In this interview with selected travel writers, Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mr Victor Antai, speaks on tourism budget, innovative events to internationalise the state’s tourism brand and other intervention plans. Wale Olapade was there.
Akwa Ibom is a lovely place to visit, we have beautiful places like Oron, Eket, Ikot Abasi, Ikot Ekpene. The state is very peaceful, calm with people, who are always ready to welcome visitors, comparatively in the news, you will not hear anything untoward about Akwa Ibom State.
Actually, the governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Udom Emmanuel is a fantastic young man that is driven by practical ideas and figures. He has given us the mandate to make the state tourism potential more profitable. One of our focuses in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is to make the whole world know that there is a place called Akwa Ibom State, so that a lot of people can come down here to have a lovely time, especially when you want to have a qualitative time, you may just come down to Akwa Ibom. We are also trying to build a very big brand for Akwa Ibom State by making it a tourism haven.
Redirecting tourism marketing drive
Just like I said, for the first time we have our budget going up from well below one billion to eight billion in 2018, and the difference, from what we submitted will make us to take care of some of this facilities because we have been trying so hard to make Akwa Ibom State a very strong brand when we talk about tourism.
For the Amalgamation House, there will also be an intervention from us, because the place it was cited is in Akwa Ibom State. We are going to have intervention work on the Amalgamation House to bring out the appeal that will make people to want to visit Ikot Abasi. And since the distance from the Amalgamation House is less than 200 meters that whole area means a lot to us as a government.
I have already mentioned that what we are going to do on the Amalgamation House is intervention so that we don’t lose the entire project before the real restoration process begins.
Sustainability and continuity
Well, just like every other things in life needs sustainability, I can assure you that what governor Emmanuel met on ground, he is doing everything within the ambit of his capability to sustain them. Also with the ones we have already added, with the right passion, like the governor will say, we will sustain them.
We are putting structures on ground and people with experience to manage it. Like some of the events we have done; Orange September and Ukapisua, the international Arts exhibition that we did, we have men of capacity working with us, so that when I as the Commissioner of Culture and Tourism step aside, whoever comes in, the show will still go on. That is what I have done from the advertising in social media, newspapers and other media space.
Public Private Partnership
Well, lots of organisations have approached us and the state government for partnership and we are still talking with them and trying to cross our T’s and I’s. These are issues that I cannot discuss right now because it is the Excellency, Governor Emmanuel that will break the ice because it is exclusively his responsibility, but I am assuring you that a lot of things is in the offering, like I said, at Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort, we are trying to bring in the football pitch so that we can attract foreign team who travel Europe to camp, instead, they can come here because we have all the facilities on ground to take care of all their needs.
Creating a Ministry of Tourism and Culture
When I came up as Commissioner for Culture and Tourism in 2017, I came with the idea and conviction of thinking out of the box, on how to make the state a very strong international brand when it comes to matters of tourism. The first thing we did was to establish the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, as the economic subsector of the state. We came up with the Meeting Akwa Ibom brand concept. After the launch of the Meeting Akwa Ibom Brand, we went further to host the first internationally acclaimed arts exhibition that took place at the Unity Park where we have a museum and that was where we held the maiden edition of Akwa Ibom Arts Expo which was attended by prominent art lovers and illustrious sons and daughters of the state. It was a very successful outing’
We have a back-to-back street event, like the Beach Splendour, where we displayed the rich cultural heritage of the state. We have Ididi Agbe which showcased the very best of our rich local cuisines to all. We also have the art photography exhibition which narrated the history of Akwa Ibom State from its creation till date. Then we had the Nboko Akwa Ibom, our own expression of Miss Akwa Ibom. Nboko simple means beauty. Another event that we had was the Ukapisua; this simple means the end of the year in our local parlance which is common to everyone born and bred in Akwa Ibom. Also, we brought some unique things to our own carnival; this was a combination of the usual carnival float with other innovations.
What made ours different was that we combined sound trucks with the carnival floats. We have five different bands which were named after some of the revered and most unique tourist sites in Akwa Ibom State. We have the Bridge Band, which was named after the Birdge of No Return, a place with a very rich history located in Ikot Abasi. Then we have the Plaza Band, named after the Ibom Plaza which also has its own history dated back to the colonial era where it was referred to as the Piccadeli Junction, later christened Ibom Connection and now Ibom Plaza, which is cited in the heart of Uyo, the state capital. We have the Blue River Band, named after the Blue River that traverses between Itimokpo into Calabar. The Blue River which is crystal clear has a unique behavior because at the point of confluence, the water does not meet. Also there is the Beach Town Band named after one of the lively Beaches in the state and the fifth is the Rolling Hills Band, named after Ituk Hills. So far, there are five bands we named after our heritage sites here in Akwa Ibom State.
Also, in making the carnival floats unique and lively, we lined up five mega music stars in Nigeria in the likes of Wizkid, Tiwa Salvage, Runtown, Tuface and Techno. So each of them was attached to a particular carnival float, every float has two decks with the lower one having the sound box while the upper deck had the stage for each artiste to perform as the carnival floats move along streets of Uyo.
We also did the mega beach fiesta; it was the first of its kind in the history of the state, where we have two musician; Techno and Phyno as guest artistes. And for the first time, we have well over 100,000 persons at a particular beach, it was a mega jam. We intend to improve on it and since it was our first outing, we have one or two areas of adjustments, but I assured you there will be more unique innovations in this year’s edition to making it more massive, engaging and special than what we have in last year.
Our driving force
Once again, one of our major driving forces is to make Akwa Ibom State a strong tourism brand internationally. Also, we want to improve on our hospitality strength in the Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort by increasing our occupancy rate. The hotel is a place for families to be and we have also started thinking of building a park for children so that parents can be coming to the resort with their children.
Apart from the hotel in-house facilities, we have the golf course, the marina, which we are trying to bring back the tour from the marina side of it where we have a jetty with which you can easily go on a tour to Tinapa in Calabar and back to Iko Abasi. In making this trip, we will have a police escorts.
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