With the uncertainty surrounding the value of oil and gas as the mainstay of any economy, given shrinking revenues from the sector for several years now, investments in the tourism sector have become increasingly imperative in sustaining economic growth.
A leading example in this regard is Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, which is astoundingly making significant progress and impact on the world economy following its enchanting investments in the tourism sector.
Interestingly, the country recently threw its windows open to the Rivers State government with the aim of boosting its domestic tourism and consequently enriching its economy.
Undoubtedly, Rivers State has rich tourist attractions across many local councils waiting to be tapped. These include the Atlantic Beach at Ikuru Town in Andoni local council, the Abuloma Sand City Beach and Kula Beach, among many others.
Findings show that these tourist sites, if well developed, can attract national and international patronage that can turn around the economy of the state.
Regrettably, the state has over and over played host to the annual conferences of many professional organisations in the country like the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors (NIESV) and the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) but had no functional tourist centres to make the stay of the participants more thrilling.
Thus, many industry observers saw the recent visit of some management team of the Dubai Department for Tourism and 30 different companies with unparalleled tourism trace to Port Harcourt to partner with the state towards developing its great tourism potential as a welcome development.
Some of the partners on the trip to Port Harcourt included Al Khoory Hotel, Atlantis The Palm Hotel & Resort, Copthorne Hotel and Emaar Hospitality.
Others were Hilton Garden Inn, Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates, La Ville Hotel & Suites, Jumeirah Group, Mandarin Oriental, Millennium Airport Hotel, Palazzo Versace, SLS Hotel and Residences and Sheraton Mall of the Emirates
Also, the Dubai Healthcare Authority, American Hospital, Canadian Specialist Hospital, Kings College Hospital, Neuro Spine Hospital and Thumbay Hospital were some of the healthcare institutions that stormed Port Harcourt.
A visit by The Guardian to Dubai in March this year revealed why the partnership would be a worthwhile venture. During the visit, it was conducted to significant tourist sites like the Burj Khalifa, a 124th-floor skyscraper and the world’s tallest tower. Also, a trip into the Arabian Desert revealed that it is a popular excursion site for many visitors. Tour companies were on standby to take visitors out to tear up the sand in a 4×4 – including exhilarating dune bashing.
A visit to the Dubai Mall revealed a vast world’s largest malls with tons of family attractions. Most astounding was the country’s newly launched ‘Museum of the Future’ which gives a glimpse into what life will look like in 2071.
The Museum, standing 77 metres above the ground, is an architectural marvel, built by using robotic technology and with an emphasis on sustainability. The building is powered by 4,000 megawatts of solar energy. The pillarless structure is home to seven unique and distinct floors. For visitors, the museum represents an unparalleled window to experience the future in all its aspects and dimensions.
Speaking with journalists in Port Harcourt during a road show, the Regional Director, International Operations, Department of Dubai Economy and Tourism, Ms Stella Fubara, pointed out that Rivers State is blessed with rich natural heritage and resources, which if well harnessed, could improve the economic position of the state more than oil and gas.
She explained that Dubai tourism has been in partnership and collaboration with the state tourism board for about three years now.
“We started in 2020 and we collaborated with Director-General, Rivers State Tourism Development Agency, Yibok Koko, to launch an artiste challenge here in Rivers State for the 23 local council areas. In that challenge, the artists were to draw their fiction of Dubai and we selected the top three. We took them on a seven-day trip to Dubai and we exposed them to more artistic awareness. That was the beginning of our collaboration with the Rivers State Tourism Board,” she said.
She explained that the major reason for the Dubai 2022 roadshow, which was also held in Lagos, Abuja and Kano, was to open a window of great opportunities for the country, adding that it was capable of exposing Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage to the outside world for positive exploration.
She noted that it would also assist travel agents and tour operatives operating in Nigeria to improve their businesses and know more about the destinations that really serve Nigeria.
“It will help them grow their businesses, grow the economy and education. Everything we do is to enable the travel industry here to be more knowledgeable about what they do. Of course, they take these tools through the road show and apply them to the destinations and even apply them to inbound travels into Nigeria,” she noted.
Speaking with The Guardian, a researcher and media trainer who recently visited Dubai, Mr. Klem Ofokwu, said the partnership between Dubai and Rivers State would open the door for multiple developmental opportunities.
He pointed out that Rivers State has ample chance of doubling Dubai’s success story because much of what Dubai turned into tourist sites are artificials unlike the natural resources such as the Oyorokotoro Fishing Settlement and the creeks that traverse the local councils waiting to be harnessed for tourism purposes.
Ofo said: “The impact of tourism on the economy of Rivers State through this tie will mean that hotel business, food, culture and every other aspect of the people’s lives will come alive. If the government is serious, thousands of direct jobs and a million indirect jobs could be created within years to take the youth off the streets.”
Asked what lessons the state government should learn from Dubai, he said: “What makes Dubai thick is that the leadership thinks global; they look at the whole world as their marketplace. There is a sense of excellence and commercial consideration in whatever they do.
“In Dubai, they have a smart strategy of getting visitors to spend their money in addition to making you go home satisfied. Tourism is not accidental and so if Rivers State wants to participate in this sector, it must sit down and develop a long-term plan, and ensure that security is front and centre.
“Talking about security here, I don’t mean deploying stern-looking men everywhere. In Dubai, you don’t see security men flaunting themselves yet they are around and the visitors have a sense of security round the clock. Rivers State should try to harness areas it has a comparative advantage. However, there are things that cut across like infrastructure and there is no shortcut. There is no tourism without a good transportation system and citizen participation. Dubai boasts of all that.”
Also speaking, Onyekachi Nwosu, a journalist based in Rivers State who was in Dubai during the 2022 Afrozon event, urged the state government to have a deliberate and long-term plan, which, according to him, was one of the key strategies by Dubai.
“Always be ready to rejig and modernise existing plans to meet the latest trend. Be ready to engage the services of experts, no matter who or where he/she comes from and invest heavily in areas of comparative advantage,” Nwosu stated.
On his part, the Director-General of Rivers State Tourism Development Agency, Mr. Yibo Koko, affirmed that Dubai has been deliberate about what they were doing in the tourism sector.
He said: “Dubai is taking it progressively because as far as you are taking people to Dubai, you are also bringing people to Rivers State.”
He expressed optimism that the partnership would boost the economy of the State greatly.
However, many industry analysts insisted that the current excitement in the state over the partnership would amount to nothing unless the state government matches words with actions by putting in necessary facilities that would resuscitate its tourism sector.