SOUTH EAST TOURISM: Bracing up for a new move

Ngozi Ngoka is the chief executive officer of Zigona Travel and Tours Limited and was recently elected the Zonal Vice President of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), South East. She speaks with ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA on her vision for rallying the industry and changing the face of tourism in the zone.

The South eastern geo-political zone of Nigeria, which is made up of five states: Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo, is unarguably one of the richest tourist destinations in the country where tourists could be treated to a most treasured experience given the suffusing attractions scattered across the five states. What with the suffusing and effervescent culture of the people; the natural platitudes of Ogbunike cave in Anambra State; the serenading ambiance and crystal clear Azumini blue river and the historical Arochukwu slave route and Long Juju in Abia State; the natural bliss of Oguta motel and golf course and fascinating Ikeji festival in Imo State; the scenic Miliki and Awgu hills, enchanting Onyeama coal mines and Manwu festival of Enugu State, and the somewhat mysterious Amancho cave in Ebonyi State? But all of these attractions and many more that signpost the region’s unique tourism offerings have over the years been neglected and left to rot in their rustic state. Little or no effort is made by both the people and the government to give vent to tourism business in the region, which by all records is in low ebbs except for hospitality business which is gaining in momentum as more hotels and leisure activities are now beginning to gain grounds in the zone. However, there is a new move to give tourism a new lease of life in the region. The person behind this new drive is the Chief Executive Officer of Zigona Travel and Tours Limited, a travel agency with a niche market for bespoke travel experiences and destination marketing in Nigeria, Ngozi Ngoka. Her passion and commitment for tourism has seen her taken on the task of transforming her beloved eastern region into a truly tourism haven as the zonal vice president of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), a position she was elected into over a month ago. Her first task is rallying the various operators in the zone and building a crop of committed operators, creating awareness and infusing life into the almost dead tourism business while on the long term seeking to bring back to reckoning many of the rustic tourist attractions littering the region through engagement with the private and public sectors and creating tour packages and exchanges to jump-start this Herculean task she has signed up for. She shared her vision and plans for taking tourism in the region to a new height. Excerpts:

What are your plans to jump-start tourism in the South East?

Tourism in South East is already thriving but just as in other parts of Nigeria, tourism products have not yet been adequately identified and harnessed for us to start reaping the full benefits. My main job will be to work with the five state governments in my region to advance ideas on how to improve on our members’ operational delivery; improve on and add to the experiences that visitors have when they visit the zone and devise market development and marketing strategies for our members’ collective products and services.

The Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) at the national level already has a committee looking at national regulations and taxation in the travel and tourism industry that are adversely affecting our members’ operations and productivity.

At the zonal level, we will also have these discussions with our state governments regarding state and local government taxes and regulations. With these three plans in place, I believe that you will see a surge in tourism activity in our zone.

Many people are of the opinion that tourism business in the region is not an attractive one and that there is really no market ready tourist attractions or activities for people to explore, what is your view on this?

Based on an informed standpoint, I do not share that view but I do understand why it appears so. The main challenge seems to be lack of marketing exposure of the amazing tourism products available in the area.

Th e re is a large influx of tourists to the South East every week but the visitors are mostly people from the area who are visiting family, attending social functions, or day visitors who come to trade. We are putting measures in place to attract tourists to come and experience our food, craft industry, culture, and entertainment. We want them to stay longer, and enjoy the amazing hospitality of ‘Ndi Igbo.’

We are also planning workshops geared at bringing together tourism providers, investors, and governments to highlight our tourism potential, and exchange ideas on how to improve on infrastructure located around tourist attractions, grade and provide accommodation, restaurants, and transportation around tourist sites located within the region.

These are laudable ideas but how equipped are you to move this off the ground given our people and government lack of commitment to tourism business?

I am well prepared. My job is basically to coordinate the activities of travel providers, tour operators and all those in the business of attracting, accommodating, and entertaining tourists in the region so that we can channel a common course towards increasing inbound tourists to the region. Tourism is my area of expertise and I have been engaged in different aspects of the industry for the past 20 years.

I believe that the best way to change or improve the current state of the industry is to actively get involved. We want a stable and sustainable business environment and in return, our members will provide jobs for local communities and pay our legitimate taxes.

