Why Tourism Is Bayelsa’s Next Gold Mine

By Nwokedi nworisara
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The World over, tourism is recognized as the engine of growth and a huge foreign exchange earner. Tourism is a very potent force in the world. As a foreign exchange earner, it accounts for over 10% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This marks tourism out as a major player and catalyst for sustainable development. Most countries make huge investments in the tourism industry because of its potential to create job opportunities, improve local livelihoods, encourage economic growth and alleviate poverty. Tourism is most advantageous because it is a renewable source of revenue, and is capable of generating incentives for conservation of natural and cultural assets.

The news that Bayelsa State will develop the long awaited ox-bow lake resort has come as a relief to tourism watchers. It is coming at a time when the President has no choice but to get involved in creating a conducive tourism environment in his home State. Considering that the State is likely to play pivotal roles in the coming political dispensation. An eye opener was the President's last visit for the conferment of chieftaincy title to his wife at his home village Otoueke, a 20 minute drive from State capital Yenagoa. This visit with top level entourage presented a logistic nightmare from all indications. You can now begin to imagine the calibre of visitors expected at the Presidents home on his inauguration for a next dispensation.

Unfortunately, with non completion of high brow hotels and the ox-bow resort as well as the international cargo airport, the State may miss so much revenue inflow. Tourism was the key development strategy adopted by the Goodluck Jonathan dispensation as governor of Bayelsa State in 2006. Today with this announcement, tourism resurfaces as the most urgent direction for present and coming dispensations in the State. Today one begins to appreciate the foresight of the then Governor Goodluck Jonathan in adopting the tourism strategy for the development of state. The decision to delay on this key infrastructure accentuated with declining revenue from oil. Who would have foreseen that Bayelsa would produce the President of Nigeria so soon? Now it is clear that baring the financial meltdown in the state, the then governor was indeed farsighted

Presently, the State needs the ox -bow lake resort badly and may have to work day and night if it must be completed in two years. The existence of such an infrastructure would have the capacity to double the State's internally generated revenue (IGR) proceeds at this time. It would have come just in time to help Mr. President accommodate his visitors during the events leading to the fundraising launch of the Otueke Federal University as well as the first Lady's chieftaincy conferment ceremony.

The following strongly reawakens the long standing debate as to what exactly would amount to the best strategy for diversifying the Bayelsa mono- product economy. My argument has always been that considering the high level of funding needed to finance even business holdings in the state, foreign investors may stand a better chance than their local counterparts. Consider for instance the cost of sand filling to put up a building in the low lying plots of Yenagoa city. The initial Strategy of the Goodluck governorship in Bayelsa state was to provide an enabling environment for this kind of investors. It was a targeted policy because the government recognized that investments from such investors can by way of multiple economic benefits outstrip even bigger volume of investments from smaller holders.

However to attract them, such investors must be assured of accommodation of the highest standards; they need good transportation within and without the State as basic necessities. If you provide one and fail to provide the other they will still stay away. When there is enough high quality employment opportunities in the State, then a middle class will emerge to provide for the mass of the unemployed youths who by then must have undergone necessary socialization into the new economy. Today many plots allocated to those who may not have the capacity to develop them lie out there fallow while foreign direct investors yearn to come into the State's economy. The indicator of this truism can be gleaned from the way the State's 2010 bond issue was quickly oversubscribed.

Coming closer to home you need not look farther than Cross River State. See the rapid transformation of the State. Tourism provided them a policy, a job, a direction, and most of all a social reorientation. It was revolutionary. Some have not been able to understand the reasons nor comprehend the process involved in the Cross River Miracle which the then governor of Bayelsa State intended to duplicate for Bayelsa State before his move to Abuja as Vice President in 2007.

Although Bayelsa State is a major oil producing State, the State faces inadequate acute liquidity crunch arising from fluctuating fortune of crude oil proceeds. Other oil producing nations such as the United Arab Emirate (UAE) turned attention to tourism as alternative sources of revenue. This is in recognition of the fact that crude oil is a non-renewable resource that may not be all-time sufficient. Now, because of the huge premium given tourism, research has shown that tourism constitutes about 10 percent of the world's foreign exchange earnings and business transactions. The economic and social importance of tourism is not in doubt.

