Can NTDC’s MoU with Cote D’ivoire Boost Nigeria Beyond Oil?

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The need to embrace tourism as an alternate means of generating revenue for the country has never been more needed than now and who is better to guide us through this terrain than our neighbours who have cultivated the habit of turning their cities into ‘Destinations’. Seems we are on the right track with the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in Trade and Tourism between Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and Cote d’Ivoire. Be assured, language is definitely not a barrier here. Omolola Itayemi   writes about what this synergy portends for the industry

The non-stop showers that characterised that Tuesday morning was of little or no deterrent to eminent personalities Nigeria – Côte d’ivoire Economic Forum held recently in Lagos State. From members of the diplomatic corps to industrialists, top government functionaries to stakeholders of the travel and tourism industry, all gathered for this ceremony aimed at  boosting and developing tourism.

A large contingent from the country included MD CEPICI – the agency known as the one-stop shop for investment and assisting in materialising one’s investment opportunities in the country, Essis Esmel Emmanuel; Plenipotentiary Minister/General Director, Cote D’Ivoire Tourisme, Santiero Jean-Maria Somet; H.E. Mrs Toure nee Kone Maman, the Ivorien ambassador to Nigeria and other important members of its business and diplomatic circles had come to grace the three-day event. One of Nigeria’s foremost business tycoon and top investor in Côte d’Ivoire, Olatunde Ayeni was present. Otunba Wanle Akinboboye, CEO Motherland Beckons and La Campaigne Tropicana also gave a speech on the benefits of tourism and what this partnership portends.  Also present was Fidelis Anosike, Publisher, Daily Times.

Much more than being fellow West Africans, we share a lot with Ivoriens. Business tourism is the main type of inbound tourism in Abidjan city, the economic capital of the country, same as Lagos in Nigeria. But the government tries to attract more leisure tourists and develops five-star hotels for dynamic high-class leisure tourists along with expansion of travel accommodation to remote areas and ecotourism. A project to construct 30 bungalows called “relais Paillotes” located near natural parks and making use of ecologically pure sources of energy, is one example, I believe, we need to emulate.

And just like Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire is a true geographical and cultural blend of Africa, with its forests and its savanna and a diversity of ethnic groups, guardian of a variety of folklores, craft industry and religions. It also has nine national parks (Azagny, Comoé, Banco, Taï, Marahoué, Peko, Mont Sangbé, Ehotilé islands, Abokouamékro) which cover nearly six per cent of the total surface of the country.

These parks are rich in rare species as well as species in the process of extinction. They are also strong in Religious Tourism and tourists are regulars at Basilica “Notre-Dame de la paix”, the first African Basilica, one of the largest and certainly most sumptuous in the world. The secular mosques of north (Kong, Kawara, Samatiguila) are not only symbols of the faith, but also constitute places of interest of quality. These historic buildings and religious point out important stages of the history of Cote d’Ivoire.

What is Côte D’Ivoire bringing to the table?

To fully understand what this portends for us, one has to take more than a cursory look at history of Côte D’Ivoire and where it is today and what it has made out of its business and tourism sector. After a civil war spanning 2010-2011 that halted the economy, Côte d’Ivoire is once again back in business with a large stream of FDI targeted at a wide variety of markets. The government is pushing Côte d’Ivoire, and especially its economic capital Abidjan, to become a hub for the wider French-speaking region. As more airlines and international hotels enter the country, a wider range of business infrastructure will become available and boost Abidjan’s attractiveness as tourist destination.

In 2012-2013, new highways were introduced to satisfy the demands of commerce and industrial needs, but also to boost domestic, inbound and outbound tourism. Abidjan is now connected to Yamoussoukro and further, to Signrobo, in the north of the country. Connections to neighbouring countries are also priority projects for the government. Railways are to be improved within the country.

Speaking at the event, Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, Dr. Mbanefo said: “Our country needs to improve its production capacity and must invest in labour-intensive sectors like tourism, agriculture and manufacturing. It is the only way to create jobs for the small and medium scale entrepreneurs, youth and women.

“We have also been holding talks with Ghana tourism board as well as the South African tourism board. Two years ago, we signed an MOU with the Gambia Tourism board soon as we signed the MOU, the first batch of my staff were approved for training and  best practice exchange. We will not stop until we achieve a West African Tourism Brand, so that when a tourist begins his trip in one African country, they can conclude it in Nigeria to get a holistic approach to tourism in West African.

 “NTDC has been collaborating with Cote D’Ivoire Tourism Board for the past three years. They have been coming to the Corporation for collaboration. The MOU signed today will unite us and help to achieve the ECOWAS Tourism Brand Regional Alliance which NTDC has been working on with other African countries.”

In her remark, the Ambassador of the republic of Cote D’Ivoire to Nigeria, Mrs Toures expressed appreciation to all the participants for honouring her invitation. She said: “We will co-operate and partner with Nigeria in many areas such as Tourism, textiles, telecommunication, power, health and education.”

She couldn’t have concluded with a better sentence: “The Forum is a platform for Cote D’Ivoire to form an alliance with Nigeria to enable the two countries strengthen the existing areas and explore new fields of co-operation on a win-win situation and also reduce poverty in Africa”.