By Rowland Olonishuwa
In its bid to jumpstart a viable tourism industry in the state, the Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq-led administration in Kwara State on Wednesday hosted a webinar in conjunction with Bond Integrated Estate Limited on Kwara Tourism Roundtable with relevant stakeholders both within and outside the country.
While reiterating the timeliness of the webinar, Governor AbdulRazaq who is the chief host of the event stressed the need to develop a sustainable post COVID-19 solution to harness the tourism potentials in the state.
Speaking through the Commissioner for Communications, Mrs Adenike Harriet Afolabi-Oshatimehin, the governor said, “To drive the state’s economy, tourism must be treated as a catalyst for socio-economic development. We must begin to galvanize all the elements of tourism especially at the pandemic period where every state is looking inward to raise its economy post COVID-19.”
The Governor, who stressed that the webinar/zoom meeting will be a good starting point to breaking new grounds on the potentials of tourism as a growth driver for enhanced Internally Generated Revenue, job opportunity for youth and community development, commended the organisers of the programme for deeming it fit to choose Kwara for the project.
He assured that his administration is open and ready to support public private partnerships in revamping the economy of the state, especially now when the whole world is diversifying from dependence on oil revenue as a result of dwindling oil prices to other viable sectors as agriculture and tourism.
Also speaking, the acting General Manager of the State Tourism Board, Mrs Esther Onietan said Kwara is the heart of tourism in Nigeria with different attractions.
Mrs Onietan who gave a brief run-down of the different tourism sites, attractions and festivals in the state, stressed that Kwara state is blessed. She hinted that there is no single local government area among the 16 LGAs in the state without, at least, three tourist attractions.
In his keynote address at the webinar, Prof Pat Utomi stressed the need for the Kwara State Government to focus on her strong points in her quest to improve and further develop her tourism potentials.
Prof. Utomi who lamented that the country has a huge challenge of creating opportunities for the teeming population to earn a decent livelihood noted that there is a youth bulge which can either become a demographic dividend or a time bomb that can consume everyone.
He stated that, “the greater and more attractive thing is to reap a demographic dividend of these energetic able-bodied people that populates our country. So, the key is to develop strategy on how to be competitive and to grow the economy and to give people a higher quality of life.”
He however disclosed that military’s intrusion into governance and the oil boom made Nigerians grow an entitled economy; “Instead of growing wealth from bottom up, we learn to always wait for the center to hand us something,” he lamented.
He, therefore, commended Kwara State for being open to opportunities that would grow its tourism. According to him, it is important for the state to tap into her location and key into the film making industry in the state. He noted that the state parades the best crop of artistes in Nollywood and has locations that tell stories, “all that is left is for the state to key into these,” he stated.
Prof Utomi also urged the state to invest in a school of customer service stressing that when people are treated right, they tend to come back again and again. He stressed the need for government to also develop a long-term policy document for the development of tourism in the state and also harped on the need for long term partnership.
Echoing this line of thought while delivering his goodwill message, the Chairman, Board of Trustee, Federation of Tourism Association in Nigeria (FTAN), Chief S.O. Alabi stressed the need for the present administration in the state to empanel a committee to prepare a master plan or roadmap towards the development of tourism in the state.
Chief Alabi who said he is a proud son of the soil expressed happiness that the Kwara state government has now woken up to the fact that tourism is now a baby of the state. He noted that this would be the first time an opportunity to talk about tourism development in Kwara is taking place and urged other speakers at the webinar to focus on opportunities of growth, Infrastructure, employment, regulatory capacity and revenue for govt.
He advised the state to go beyond showcasing places of historical monuments and cultural heritage because of the limited tourist traffic that such generates but rather that the state should look into modern concepts like amusement parks and other places people in the state will gladly throng.
On the issue of state-owned hotels in the state, the FTAN BoT chair advised the state government to follow in the footsteps of states where state-owned hotels have been transformed under the privatization scheme. He advised the government not to listen to people who would only invest to cover their short-term interest.
“Kwara state government should let go and maintain nominal holding in Kwara hotel and others it might have. It is better to have a fraction of a glorious entity than 100% ownership of a carcass,” he stated.
Another panelist, His Highness, the Oloba of Ejuland who is also the CEO, Almaroof Standard Investment and Almaroof Media Network, Alh. Almaroof Afolayan, agreed that tourism is big business world over but lamented that Nigeria had relegated this money spinner to the third or fourth tier of economic generation when more than a few countries are today living on cultural tourism.
While stressing the enormous potential of the tourism sector, Oloba urged the Governor AbdulRazaq to explore the huge potentials of the movie industry which has a huge impact on the tourism industry.
“If anyone is still in doubt, maybe we should look at the Hollywood example where film tourism is a billion-dollar industry. Hollywood is reported to attract millions of visitors each year as confirmed by the American Tourism Association.
“In view of this, it is imperative for the Kwara State Government through the Kwara State Tourism Board to take advantage of the popularity of Nollywood to use it as a viable tool to promote tourism in the state,” he stated.
According to him, some of the ways that movie production can boost tourism in Kwara State include shooting movies at tourist sites and other attractive locations, writing scripts that portray Kwarans as friendly people, appointing/contracting Tourism Ambassadors among others.
Also, in his contribution, the Cross-River state Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mr. Eric Andersion encouraged Kwarans to learn from the Calabar carnival as a way to promote the festivals in the state.
According to him, the Calabar carnival remains one of the best in the world with thirty countries participated every year because conscious efforts are put into developing the carnival. He stated that the carnival is an improvement of the cultural parades over the year and efforts are made to always spice it up every year.
Speaking with journalists, the convener of the webinar, Mr. Michael Adenrele Adeboye lauded the present administration in the state for its passion to change the narrative in tourism development. He noted with satisfaction that Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq led government is serious about developing the tourism potentials of the state which is a great departure from what is obtainable in the past.
“This webinar is a result of my passion for tourism and seeing that tourism wasn’t really working in Kwara. I haven’t been interested because all past administrations in the state did not really do anything about tourism in the state. But when this governor came in, Governor AbdulRazaq, the fact that he took tourism as a passion for himself; he went to visit Owufall, Esie Museum and all other important sites made us happy to join in the task of taking our state to the next level,” he said.
Commenting on the inability of the past administrations in the state to develop infrastructure, particularly the road network leading to the various sites, Adeboye applauded Governor AbdulRazaq for changing the narrative.
The lawyer and CEO of Bond Integrated disclosed that the road to Esie Museum is under construction and the Governor is also paying attention to the Owufall which had been abandoned for decades.
Other panelists include Chief Abiodun Odusanwo, National president of the institute for tourism professionals; Mr. Gbenga Titiloye, Award winning Actor and entertainment consultant; Mr. Fidelis Duker, Organiser, Abuja International film festival, film maker and movie producer and others. Both Mr. Dayo Adesugba and Mr. Biyi Oladipo moderated the webinar while participants were drawn from both within and outside the country.