By Demola Ojo
Last week, the Nigerian Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) held its annual general meeting and elections in Jos, Plateau State. The choice of venue was a bold move; last yearâ€™s AGM was in Lagos, the year before in Calabar. Both cities are unarguably the leading lights when it comes to tourism in Nigeria.
Jos, on the other hand, can be described as a â€œhas-beenâ€. Gone are the days when it was Nigeriaâ€™s number one destination due in large part to a temperate climate and natural wonders in the form of unique rock formations, numerous waterfalls and more.
This, added to the discovery of vast tin deposits in the vicinity – which was extensively mined in colonial times till the 1960s – was responsible for an influx of migrants from within and outside Nigeria. Indigenous ethnic groups like the Berom, Tiv, Jukun and scores more were complemented by an influx of other Nigerian ethnic nationalities – and Europeans – to form a cultural mix that ensured Josâ€™ status as one of Nigeriaâ€™s most cosmopolitan cities.
Unfortunately, the narrative changed at the turn of the century when communal clashes put a dent on its reputation, somewhat making a mockery of Plateau Stateâ€™s claim to being â€œThe Home of Peace and Tourismâ€.
Suddenly, Jos which used to welcome tourists in droves became a no-go area, even after peace returned. The desire to change the perception of Jos not being safe was one of the reasons why the Plateau State government partnered with NATOP to host the AGM in Jos.
Before the AGM, a team led by Plateau Stateâ€™s commissioner for tourism, culture and hospitality, Mrs. Tamwakat Wali, took the tour operators and media personnel on a tour of the plateau and to the Assop Waterfalls, one of many that the state boasts of.
Participants got to see firsthand the reasons why Jos became an important commercial and tourist centre. A drive through the upper and lower plateaus exposed the team to different temperatures within minutes while seeing the highest railway point in Nigeria, the iconic Riyom Rock and many more rock formations, crater lakes and giant cactus hedges.
The altitude of the Jos Plateau (at about 4,200 feet above sea level), means itâ€™s the source of many rivers which in turn feed rivers Niger and Benue among others while its steep, irregular southern slopes birth many waterfalls.
The altitude is also responsible for average monthly temperatures from 21â€“25 Â°C which could drop as low as 11 Â°C at night from mid-November to late January, with hail falling during the rainy season and in snow in rare cases.
Peace, then Tourism
The very act of hosting the NATOP AGM in Jos sends a message about how serious the state government is taking tourism. During the AGM held at Hilltop Hotel, a seminar aptly themed â€˜Security Challenges and Promotion of Tourism in Nigeriaâ€™ touched on the ways a destination can combat security challenges and ensure peace for tourists.
Speaking at the event, the Governor of Plateau State, Simon Bako Lalong, who was represented by his deputy, Prof. Sonni Gwanle Tyoden, said the stateâ€™s ministry of tourism and its agencies has in the past two years made concerted efforts in ensuring that activities are created to keep Plateau State in the tourism calendar of events in the country.
â€œThe Plateau State carnival, road show and music fiesta are experiencing and receiving national recognition and I can assure you it will soon rival the Calabar Carnival and Carniriv.â€
He also said mountain climbing and other high altitude sports are gaining relevance with the state providing a peaceful and conducive environment for tourists by tackling the menace of insecurity.
According to Lalong, â€œInsecurity everywhere in the world affects the tourism and travel sector; should we not address our local and national security challenges, we can as well bid farewell to the income generating potentials of the tourism sector.
â€œPlateau State has also has not relented in her pursuit of the agenda of peace, security and good governance. No responsible government can afford to let the economic potentials of the tourism and travel industry remain fallow, and this underscores the new focus of our government.â€
Lalong reiterated the impact of tourism on the global economy and promised itâ€™s a sector he plans to give attention to.
â€œIn November 2017, I had the opportunity of leading a delegation from the state to the World Travel Market in Excel London and it provided me the opportunity of seeing the potential of the Travel Market to connect attendees and network of tour practitioners, key industry buyers and influencers for the purpose of tourism destination marketing.
â€œI am envisaging that we can localise this experience using the Nigerian Association of Tour Operators to create a convergence for the demand and supply chain in the tourism and travels sector,â€ he said.
During the AGM, Mrs Wali revealed that tourism is the reason the state has embarked on a massive construction of roads, adding that institutional and organisational frameworks have been put in place to encourage public and private partnership in the tourism sector.
In the midst of the AGM, NATOP elected new members with Abuja-based Hajia Bilkisu Abdul of BBOG Travels emerging National President to replace Nkeweurem Onung while Lagos-based Ime Udo was elected the Vice President.
A new Board of Trustees was also constituted at the AGM. Members include Kabiru Malan, Mrs Fatima Garbati, Jemi Alade, Chairman Carnival Calabar Commission, Gabe Onah, Iyom Josephine Anenih, Ikechi Uko and Onung.
In partnership with the Plateau State government, the above names (and their fellow tour operators) will be tasked with the responsibility of making Jos attractive again, and bringing back the tourists that will help fuel the stateâ€™s economy.
Mahama Set for Lagos Tourism Summit
Former Ghanaian President John Mahama will tomorrow deliver a keynote address at the Lagos State Tourism Summit set for Eko Hotel and Suites tomorrow, where stakeholders will make contributions toward the state tourism master plan. The summit is themed â€œDestination Lagos: Towards a Sustainable Tourism-driven Economyâ€™â€™.
State Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Steve Ayorinde, said the master plan would be unveiled in May in an effort to transform the cultural and artistic landscape of the state.
According to him, the summit will feature paper presentations on tourism and engage practitioners, scholars, entertainers and media professionals.
â€œThis strategic intervention did not happen by accident; it has been a deliberate plan. It will encourage practitioners and stakeholders with institutional support and sustain the hope of investors in the sector,â€™â€™ he said.
The Chief Host will be the Executive Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode while the organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market and the MICE event, Abuja Jabamah, Ikechi Uko as one of the guest speakers will be making a presentation on â€œM.I.C.E, Creative Content As Tourism Sector Panaceaâ€.
Atlanta Retains Top Spot as Worldâ€™s Busiest Airport
Atlantaâ€™s Hartsfield-Jackson remains the worldâ€™s busiest for passenger traffic, according to new preliminary figures from Airports Council International. The US hub welcomed just under 104 million passengers in 2017, down 0.3 per cent on the previous year.
The top three busiest airports are unchanged from 2016, with Beijing in second place and Dubai in third, while Tokyo Haneda displaced Los Angeles International from the fourth sport.
Indiaâ€™s Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi jumped from 22nd to 16th place in the rankings, with traffic up 14.1 per cent, while Guangzhou airport was the only other facility in the top 20 to record growth of over 10 per cent (10.1). Overall traffic growth across the top 20 airports was 5.2 per cent.
In terms of international passenger traffic, Dubai stretched its lead over London Heathrow, welcoming close to 88 million customers (up 5.6 per cent), compared to Heathrowâ€™s 73 million (up 3 per cent).
Here the top ten were all unchanged from the previous year, with Hong Kong in third place, followed by Amsterdam Schiphol, Paris CDG, Singapore, Seoul Incheon, Frankfurt, Bangkok and Taipei.
Commenting on the figures Angela Gittens, Director General, ACI World said: â€œThe surge in cargo volumes and passenger numbers across many of the worldâ€™s airports is testament to heightened business and consumer confidence, at least in the short term.
â€œThe worldâ€™s airports continue to be a vital link in the economic multiplier effect that aviation provides and the role it plays as an enabler for global commerce is growingâ€.