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Tourism is the world’s most competitive industry with many countries competing for visitors each year. Almost all nations have in recent times, begun recognizing the importance of tourism and embracing it as an alternative source of Income and revenue generation. Tourism industry has contributed to substantially Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as seen in so many countries of the world. Tourism in Nigeria and Imo State is yet to be tapped into its full economic capacity. In Imo State, hotels, restaurants and tourist attraction contributed immensely to the gross domestic product of the state that is predominantly civil service. It is known that tourism industry contributes significantly to the creation of employment both directly and indirectly.
An assessment of the strength of tourism potentials of our State would help in properly evaluation of the capacity of these all important sectors on how it can sustain and generate income to our economy. With a good number of tourist sites in the state, it will be imperative to examine how strong they can attract and serve as tourist destinations. A strong tourism attraction is a prerequisite for any destination to be considered by tourists, and this strength can be reflected in terms of attractions, accessibility and amenities. The tourism industry in Nigeria has a whole lot of potential but then it is not being utilised by most states and even the local government. Most of the local government areas are not taking advantage of the tourist attractions they have within their areas. So we are in a situation whereby we have things that will generate money but it are lying idle and wasting away. Many of the rural towns and villages failed to achieve their tourism development goals due to government’s neglect and sometimes not pulling enough power to attract investors.
Geographically, Imo state is located in the centre of South East region of Nigeria. It has equi-distant to other states in the region like Abia, Rivers, Enugu, Ebonyi and Anambra states. The state capital Owerri is three and half hour drive from Benin the Edo state capital, two hours and fifty minutes from Warri, Delta state, one hour twenty minutes from Aba, Abia State, one hour forty five minutes from Portharcourt, Rivers state, and one hour twenty minutes from Onitsha Anambra State, two and half hours from Enugu the Enugu State capital, one hour twenty nine minutes from Umuahia, Abia State, three hours eleven minutes from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State and four hours twenty eight minutes from Calabar, Cross River State.
The ability of a tourist destination to appeal to visitors is dependent upon the strength of its tourist attractions which are the primary motivation for tourist visits. Attractions are the pull motivators that comprise the fundamental elements on which tourism is based and also avers that the drawing power of an attraction is critical to the success of the tourism industry in an area. To create rural and small city attraction complexes rely on a number of small scale attractions that create identifiers to mark the place as worthy of a visit. Given the above potentials and investments, there exists the need to give the Ministry of Tourism a Commissioner who is vast and experienced, marketing professional with a track record of delivering results and visionary leadership. The target will be to coordinate all the activities that will deliver Imo State as the place to be for relaxation, meetings, events, incentives and exhibitions. The government should set up an Integrated Service Centre where trained customer services professionals will respond to public inquiries on these attractions and other government policies and programs using telephone, internet and other social media platform.
In terms of attractions we currently have quite a number of places that can attract tourists if something can be done by the incoming government of Rt. Hon Emeka Ihedioha. These include, Oguta Lake which is the largest natural lake in Imo State and the second biggest lake in the country after Lake Chad. Imo Wonderlake Resort, Oguta which is also the second largest freshwater lake in Nigeria surrounded with evergreen environs excluding poetic beauty. Abadaba Lake Resort which is situated in Obowo LGA has a fresh and muddy colour water body which is festooned with a luxuriant Raffia Palm and bamboo trees adding to its aestheticism. Ngwu Spring Natural Water known as Iyi Umugara is found in Nkwere LGA and it is sparkling natural water, pure and crystal-like. The stream which is formed by the cascading spring water is a mystery because its volume and flow increases mostly during dry season. The Sources of Urashi River in Ezeama community in Dikenafai, Ideato-South LGA is a spring which has mysterious source from a rope-like feather stretching from a mountainous substance. The spring is believed to have been the source of Urashi River which stretches from Ideato South to Ideato North, terminating in Oguide where the blue lake and Urashi River is located.
Nekede Zoo is a biological garden complex located at old Nekede in Owerri. The Zoo had a stock of different animals ranging from Lions, Pythons, Monkeys, Ostriches, Crocodiles, Cattle Egret, Guerrillas, and different birds. It is a neglected goldmine. Iyi Ogidi Spring is in Ofeahia Amaifeke Autonomous community in Orlu LGA. The spring water here bubbles up from five separate channels in a pleasant, serene spot. The British built a hill station here in colonial times. Amusement Park, Owerri was created for relaxation and entertainment for families, visitors and children within the Owerri metropolis. It was maintained for many years by the Rotary Club of Owerri and later destroyed by Gov Okorocha’s government. Assumpta Cathedral which is located in the centre of Owerri is reputed to be the biggest Catholic Church in West Africa, fashioned in Italian architectural design. The Rolling Hills, which have series of hills that expand from Ihube to Okigwe town into the northern border can, provide a great site for camping and picnicking. Iyi Okwu Spring is located at Okwuepe village in Ebenese Ihioma Autonomous community in Orlu LGA. The spring, which gushes out from a rock on the hill in pipe-like manner laid by nature is very clean and pure as it rushes with intensity downwards. Edemili Lake occupies a wetland, which is more of a swampy environment and it is located in Awo Idemili about 2km from the local government headquarters. It has a palm beach setting with so many palm fruits occupying a large area of land. Palm Beach Holiday Resort, Awo-Omama is a beach that is associated with palm trees and beautiful environment for relaxation.
For the sector to attain its potential, more work needs to be done in the industry. The need to invest in road infrastructural development, service delivery, security and rebranding of Imo as the new place for tourism cannot be overemphasized. Essentially there may be no significant increase in the number of tourists unless key issues such as accessibility both in terms of transportation infrastructure and affordability, hospitality, and security are addressed. Hence, a shift in focus to address these infrastructural problems is needed in order to realize its potential. Meeting regularly with players in the hospitality industry will be ideal as partnership with them will be an added advantage to the government. Agreement on minimum standards can be adopted for re-certifying of hotels and eateries in Imo State by government. The standards will involve upgrade including room numbers and specifications, service qualities from ambience, food quality, and logistics and after sales services. Another will be to engage the transport industry players and organize trainings on customer services. The government can also modernize and give a facelift to most of these facilities taking care to preserve their essence and also improve access roads and non-obtrusive security parameters around them. The new government can develop minimum standards to concession these attractions to the private sector in an open, competitive and transparent bidding process which will allow local content clause and mandating reasonable numbers of their staff to be drawn from the host community and Imo State in general. This will be the point that will give the program all the required push.
The State can fund their basic training for standardization and establish, agree and re-train local eateries and ‘joints’ on Health Safety and Environmental Standards with clear sanctions for contraventions. Rt. Hon Ihedioha should invest heavily in security which is at the core of the tourism industry by providing state-of-the-art communication gadgets. Please note that Dubai’s security is provided by Israeli Mossad and similar partnership can be discussed to have a cover over the whole state to reduce kidnappings and violent crimes. The state can also lobby the Federal government to increase the runway at the Imo Airport to enable it land bigger body aircrafts or consider the option of doing same by itself and getting reimbursements. Due to the nature of our state the new government can still build, develop and concession a standard Stadium of 80,000 seating capacity, Events and Conference Centre which will be an architectural masterpiece along the Ngor Okpala axis to ensure proximity to the airport. The bid process for the design and the construction of this Centre will be open and transparent to attract international participation. With all these, Rt. Hon Ihedioha will certainly change the face of Imo State in his first four years as governor.
For the sector to attain its potential, more work needs to be done in the industry. The need to invest in road infrastructural development, service delivery, security and rebranding of Imo as the new place for tourism cannot be overemphasized.