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Behold: the Lagos yacht hotel

By Kunle Awosiyan

The Sunborn Yacht Hotel,an onshore hotel facility procured by the Lagos State government in partnership with the private sector,was recently inaugurated at Marina, Lagos. Kunle Awosiyan was part of the crew that sailed to the inauguration. He reports.

IT did not take five minutes to sail from a jetty at Walter Carrington to the Marina . But it took us almost an hour on the high sea before our ferry could hit the yacht.

It was a memorable experience. One had never thought there were potholes on the sea. The ferry had continually hurtled, making the journey a bit fearful but interesting. The tide pushed the boat around on the sea.

The intensity of the sun was high but not really felt due to the heavy breeze of the ocean. One of the crew members had shouted, “Are you all wearing your life jackets?” “Yes'', everybody had replied simultaneously.

The flying boat that conveyed us to Marina would not have been able to pass through the high sea because of the rush. The water was becoming greener and cleaner. The wave was becoming heavier as the sea spread to no definite boundary.

At 20 nautical miles, the ferry had sailed and we could not see any of the smaller boats anymore. They had all rescinded to a jetty specially built for the tourists, who were mainly the white people. They had all withdrawn to an inlet with no single Nigerian in sight.

Our ferry had passed several of the boats convening just the foreigners. No single Nigerian, rich or poor, old or young had created time to relax in this kind of atmosphere. As a matter of fact, those of us in the ferry were forced to join the crew.

With this scenario, one began to think that life is more than drinking a carton of beer or dancing away at club. It is more than sleeping at every leisure hour. It is neither measured by wealth nor poverty. It is about enjoying the natural creation of God.

While most Nigerians have refused to enjoy the nature God had created for them, foreigners (tourists) do enjoy it, perhaps to improve their health status.

That is why it has become a bit difficult to contest the report of the World Health Organisation(WHO), which puts life expectancy in Nigeria at 45 years. The report shows that life is guaranteed not by how wealthy but how healthy is.

After another hour of sailing on the sea, the crew got back to the Walter Carrington Jetty, from where it moved to Terracotta, a restaurant in Victoria Island, to cool off.

At present, the Sunborn Yacht Hotel has been stationed at Marina as one of the few major tourism destinations in the world. The 105- bedroom, custom built boat hotel had been moored at the Marina waterfront since two weeks ago. It has become an exciting spectacle with many passers-by stopping to catch a glimpse or taking photographs.

But while both the poor and rich Nigerians took photographs, some of the white people who visited the place had begun to make enquiries about how to get a space in the yacht.

Speaking while receiving the floating hotel facility, the Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism and Inter-governmental Relations, Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi, described the transfer of the hotel to Lagos as a landmark achievement of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola.

According to him, the hotel was brought to reposition Lagos as a tourism destination.“For Lagos, Africa and indeed the Middle East , this has now become a flagship, a project heralding the dawn of a new era in the Nigerian tourism sector.”

Senator Afikuyomi described the yacht hotel as a delightful addition to the Lagos skyline, which is going to add value by being one of the very few floating hotels in the world and thereby putting Lagos in the league of cities like New York, Barcelona, Paris and Finland, just as it has already put the state ahead of cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha, which are all said to be at various stages of setting up similar floating hotels.

To him, the speed and success of the acquisition was a result of the healthy relationship between the Fashola administration and the organised private sector in the state. He said,”This is a fully funded private- sector initiative, which was facilitated by the state government to achieve the set objectives of the administration for the development of tourism in the state.”

He stated that it was the quickest such transaction prosecuted to fruition in less than one year from conception. “This is a credit to the vision and drive of the leadership of Governor Babatunde Fashola and the team spirit that exists in the Lagos State Executive Council”.

In his comments, the Honourable Minister of State for Tourism and Culture, Dr. Aliyu Idi Hong, commended the vision of Lagos State Government in embarking on the project saying, “This is a breakthrough for tourism in Nigeria and generally for the whole of Africa, because we were made to understand that this is, in fact, the first of this type of innovation in the hospitality industry in the whole of Africa. History has been made today.Let me use this opportunity to thank His Excellency, the Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, for this very innovative and sprinting achievement”.

Dr. Hong further assured that the federal government would support the project, saying“We are very proud of this achievement because it will provide opportunities for so many Nigerians. It will also provide a destination that will power and promote tourism in Lagos State and Nigeria as a whole. On the part of the Federal Government, we are fully in support of Lagos State and its private sector partners towards realising this very great achievement.

Explaining the degree of involvement of the Federal Government in the project, Dr. Hong said “Though the federal government is not a part of the investment process, we are ready to give more of our support to the management team, Lagos State Government and whoever is involved. Our major excitement at the federal level about this innovation is that more than 400 or 500 Nigerians will have direct employment as a result of this large hotel facility and more than 1000 Nigerians will have direct benefit from purchase and supply.”

The yacht hotel was custom built in 1999 and refitted in the year 2002. It combines contemporary class and comfort, being 18.4m wide, 106.5m in length and 17.6m in height from the sea level. The edifice, with a total of six decks and an interior space of approximately 5000 sq.m, provides a breathtaking ambience for corporate guests, conference delegates, wedding parties and leisure guests to hold their exclusive events. The Lagos yacht hotel presently boasts of facilities such as conference halls, restaurants, meeting rooms, spas, saunas and lounges.

The idea of the acquisition of the Sunborn Yacht Hotel promoted by the Lagos State Government through a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), Loneseed Limited, representing Diamond Capital Ltd, financial advisers and lead arrangers, M.I.D.C Ltd and the Lagos State Ministry of Tourism, opens a new chapter in the history of tourism development not only in Lagos but in Nigeria as a whole.

The hotel was voted 'Best Hotel' in the Food and Drinks Categories in the United Kingdom for 2005 and 2006 respectively.