Akwa Ibom state government is leaving no stone unturned in promoting the state as a choice destination for travel and tourism in Nigeria.
The state is living up to expectations in providing the infrastructural backbone needed to make tourism thrive.
These infrastructural backbone include good road networks, functional airport and airline, accessibility to tourism sites among others.
Apart from its untapped tourism potential, the state can boast of an array of sumptuous delicacies.
Akwa Ibom is no doubt blessed with abundant human, natural resources and rich cultural heritage.
To tap from this huge untapped tourism assets, the state government has repositioned Akwa Ibom as a must visit destination through collaboration with tour operators.
This collaboration brought about the hosting of the Annual General Meetings, AGM of Nigerian Association of Tour Operators, NATOP in Uyo, which no doubt will open the flood gate of tourists traffic to the state.
The recent AGM offered the state opportunity to showcase its abundant potential to the tour operators who will market and promote the destinations to the Nigerians and foreigners.
The AGM with the theme: Restarting Tourism in Nigeria, A new Template was a unique way to restart tourism again following the devastating impact of Covid 19 on the travel and tourism industry globally.
The event lived up to its billing as the state shined like a million star as the host of the event.
Speaking at the event, the Governor of Akwa Ibom state, Mr. Udom Emanuel pledged the assistance and partnership of the government to NATOP.
Governor Emanuel urged NATOP to adopt measures that would project their services and attract goodwill to the country.
The Governor who was represented by the secretary to the state government, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem urged NATOP to adopt new strategies that would make the country’s tourism industry attractive and economically beneficial.
He decried the dwindling fortunes of the tourism sector, despite the vast tourism potential of the country.
Governor Emmanuel commended the new level of commitment and zeal demonstrated in recent times by the tour operators and other stakeholders in promoting tourism.
He noted that if the tempo is sustained, it can generate huge revenue for both practitioners and the government.
Emanuel stated further that Akwa Ibom State is blessed with many cuisines and natural tourist sites, including the residence of Mary Slessor, the Blue River, the longest coastline in Nigeria, annual Christmas Carole and Christmas Village which have become major events in the calendars of lovers of tourism.
Speaking also, Akwa Ibom state commissioner of Tourism, Orman Esin stated that Akwa Ibom is a place to come and experience tourism at its best.
NATOP for choosing Akwa Ibom state for the AGM.
He expressed hope that the conference would usher a new partnership between the state and the tour operators.
Esin noted that the state had pioneered several aspects of tourism in Nigeria, being home to the earliest missionaries.
The commissioner stated further that Akwa Ibom is well positioned to take tourism to the next level with its longest coastline in Nigeria, a fertile land rich in tourism, an international airport, and one of the best golf resorts in West Africa.
Esin said Akwa Ibom is the real deal with options for all types of Tourism in Nigeria.
The vibrant tourism commissioner stated further that Akwa Ibom state has the biggest Hotel Property in West Africa.
He said the state has recorded consistent growth over the years.
In his keynote address, Akwa Ibom born International Bussinessman with Passion for Tourism, Mr. Akanimo Udofia observed that tourism is even bigger than oil and gas.
Udofia noted that Akwa Ibom was delivered to them as the next garden of Eden with exclusively fertile land, peaceful disposition, and energetic mix of vibrant youth population.
He lauded Governor Emanuel for his evidenced commitment in Ibom Air and plans to expand regional routes like Ghana, Gambia and Sierra Leone to enable Africans enjoy the huge influx of opportunities he had midwife for the new industrialised Akwa Ibom.
In his words: “Our over 15 tourist attractions from the hills of Itu to the swamps of Eastern Obolo throughout the 129km of coastal shoreline is a testament of the promise land bequeathed only by God and the beauty of his omnipotence.”
Udofia continued that: “Every time my flight launches a descent to land at the Victor Attah International Airport, I get excited by the sprawling beauty of water mass and on one of such occasions, my expatriate partner re-echoed my sentiments on how blessed our tourism potential is. This gentleman has since engaged professionals from the state and abroad on options and wealth generations opportunities without any dime from me or the state. A clear testament of the potential investors see in Nigerian tourism.”
He said it is his strong belief that gatherings like this are vital for increasing cooperation and understanding of how we can combine knowledge and best practices to create more sustainable and successful tourism which fosters a sense of renewed pride in their nature and beautiful state, Akwa Ibom.
In his remarks, chairman, NATOP Board of Trustees, Mr Nkeruwem Onung, stated that Akwa Ibom state will not remain the same in in terms of upsurge in tourism traffic after hosting the AGM.
He called for a separate ministry in order to exploit and develop the full tourism potential of the country.
Onung who is from Akwa Ibom lauded the state government for its continued interest in tourism .
The state government used the opportunity offered by the AGM to showcase an array of its mouth watering cuisines Akwa Ibom is known for, like the Edikanikong, fisherman soup and the beauty of their natural surroundings.
The delicacies which ranges from the intercontinental, to the local, fruits, vegetables, fish and others left visitors amazed on the state’s rich food culture.
On display also were cultural dance from the state cultural troupe, performances by children using local stringed instruments.
On the second day, the tour operators, Journalists and other visitors were taken on a tour of the state.
The tour guide, Ubong Ekpe did not disappoint in this aspect.
At the Lord Lugard’s house in Ikot Abasi, his pictures were placed in from of the dilapidated house built with wood.
It was alleged that the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates in 1914 was done in this house. Though this has been disputed severally as false as documents showed that the amalgamation was actually done in London.
Also, the mock tomb of the infamous Aba Women riot as it was erroneously referred to where about 500 women were massacred by the British colonialist for protesting the planned taxation of women and the ill treatment of their husbands.
Narrating how the incident happened, Mrs Obongawan Edith Etete explained that the colonial administrators were looking for how to generate more revenue to run their government and need to examine the possibility of taxing the women because they have already tasked the men.
Etete stated that the Colonialist ill treated their men, flogging them and forcing them to carry bikes on their shoulders wherever they go and if any one fails, he will be locked up and the women were very angry about it.
She said the women led by the mother of Hon. Justice Udo Udoma, the grand mother of Senator Udo Udoma have gathered to present their petition to the District Officer, DO who became angry over the insistence of the women for him to sign their letter and put the queen seal on it as a mark of acceptance, ordered his soldiers to open fire on them and about 500 women who have gathered from different areas were brutally massacred.
Etete explained further that some of the women that tried to escape were drowned in the nearby river.
After the narration, the tourists, Journalists and other visitors were sober at man’s inhumanity to man.
The visitors could not hold their emotions over the level of cruelty melted to those women.
At the slave trade Point of No Return, it was a mixed feeling seeing the small basement where about 150 slaves were packed like sardine before being shipped abroad to the new world.
Before taken to the underground cell, the slaves were weighed and given a mark to differentiate them.
The tour ended with a visit to the Biodiversity Preservation Center, the number one wildlife conservation and education center in Akwa Ibom.