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By NBF News
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THE Director-General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Chief Olusegun Runsewe, said that the corporation was employing arts and crafts in its new drive to promote the influx of tourists into the country.

Runsewe told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on the sideline of the unveiling of the biggest cultural basket in Africa in Calabar that the new approach would rekindle interest in art and craft and boost poverty alleviation in the sector.

He said that the concept of cultural hamper would bring to mind to both Nigerians and foreign visitors the import of sharing cultural items during the Yuletide.

'The small and medium scale enterprises are major producers of arts and crafts and this singular act would increase their productivity and income,'' he said.

Runsewe noted that the pillars that supported the basket was over 15ft and built in a traditional sitting with the basket on top having various cultural items from the 36 states of the country including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

According to him, the cultural items would be given out to visitors at the end of the carnival and that such souvenirs were integral in the promotion of tourism.

'We invite visitors to visit the biggest cultural basket site. There are enough cultural items for you,'' he said.

He added that the corporation believed that arts and crafts would create more jobs and boost the nation's economy.

According to him, the country had some comparative advantage in some arts and crafts, which it could use to boost its tourism sector.

'The global tourism destination is Africa, and we have to position the sector very well to take its place.

'We have the potentials and authentic tourism attractions that most foreign tourists are looking for,'' he said.

Runsewe said that staff of the corporation in the states had been educated to sensitise the small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) operators on the need to create awareness for their products.

'We discovered that some of the arts and crafts we showcased during our local and foreign tourism expos had attracted foreign business partners.

'Some of the SME operators' products were the most sorted after during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the operators now have business partners in three countries,'' he said.

Runsewe said that the corporation had also taken some tour operators to foreign tourism exhibitions to see how other tour operators packaged their tourism potentials.

'The aim is to establish a relationship between our tour operators and their counterparts in foreign countries.

'This is very necessary so that our local operators can package local clients for their partners abroad and vice versa,'' he said.

On Nigeria's target for foreign tourists as the season picks up, he said that the corporation had attracted several contacts from some countries and individuals who had indicated interest to visit.

'The tour operators are handling it. The truth of the matter is that we do not have accurate instrument for gathering data on tour arrivals, but there is a huge number of arrivals,'' he said.

He recalled that many Chinese tourists visited Nigeria recently, while another batch was expected from Japan and China to visit Nigeria soon.

'The fasted way to attract tourists is when you satisfy the tourists who will in turn spread the good news,'' he said.

He also said that the fresh initiatives would be part of the country's attractions at the international tourism fair scheduled for January in Spain.

'The fair is one of the most important fairs in the world where tourism professionals define their working guidelines, strategies and business alliances to re-enforce the industry.

'It will also create the opportunity for tourism promoters, tour operators, hoteliers, travel agents to showcase their products,' Runsewe said.

'We are taking this unique opportunity to wish all foreigners who come to Nigeria happy birthday, merry Christmas and happy New Year, Calabar is a unique destination for networking.

'The Trinidad carnival is about 125 years old, Brazilian carnival is 49 years old, Nottinghill carnival is just about 29, but they don't compete. We are calling on everybody to network with Calabar so that everybody can be in Calabar to enjoy the best of this festival.'

NAN quotes Runsewe as saying that the Calabar Carnival had been endorsed at a major event in December and commended the Cross River State Government for sustaining this yearly carnival which today stands out as a pride to our dear country.

'There are lots of energy and meticulous planning as seen in this year's carnival's dry run. Activities at the dry run were no less exciting; it was also a 14km gruelling walk and dance. The participants never for once looked fazed, it was fun,'' he said.