In 2017, Rt. Hon. Victor Antai, then the State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, introduced what he called “Akwa Ibom Tourism logo”. The concept would have been a nice one, but to the right-thinking public, it was defective and very misleading as far as tourism is concerned, in the sense that the entirety of what he and his team passed for “Akwa Ibom Tourism Logo” was borrowed from the Caribbean carnival logo (feathers pinned on a carnival mask). It was not strange to us because we have seen feathers and masks before the discredited concept emerged. It was also ot strange to any group of people anywhere in the world because they are also familiar with feathers and masks, especially those of the Caribbean which Antai and his team “stole” (stole because they refused to acknowledge that the logo was adopted directly from the Caribbean carnival). I was the one who started a war against it, despite my friendship with the then Commissioner. Indeed, Facebook was made something else by those who partook in the debate (of what tourism is and what it’s not). At the end of the day, I and my team won because the so called tourism logo, though launched, did not stand, and was not used anywhere in the State from Day One. I won the battle because I was able to state succinctly what tourism is not, and what it ought to be. The then Ministry of Culture and Tourism thought tourism thrives entirely on borrowed concepts.
The word “tourism” is a fusion of two words — “tour” and “ism.” To tour implies to move from place to place in search of what catches your fancy, while “ism” connotes a belief or idea of/for (a thing). Thus, tourism is a conscious movement from one place to another to please oneself. When we talk of tourism, we are talking about a journey embarked on for purposes of accumulation of ideas and satisfaction. In this kind of journey so many things are always taken into consideration, namely attraction (what calls for or attracted the tourist), safety of the tourist and where to stay if night falls or if the destination is far from the tourist’s home (hospitality).
The entirety of Tourism is woven around “strange sights” and “rare sites”.
Something must attract a person to travel to a strange place for sightseeing. A man cannot leave his home to another place only to see the same thing he left in his home. You don’t expect a man from Creek Town in Calabar to pay his way to Obotim Nsit in Akwa Ibom State to watch Ekpe masquerade dance. Why? Because he lives with ekpe all his life at Creek Town, so coming to Obotim Nsit he needs to see something new, different and fascinating!
No man will travel to a warring environment no matter the attraction. Everyone loves a peaceful and secured environment, and will want to visit or live there. Thus, tourism and safety go hand in hand.
Tourists who visit a place from a distant land will sure spend a night or more in their host environment. Hence, good hotels are imperative for tourism to bloom. Good and indigenous dishes are also what a tourist expects in the host environment. Thus, a tourist coming in from, say London, to Akwa Ibom State must be introduced to indigenous dishes such as asa iwa, ekpang nkukwo, afere afang, afia efere, atama, etc, along side intercontinental dishes. I can tell you, he or she will be glad to have a taste of our dishes (which are foreign to him or her). He must be entertained first, with our indigenous music (songs and dances), before music of other climes are played for him.
Tourism in Akwa Ibom State: The Expectations
For tourism to become the mainstay, or one of the mainstays of our State’s economy, it is germane to ensure that we concentrate on those things, especially tourism sites, that are not common, and rarely found elsewhere. As stated above, nobody will ever leave his State or country of origin to Akwa Ibom State just to look at something he or she has seen many times in his State or country. Calabar Carnival is not indigenous, hence you cannot see foreign tourists around there, unless those paid to carry out certain assignments, hence, the decline of the once talk about carnival. As a matter of fact, natural tourism sites that abound in the State should be developed and given necessary publicity for optimal results. Places like the Green River, Ikot Akpa; Blue River, Ukanafun; Amalgamation House, Ikot Abasi; Bridge of no Return, Ikot Abasi; Itam Monkey Reserve, Ekpo Nnwa Lodge, Edeobom; Oba Oweremi’s grave yard, Etinan; Ibeno Beach, Uta Ewa Beach, Ikot Abasi; Nwaniba Beach, Iso Adiaha Amasa, Use Offot; etc should be developed, publicized for tourism.
It is not hyperbolic to state here that Mr. Udom Emmanuel has bequeathed a peaceful and safe State for us, hence there is no doubt that Mr. Umo Eno will sustain the peace and ensure the safety of lives and property. This will enhance tourism in the State. It is pertinent to mention here that Pastor Umo Eno’s blue print for tourism in the State is second to none, and I believe the State will become a Dubai or Jerusalem of sort if all hand will be on deck.
The incoming Governor will ensure that more hotels are built, and old ones renovated to meet global standard. Tourism cannot thrive where there are no hotels and other hospitality related facilities. Akwa Ibom State is like the State of Israel both in landmass and population, yet the later is reputed to have over Two thousand standard hotels because tourism is one of her mainstay of economy. There should be more and good hotels in Akwa Ibom State.
There should also be good transport system in the State. Government should ensure AKTC (which is so far the best land transport company in the country) is improved in standard of service delivery and availability of vehicles within routes in the State to aid potential tourists. Other stakeholders in the land transport sector should be given grants or supported to ensure quality service delivery.
I have no doubt that Pastor Umo Eno will ensure that Ibom Air maintain the lead in air transport business. In this regard, he will ensure that the airline has more new aircrafts in its fleet to enhance tourism in the State. With Ibom Air lording over the airspace, tourists from across the Atlantic will not find it difficult to access the beautiful State of Akwa Ibom. Pastor Umo Eno, I think, will also make use of water transport system for tourism and commercial sake. There should be a ferry from Oron to Calabar, to Cameroon, to Equatorial Guinea, and to outside world. The same should be the case for Nwaniba, Eket and Ikot Abasi.
Thomas Thomas writes from the Green River, Ikot Akpa, Ibesikpo Asutan.