Tourism is one industry that can create jobs with trickle down effect to all sectors of the economy which ensures everyone in the economy chain is catered for. Our South East secretariat is already working with tour operators, hoteliers, and transport providers from the five states to compile and assess all our natural and man-made attractions so we can make presentations to the various governments on ways to improve infrastructure around the natural attractions in their respective states. We are also working with stakeholders to create packages for travel agents to sell.

The packages will be made up of products and services from all our members. We have set a target of 35,000 visitors per month. With an average spends of about N60, 000 per visitor, for a three night stay.

You’re looking at about N2.8 billion taxable income coming into the region every month. We also plan to engage the indigenes of the South East residing all over the world, who have built mansions that they use for perhaps two weeks in a year, to consider handing them over to tourism investors, who will generate income for the owners by renting them out for short stays and destination events.

All our resources, human, artificial, and natural will be fully harnessed and their tourism potential will be made available for investors to invest in. We are inviting all stakeholders to join us in this task, so that together, we can establish a sustainable and viable tourism industry.

Do you think that some of these natural creations, such as the Ogbunike cave, could at this material time attract both local and international tourists to the region?

Ogbunike cave is one of the attractions we’re currently assessing to determine ways to make it easier for tourists to visit and have a wonderful and wholesome experience. For now, the town’s traditional ruler and the local community are managing the cave as best as they can.But we plan to engage the Anambra State government and private investors on ways to improve on the services around the cave and invest in curio shops, restaurants, and rest room facilities.

These improvements will generate more incomes for the local community. We are also applying the same audit to all the natural attractions we have in all the other states within the zone. Federal and state governments should embrace the expertise of FTAN members.

State tourism boards should have a slot for FTAN on their tourism boards just like the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOUTOUR) have at the national level.

Beside this, what else should the governors of the region do to attract international and local visitors?

It does take a lot to convince travelers and tourists to spend time and money in your community, especially when there are so many destinations, and attractions competing for the same travellers all over the country and the rest of the world.

Tourism boards should, therefore, up their ante, not just in the South East alone, but in all the states of the federation. They should embrace the expertise of professionals to develop sustainable tourism.

Each state should identify its brand, what aspect of the larger tourism market they want to project and specialize in. They will then need to identify the type of tourists that their brand is likely to attract. If these simple steps are followed, they will find it easier to determine the marketing strategies that will be aligned to their strategic positioning and specific goals.

Ideally, they should market with a purpose, using the right tools, and of course, embracing technology and the social media. The social, economic, and environmental impact of tourism is just so huge that any government that is not exploring the full tourism potential needs to seriously have a rethink.

Tourism is key to community development and empowerment and is the industry for the present and the future. Infrastructure, especially road network needs to be improved on so that when we have our planned first familiarization (FAM) trips, the tourists we bring in will have good stories to tell about their experiences.

I am hopeful that the South East states tourism boards will get involved in the planning and execution of these FAM trips as a means of marketing the tourism potential of their various states and the region as a whole.

Government should also encourage the inclusion of courses related to tourism development from primary school level so that we prepare the younger generation with planning and management skills relevant in rapidly expanding the tourism industry.

What are your projections for some of these programmes that you have outlined to materialize?

We should finish inspections by the end of this month after which we’ll schedule another meeting with stakeholders to identify viable tour plans for the region. We hope to have all these ready by the time Tour Nigeria – an initiative of the director general of NTDC, Folorunsho Folarin- Coker, comes to activate the South East. We will liaise with the DG’s office and ensure everything is in place when they get to our zone.

What is the state of hotels and other hospitality outfits in the region?

We have started the process of reviewing and grading not just the hotels but also the tourism sites. We should be done by early September. There are many world class hotels that have sprung up in recent times. We are auditing them in order to classify them for marketing purposes. We will match accommodation with transportation, entertainment, and cuisine to create five to two stars packages.

What should be the market target of the zone given its different tourist attractions?

We have a huge and varied capacity distributed among the five states for all types of travelers- educational, business, leisure, luxury, and budget travelers. A lot of focus should be on attracting historians, researchers and others who would want to ‘walk the footsteps’ of famous indigenes of the zone like Chinua Achebe, Odimegwu Ojukwu, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Aguiyi-Ironsi, Chuba Okadigbo, Flora Nwapa, ChimamandaAdichie, Cyprian Ekwensi and others.

 

Courtesy of New Telegraph Online

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