Tourism is one of the largest industries and arguably, the fastest growing economic sector in the world today. Unfortunately, inspite of its vast economic benefits, many nations including Nigeria are yet to tap fully the socio-economic potentials of tourism, even when there are abundant tourist attractions to explore.
For instance, the tourism sector was almost comatose in Rivers State for many years. It was recently the sector began to find its feet in the state, especially with the launching of Rivers State Festival of Arts and Culture, otherwise known as RIVIFEST, now re-christened CARNIRIV.
Recently, the Rivers State Government apparently jotted by the tourist potentials in the State decided to give tourism its right of place. The State government through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism organized the first summit on tourism where stakeholders talked on various ways to harness the state’s abundant tourism potentials for its socio-economic development.
The summit which took place at the Auditorium of the Rivers State House of Assembly was a fallout of a tour of historical and tourist sites earlier embarked upon by the State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Dr Nobbs Imegwu and some journalists.
The tour, according to the commissioner, was to afford the ministry physical inspection of the sites with a view to documenting and placing them on the global map of tourism.
Dr Imegwu said the benefits derivable from these tourist sites would be enormous going by what the state is deriving from the Opobo International Boat (OIB) Regatta which is already on the world map of tourism.
The historical sites visited by the Commissioner include; Ellah Lake in Obrikom, the Ndoni Beach along the bank of the River Niger, the Alakiki estuary in Mgbutanwo Emohua Local Government Area, the Rivers Songhai Farm Bunu Tai, in Tai Local Government Area, and the oldest brick house in Ikuru Town, Andoni, built around 1930.
The team also visited Agaja Beach in Bonny, the Elephant Colony, and the sea shore in Ikuru Town as well as the Oyorokoto seashore, all in Andoni Local Government Area.
However, there are other potential tourist sites that were not visited by the Commissioner. These include the Ifoko Beach in Elem Ifoko, Queens Town and Kula Beach in Opobo/Nkoro and Akuku-Toru local governments respectively, the Obete and Agba Ndele beaches as well as King Jaja monument in Opobo in Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Area, King Amachree Monument in Buguma, excavation site in Ke, Elephant Colony in Andoni and a host of others.
At the stakeholders forum, the State Governor, Rt Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi declared the government’s readiness to declare an emergency on the tourism sector.
The State Chief Executive, represented by his deputy, Engr Tele Ikuru, said that government’s commitment to the sector, underlies the current efforts being made in area of infrastructural development such as roads, electricity etc across the state.
According to him, the provision of infrastructures is part of the efforts by the State government to woo the private sector into the development of tourism sector in the state.
Dr Nabbs Imegwu in his welcome address, said that the summit was to enable the government interact with a broad spectrum of stakeholders, practitioners and operatives in the tourism sector.
According to him, “tourism occupies a critical niche in the classic economics of environment and development in both developing and developed economies.”
Going further, he said, “we recognise that tourism is more than leisure and investments, it is fundamentally an attitude.
“The value in tourism is inherently determined by the social culture of a people” he said.
Dr Imegwu admitted that the sector was almost comatose in the state until the arrival of the present administration.
“Rt Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi took the bold step to begin the process of revitalising it. Today, CARNIRIV; the Port Harcourt carnival, ranks foremost among carnival in the country”, he stated noting that the state now has a tourism development agency to facilitate tourism development in the state.
The summit, according to the Commissioner, would help to generate independent ideas that could build a strong institutional framework to ensure efficient and effective operation and as well attract investment in tourism to the state.
Stakeholders at the forum share Dr Imegwu’s view that the summit would also help to reposition tourism to a vibrant and veritable investment sector with attendant strong revenue stream.
Professor Lawrence Ohale who presented a paper titled: “Investment opportunities of tourism in Rivers State; Public And Private Partnership Approach,” described tourism as one of the largest industries and fastest growing economic sector in the world.
According to the erudite Professor, “tourism has positive economic impact on the balance of payments, employment, gross income and production”.
He listed the potential economic benefits to include; increased foreign exchange earnings from hotels, restaurants, increased employment, particularly for women and increased access to foreign direct investment.
Other benefits from tourism, according to him, include revenues from under-exploited natural resources, possibilities for differential taxation of tourists, increased Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as well as diversification of the economy.
In his own contribution, a professor of Art History and Theory, University of Port Harcourt, Prof. Frank Ugiomoh who delivered a paper titled: “Harnessing the value of arts as a cultural and symbolic capital in the 21st century economics,” referred the State government to the celebrated work of Jonathan Adagogo on Artist who lived between 1874 and 1905 which he said, can be found in the Port Harcourt Museum.
He said that, the only way the state can honour him is to name a photo gallery after him.
Prof Ugiomoh noted that the city of Port Harcourt is historically symbolic as it was the centre of palm oil trade. “Port Harcourt also has a history in the export of palm oil in eastern Nigeria and recently crude oil.
“Port Harcourt boasts of quite a good number of indigenous and modern artists who hold exhibitions once in a while”, he said.
Saying that the Port Harcourt Craft Village needs to be exposed to the world, the professor of Art History adds, “there is so much to think into Port Harcourt to change its look towards the arts for the economic potentials of art.
“By way of conclusion, the city of Port Harcourt is a mine awaiting exploration as far as tourism is in focus” he said.
Other stakeholders who barred their minds on the issue described the move by the government as a very positive one that should be allowed to see the light of the day.
Indeed, many governments have come and gone with beautiful policies and programmes which were not concretised. It is against this background that many people urge the present administration not to allow the present efforts to be wasted as the state can be turned into a Mecca of Nigeria, if the opportunities are properly harnessed and utilised.