut off the entry tax cost, instead of producing in Ghana or Cameroon getting to our sea port and doing clearance you rather bring your company to Cross River, stay in Tinapa and produce and export from here free. You have already made 30% profit by cutting your tax producing from Tinapa so it is now going to be combination of leisure and production.

For Kwa Falls, already we are talking to Nigerian Tourism Development Authority on how to create an experience there. It will be nice for adventurers when it comes on board including the stone monoliths and the rest of them. Stone monoliths will be more of a study center because I had asked my friend why Egyptians are talking about getting the origin of handwriting when we have carvings and stones that can show writings about 300 to 400 years old. You can't even put your finger on when we discovered that stone. Those carvings could represent handwritings because teachers told us that it is carvings that gave birth to handwriting.

There is a consortium that has indicated interest to bring back the Obudu Cattle Ranch. Already, His Excellency has already evacuated all the staff at the Ranch because of the investment opportunity that is there. We are already talking about how to take power to Obudu Cattle Ranch. I see the cattle ranch to be better than what it used to be.

Can you project into 2024 Carnival?

 What a year 2024 will be. If the begining is like this, just imagine 2024. We are just gathering momentum. His Excellency is so excited with the progress we have made.

Cross Riverians are happy, you can feel the 

the air of change; you can feel it on the streets, you can feel it in governance, and you can feel it in the market.