Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cross River: The best just got better

Enviable allurements now available at the click of a button
Check this out: Experience Cross River web site.
Photos: MAURICE ARCHIBONG. All Rights Reserved

Last week, hundreds of state officials and tourism practitioners as well as enthusiasts, who converged on the Conference Hall of Transcorp Metropolitan Hotel in Calabar were treated to the launch of Experience Cross River, a marketing strategy to further project the allurements of Nigeria’s Numbero Uno destination.
Select Breakfast offerings at the Tinapa Lakeside Hotel.

The exercise featured, among others, the unveiling of a portal and website to make preparation for a visit to Cross River easier than ever before. Yes, today, the prospective tourist can book an air ticket, hire a taxi, and get hotel reservation and so on, all by the click of a button thanks to Experience Cross River, which is a partnership between Cross River State Government and critical stakeholders in the private sector.
L-R: Mr. Odinaka Anumba, Mr. Ikechi Uko and Mrs. Clara C. Braide.

Interestingly, like new wine that must be put in new bottle, hoteliers and other service providers across Cross River State also have to be pragmatic, they must be smart. They must move with the times, akin to the digital strategy they have adopted to develop their tourism sector.
A section of the audience during the launch of Experience Cross River inside Transcorp Metropolitan Hotel, Calabar.

In particular, hoteliers have been advised to be friendlier with room as well as service tariffs. These rates must be flexible and dynamic, and could go up during peak periods or be lowered in the low season to enable those that could not visit during Calabar Carnival, for example, also enjoy the Cross River Experience. This is the practice in every part of the world.
Lunch at Chinese Restaurant inside The Mirage.

The result, after roughly two-year survey of Nigeria’s cultural and tourist attractions, listed (purely in alphabetical order) the country’s seven must-see sites, as Benin Moat (Edo State), Idanre Hills (Ondo State), Kano Ancient City Wall and Gates (Kano State), National War Museum, Umuahia (Abia State), Obudu Mountain Resort (Cross River State), Osun Grove, Osogbo (Osun State) and Sukur Cultural Landscape (Adamawa State).
One of the dancers of the cultural troupe, whose performance contributed to the thrill that characterised the launch of Experience Cross River.
These seven sites, which this writer fondly calls Nigeria’s Fantabulous Septet, are officially tagged Naija 7 Wonders and it came as no surprise that Obudu Mountain Resort in Obanliku Local Government Area of Cross River State made it into the list.

However, Cross River State also boasts Agbokim Falls, Bakor (Alok) Monoliths, The Calabar Carnival and National Museum inside The Old Residency; Calabar. In other words, five or 20 per cent of Nigeria’s 25 must-see attractions are located within Cross River State.
Two of the pretty faces among the traditional dancers.

Add to these sites, the famed gastronomic prowess of the Efik woman, the uncommonly high level of personal and public hygiene consideration of the average Cross River folk as well as the state’s vernal ambience and you have a dream destination.
Male members of the same ensemble, whose "Rhythmatism" inspired the dancers.

This must explain why Cross River has morphed into Nigeria’s tourism Mecca. Such has been the influx of visitors over the last 10 years that, Calabar; the Cross River State capital, has witnessed a mushrooming of lodges. Indeed, the rate at which new hotels are springing up over Calabar is so rapid, you almost can’t keep count.

Such is the prime of place of tourism in Cross River State, “That any government, which attempts to hurt tourism will lose the next election in Cross River”, according to Mrs. Obioma Liyel Imoke, wife of Governor Imoke.
L-R: Ikechi Uko (standing), while presenting his lecture; Nkereuwem Onung, Odinaka Anumba, Charles Ogar and Michael Williams.

To be candid, few words can truly capture the galloping growth of the tourism industry in Cross River State. But, monumental, phenomenal and astronmical all fit the bill; for, Cross River today boasts over 260 hotels; whereas less than 10 hotels could be found across this state some 20 years ago. Assume that, on average, an inn offers 15 rooms; this means that from barely 150 rooms, Cross Rivers now has over 4,000 rooms!
Mr. Charles Ogar (left) with Barrister Anglibi Ogar.

Interpretation: The need for more workers, both core technocrats and ancillary personnel, triggers employment. Evidently, the tourism industry has generated employment for hundreds, if not thousands of workers over the last 10 years.

However, much as the numerous recently-open hotels could be taken as endorsement for Cross River’s tourism potential; their plethora also portends challenges. When supply exceeds demand, competition becomes even stiffer and prices are forced down.
Mrs. Affiah flanked by Mr. Uko (left) and Mr. Onung.

