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OBUDU RANCH: WHEN TWO PRESIDENTS VISIT

By NBF News
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'I am not much an advocate for traveling, and I observe that men run away to other countries because they are not good in their own, and run back to their own because they pass for nothing in the new places. For the most part, only the light characters travel. Who are you that have no task to keep you at home?' – Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) U.S. poet, essayist and lecturer.

There is a need to expand the mind, and no doubt traveling to new and exciting places helps to challenge and intrigue the mind. But like they say ' East, west, north or south… Home is best.' It is very important to know the various locations, sites and excitement that we can boast of to visitors whose need for mind expansion turns their interests our way. But most important is our need to know the true potentials such places have, the major positive impact on our community, nation and ourselves. By this knowledge we have opened up a door to new opportunities and pathways that will eventually help to lead us to image building, psychological balance, economic growth and continuous work on improvement.

The Obudu Ranch Resort, a haven located in the heart of Cross River State, has been a place of curiosity to both locals and foreigners. Its unique blend of excitement, intrigue, calm, nature and challenges keep visitors occupied from the minute they are carried to the ranch from the pick up point, till they leave. A wonder indeed!

The natives of Cross River State, and the people in general are known to be peaceful, warm and receptive. So much so Calabar, the state's capital is jokingly said to mean: Come And Live And Be At Rest!  It is this rest that the state has succeeded in selling to the world, and Obudu ranch has become a haven for honeymooners, holiday makers, personal and organizational retreats and tourism. This national pride is directly over- seen by the Executive Governor of Cross River State, Liyel Imoke, the state government, and people of the state. With adequate support from the Federal Government, the potentials of Obudu ranch can be greatly unveiled.

Tourism. That fun making industry that many nations survive on. Although it sounds as a single industry, tourism however can be seen as the hydra-headed industry, because of the many offshoots it springs up: location, venue, culture, food, artifacts, antiques, music, fashion, sight-seeing, the list goes on. Each offshoot has an independence to be largely appreciated for its representation. Need I say that these all lead to one thing - money. Tourism is a money spinning industry for the nation, business, individuals and communities. It is one of the very few industries that benefits from the grassroots to the uppermost level. Everybody is involved and everyone benefits.

We see all these potentials in Obudu ranch, so much so that our President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, found no better place to retreat to after the rigours of the just concluded elections. It sends a silent but extremely strong message of what we have as a potential money-spinner for our economy.  It also balances his new focus on tourism and revenue to the nation. Pleasantly, when the ranch was visited by the President of Sierra Leone, His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma, nothing can be more than a confirmation that it is indeed a place of national pride, and indeed a place to showcase to the world – A place where presidents meet.

By Governor Liyel Imoke's assessment, the ranch was ideal because its facilities are of international standard to host a retreat of any magnitude, thus stressing the reason for the President's choice.

Staying at the ranch would also afford the President the opportunity to address some of the challenges the ranch faces; such as some major facilities which are in dire need of repairs, as well as a vital aspect to the success of tourism - access. If the Federal Government would attend to the access road to the ranch, by making properly built roads, it would attract a greater number of patronage from home and abroad, as the utilization of the ranch will also go a long way to boost patronage once some of the facilities are completed because Obudu Mountain Ranch with its facilities is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

The Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Mohammed Abubakar Sadiq, said in an address at the 2010 World Tourism Day celebration that it has become imperative for Nigeria to develop its potentials in tourism so that the country may reap from what nature has bestowed on it, saying it is high time Nigeria benefited from the industry like many other countries of the world.

Also at the same event, the Director General of the National Tourism Development Corporation (NDTC), Olusegun Runsewe, said although oil has been the major source of revenue in Nigeria, diversifying into tourism industry would greatly supplement the country's earnings. While noting that, our fellow African nation, South Africa, earns $1 billion from tourism per year; and for the next 20 years South Africa will continue to enjoy the investment, he urged the Federal Government to invest more in the tourism sector.

So back to Obudu ranch, which can be described as one of our choicest spots of reference to the world. How many Nigerians have taken time to go there? Oh, many have read about it, heard about it, and even know the location, but really how many have been there? Perhaps more awareness needs to be made, perhaps more funds need to be released by the government, perhaps new structures and activities of interest need to be added. Perhaps… perhaps… perhaps. Perhaps we should start with knowing the many benefits of tourism to the nation and the people.

The multiplier effect brings new money into the economy. Tourism money is returned to the local economy as it is spent over and over again.  Tourism is one of the most effective ways of redistributing wealth, by moving money into local economies from other parts of the country and overseas. It brings income into a community that would otherwise not be earned.   It fosters conservation and preservation of natural, cultural and historical resources.

Tourism encourages community beautification and revitalization. It can be considered a clean industry. It provides governments with extra tax revenue each year through accommodation and restaurant taxes, airport taxes, sales taxes, park entrance fees, employee income tax etc. and those that indirectly support tourism such as food production and housing construction. Economic diversification is, for many communities, an insurance policy against hard times. By offering an additional means of income, tourism can support a community when a traditional industry is under financial pressure, particularly where that community relies heavily on a single industry.

'…Who are you that have no task to keep you at home?' – Emerson's question is one to be answered by all. Should we put resources to greatly improve the tourism sector, get busy and ensure it is a worldwide success? Or do we pretend that we have no idea the huge potentials lying in wait to be harnessed? Are we like those without foundations, going around to see the beauty of other worlds alone, because we do not have any task to keep us at home? If we take time to promote our tourism industry, we will take pride in the total outcome of our task.

Tourism provides a substantial proportion of the money that supports our heritage and culture, and is one of the main focuses for economic regeneration in many areas. It makes an important contribution to the quality of life, supporting facilities and services that benefit the whole community. Sustainable tourism is about managing the impact of visitors on the local destination's economy, communities and environment to benefit all stakeholders both in the present and the future. This applies to all tourism destinations and businesses and to all forms of tourism, whether niche or mainstream. Indeed, sustainability is necessary for the successful future of tourism itself.

Governor Liyel Imoke expressed the significance of the President's one week retreat; that by spending some time in the ranch, the President's decision was supportive of the state government's tourism programme; which encourages Nigerians to come over to the ranch and experience culture, nature and exciting hospitality, rather than go overseas. According to him, the facilities at the ranch are as good as anywhere in the world, stating that the President's visit and that of his wife, Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan, 'is the greatest marketing plan anybody can have'.

Sosu, an author, lives in Abuja