Economically, tourism is labour intensive, offering many opportunities for both skilled and semi-skilled. In Ghana, for instance, tourism provides direct employment in accommodation, restaurant, tour and travel operations. It also provides indirect employment in the tourism supplying sector such as agriculture, craft production and transport. Also additional employment is induced through local spending. Apart from contributions to government revenue fees and levies, licensed fees paid by hotels, restaurant, tour and travel operations, casinos tourism brings in general development in the area of accommodation, transportation, telecommunication and road network. A range of other activities are stimulated by tourism development, such as agriculture, manufacturing, high technology and communication. Tourism encourages small and medium-sized businesses which in turn help to generate service and entrepreneurial skills.

Socially, tourism improves the living standards of the local people and helps in the improvement of the community's facilities and services. It also helps to conserve the cultural heritage of an area which otherwise might be lost as a result of the urban-industrial complex. Tourism contributes immensely to the development and maintainsmuseums, theatres and other cultural facilities. When this is pursued vigorously, it renews the spirit of community through the appreciation of the culture of the host communities especially during festivals. In a global scale, tourism provides the opportunity for cross-cultural exchange between tourists and residence who learn about and come to respect one another's culture

With her abundant resources and difficult terrain, tourism can create a win-win situation in Bayelsa State. Eco- tourism can mix well with cultural tourism to transform the state into a built up economy. Government can make converted efforts to transform the multiple Rivers, streams, beaches and mangrove swamp of Bayelsa State into touriosm sites.

Nature-based/ecotourism is a subject of sustainable tourism, referring to tourism that is carried out in relatively undisturbed natural areas (a concept that covers a wide spectrum, from pristine nature to more or less degraded habitat) and that serves as a tool for the conservation of and sustainable development of local communities. According to the World Conservation Union; “Ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature and cultural features both past and present, that promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations”.

Within the context of increasing interest in enriching and authentic travel experiences, cultural tourism is growing in popularity. The WTO estimates that cultural tourism has been growing at a rate of 15% annually and that 37% of all international travel includes a cultural component. Some authorities believe that cultural tourism is the fastest growing and most lucrative segment of the North American travel industry.

While there is no one standard definition of cultural tourism that has been adopted globally, the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) defined it thus: Cultural and heritage tourism occurs when participation in a cultural, educational, or heritage experience is a significant factor in a trip. This could involve: Museums and Galleries; performing, literary and visual arts; festivals and events; historic sites and heritage attractions, local customs and cuisines etc.

Bayelsa State is blessed with immense tourist attractions, which unfortunately have not been fully developed. There is the Lake Efi tourist attraction – a natural lake located in Sabagreia, in Kolokuma/Opokuma local government area of Bayelsa State, and that is where the popular fishing festival Lake-Efi Fishing festival takes place. A similar lake exists at Seigben Ogugu Lake in Amassoma, which is 3km long and 500m in width, with a peculiar curving course. It is the site for the popular Seigben Ogugu Fishing and Feasting Festival, itself a popular tourist attraction.

One of the relics of the heinous slave trade in Bayelsa State is the Akassa Slave Tunnel. Specifically, the tunnel is situated at Ogbokiri, Akassa, Bayelsa State, stand grim-looking houses where slaves were chained as they awaited shipment to the Americas. Still in Akassa, there is Lighthouse: standing approximately 60m tall by the seaside in Akassa, this structure is reputed to be the tallest lighthouse in West Africa. Originally built in 1910, but relocated to its present site in 1912. Its purpose was to help ships coming into the inland sea ports navigate their way through shallow waters. The lighting system was facilitated by solar energy.

The British Consulate Building was established a consulate in Twon-Brass, from where they administered the area during the era of 'legitimate trade'. The consulate buildings were still in use till the end of the colonial period in 1960. Whiteman Graveyard: This is a cemetery containing the graves of Europeans who died in Anglo-Nembe War popularly called the Akassa war of 1895. This was sparked by the way the local palm oil trade was coming under the increasing control of the Royal Niger Company at the expense of indigenous traders. The dawn attack of more than a thousand Nembe warriors on the company's headquarters was led by King William Koko. The graveyard tells a vivid story of the raid and its bloody aftermath. It is located at Twon-Brass, Brass Island and can be easily reached from the Brass jetty. A similar cemetery can also be found in the Ogbokiri area of Akassa.

So we know what goldmine lies untapped in the state. In the coming dispensation Bayelsa cannot give any excuse for not being able to host international events. As the home state of the President there comes additional global focus that can be turned into cash. There is even greater urgency on the State to compete infrastructural provisions in the Yenagoa Master plan. It is hoped that with this insight, the State government will partner investors in the sector to implement a sustainable tourism policy.

*Mr. Nworisara, a public policy consultant, wrote from Yenagoa.

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