By EZIOKWUBUNDU NW’EZE
The hall was silent while he talked. He reeled out facts and statistics as though he were a newscaster reading the news, as it scrolled on a teleprompter. His voice see-sawed into the late evening chill; interrupted only by the intermittent burst of bright light occasioned by the sudden change of slide on the screen from the projector. Suddenly, the adage “Courage is the father of success” flashes on the screen.
Allowing the proverb a brief moment to sink in the audience, he pointed out that three attributes make for success in tourism – vision, wisdom and courage. Although he did not expressly say it, the audience knew that he was talking about the minders of Cross River State. His name is Mike Gendel. He is the CEO of Gendel Strategic Marketing Group, Cape Town, South Africa. He is also the consultant to Cross River State government on tourism. Mr. Gendel, a thoroughbred salesman and old advertising hand had come all the way from picturesque Cape Town to sell a slice of Cross River to corporate Nigeria.
After years of hypnotising Nigerians with the magic and maze of its endless beauties, the government of Cross River State had finally decided that it was time to raise the bar of its tourism offerings. What came off finally was a rebirth of Cross River’s tourism drive, complete with a new logo, a strategic marketing plan, a new thematic commercial campaign that would run on terrestrial and satellite TV stations as well as radio and other media and a clear plan on how to divvy up the revenue drive from tourism. The entire idea was full of wisdom as the state’s initial gambit that informed its investment in tourism.
The logo presents Cross River as the destination for Africa’s Warmest Welcome. According to Gendel, part of what would be done to drive home the message is that Cross River would be heavily sold through massive exposure on Super Sports’ coverage of the Spanish La Liga games as well as the forthcoming African Nations Cup that is billed for South Africa in 2013. These efforts are expected to drip-feed the idea of Cross River into the large audiences that follow football across the continent. So, in a manner of speaking, Mike Gendel was hired by the state government to woo Nigeria’s big businesses into grabbing a piece of the increasingly attractive tourism offerings in Cross River State.
At an eclectic gathering of Nigeria’s cream of entrepreneurs in Ikoyi recently, Gendel revealed that tourism contributed a whopping $6 trillion to world economy in 2011 and $77 billion to the African economy during the same period. He also warned that all forward looking economies in Africa, who are no less endowed than Nigeria, are already taking tourism seriously and reaping the dividends of their wise decision.
Egypt, Kenya and South Africa, in particular, he said, had adopted extensive tourism marketing strategies that would strengthen their stranglehold on the industry on the continent. Perhaps, what may have struck a note in the audience must be Gendel’s research finding that revealed that out of 1000 Nigerians polled in a recent survey that was conducted to ascertain the level of growth in the holiday culture in the country, 82 percent said they would rather spend their holidays at home while a paltry four percent indicated that travelling was their preferred mode of relaxation. To many wise investors, anyone who could devise a means of attracting this 82 percent away from their homes in search of pleasure would have struck gold. It was a clear indication that tourism had yet to be scratched beyond the surface in the country. This is even more so in view of the fact that all over the world, domestic travel is the engine room of tourism.
And no matter how fascinating a tourism destination is, if the locals do not buy into the allure and magic that it projects to the outside world, foreign tourists will find its attractions hard to accept. And that is essentially part of what gives Cross River State’s tourism drive its credibility and verve – the enthusiasm of the average Cross Riverian over the endless allures of its magnificent environment and his willingness to share them with others. As is widely known by thousands of Nigerians who have participated in the show-stopping Calabar Carnival, the affability of the Calabar man is legendary. He is urbane in a non-condescending, non-intimidating manner. He is culturally rooted but infinitely global in his views and aspirations. He is peaceful and accommodating and quite naturally, a man has to be at peace with himself to attract people to his environment. It was not surprising therefore, that well-heeled Nigerians, including top editors, company executives, tourism experts, indigenous industrialists and entrepreneurs all listened with intense attention to the presentation.
They could testify to the fact that Cross River had dabbled in tourism and made a stunning success of it. The state had waded into a hitherto unchartered territory and galloped away with astonishing success. They listened even more attentively when Senator Liyel Imoke, the governor of Cross River State told them that on the strength of tourism alone, the state’s internally generated revenue shot up to 60 percent in December 2011. “Our economy usually experiences an astronomical growth in December.
We don’t even have to wait for FAAC,” Imoke declared, pointing out that what the state may have lost in mineral deposits is adequately compensated for in the ecological endowments it has aplenty. There was something poignant though, about his observation that in other countries of the world, tourism is driven by the government at the center. In other words, tourism is often an initiative of the national government, supported with all the resources and machinery of the state. However, the paradigm is totally different in Nigeria as Cross River is solely leading the charge with all the constraints and limitations that it has as a part of a whole. If there is one puzzle that unsettles Governor Imoke, it is the seeming preference of Accra to Calabar by middle class Nigerians who wish to travel for leisure. Imoke finds it hard to understand why. “Calabar is cleaner and greener than Accra. There’s value all year round for tourists who choose Calabar. We have low crime rate in December because all our youths are meaningfully engaged.
The Police have the lowest incidence report at that time of the year. Why would any Nigerian still pack his bag and head for Accra when he doesn’t need a passport to come to Calabar and he won’t have to worry about airport checks and immigrations?” he asked rather rhetorically. The governor believes that if only about one percent of the Nigerian population could decide to visit Calabar, the central objective of the state’s tourism drive would have been fully met. Imoke reiterated the determination of his government to pursue its focus on tourism to a determined end. “We shall continue to invest in the industry. We have been stable and we won’t change. However, we would like to see more participation by the private sector. We want to build more partnerships with the private sector,” he stated. Nw’eze writes from Calabar