Reduction in prices could sometimes mean a drop in quality of service and unsatisfactory service quality in turn could engender reduced patronage, consequently triggering job losses as entrepreneurs in an attempt to cut losses or maximise profit resort to trimming the workforce.
L-R: Wale Olapade, Okorie Uguru, Ikechi Uko, Mrs. Vida Ekeng-Ita, Renn Ofoegbu, Odinaka Anumba and Nkereuwem Onung in front of Chinese Restaurant at The Mirage.

So, stakeholders are neither carried away by the hotel glut nor resting on their oars following the state’s staggering successes in growing tourism, going by the almost unimaginable rise in the number of lodges. If anything, stakeholders are rather sober and seem eager to truly come to grips with things; after all, growth is one thing, while development is quite another.

All these as well as projecting and marketing Cross River’s many allurements were among reasons behind the conceptualisation and eventual launch of Experience Cross River.
Jorany Hotel Lobby.

Speaking during the launch of Experience Cross River on July 24 at Transcorp Metropolitan Hotel in Calabar; Mrs. Imoke who described the partnership as a genuine effort to take tourism to the next level, also acknowledged the contribution of media practitioners, when she declared: “Without you, nobody would know what we’re doing here”.

Additionally, Mrs. Imoke also advised practitioners, especially hoteliers operating across the state; to improve on the quality of their services to ensure that Cross River State maintains its leadership position, even after competitors had also gone through the motion of upping the quality of their services, too.

The Cross River First Lady went on to warn, that; “If left to government, tourism would collapse” because the industry is private sector driven world-wide. “You need to make the prices of your hotels to comply with the various seasons of the year. If you do this, your hotel will receive more patronage, and so you make more profits”, Mrs. Imoke, who spoke through her representative, reckoned.

Across the world, the industry is private-sector driven; which is why the Cross River Government has played its part in providing the enabling environment and it was now the responsibility of investors to take the sector to that new desirable level, she intoned.

Experience Cross River was made possible by partnership among Remlords Tours and Car Hire Service, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Cross River Hoteliers Association, Naija 7 Wonders, Aero Airlines and Arik Air.

Sponsors of Experience Cross River include Obudu Mountain Resort, Skye Bank, Transcorp Metropolitan Hotel, CMF Bank, Jorany Hotels, Crosslines Limited, Marian Hotels, Pyramid Hotels, UBA, V-ONE, Tinapa Lakeside Hotel, Jofino Technologies, The Mirage, Gomays Hotels, Global Dreams Hotel, STH Satellite Town Hotel and Channel View Hotel.
Hot, Fresh and Smoking mouth-watering delicacies shortly before we ate them up at Chinese Restaurant inside The Mirage.

Among attendants at the launch of Experience Cross River were: Mrs Elenda Osime-Dokubo, who represented Mrs. Obioma Liyel Imoke; Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), who was represented by Mr. Odinaka Anumba, Director, NTDC South-South Zonal Office; Mr. Michael William, Managing Director, Cross River State Tourism Bureau; Mr. Nkereuwem Onung, President, Nigerian Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) as well as Remlords’ Chairman; Mr. Ikechi Uko, Project Director, Naija 7 Wonders; Mr. Gabe Onah, Chairman, Cross River Carnival Commission; and, Mr. Charles Ogar, Chairman, Cross River State Hoteliers Association as well as CEO of Pyramid Hotels.

Other participants included Mrs. Eme Affiah of Cross River Carnival Commission; Mr. Anthony Bassey, who represented the Manager, Calabar Office of Aero Contractors; Mr. Francis Brown, General Manager of 520 Hotels; Mr. Riwo Emmanuel, Pastor Charles Effanga, Mrs. Clara Braide of Executive Travels; Barrister Anglibi Ogar, Director of Tourism, Cross River State; Mr. James Idogo, GM of Pyramid Hotels; and, representatives of Comptroller, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) in Cross River State.

The event also featured cultural performances, cutting of cake and raffle draws. And, believe it or not, Maurice Archibong won the grand prize of a Weekend for Family of Four at Obudu Mountain Resort. Winners of the three other draws were Mr. Adekunle Udom (Weekend for Two with Breakfast) at Five-Two-Zero Hotel; Mr. Akan John Odu (Weekend for Couple) at Jorany Hotel and Mr. Eyo Who Kes (Buffet for a Couple) on a Sunday at Transcorp Metropolitan Hotel.

As part of his address, Mr. Charles Ogar, Chairman of Cross River Hoteliers Association, said: “We’re intensifying efforts. We’re in the process of licensing and registration of every hotel in Cross River State to ensure that, every visitor also stays in a place that compares to the best in any part of the world”.

From Mr. Ogar, we also gathered that Cross River Hoteliers Association has grown from strength to strength in terms of membership. Hear the Cross River Hoteliers’ body chief: “Our Association was formally registered in 2007. Then, there were barely 10 members, but today; there are over 90 members. There are reasons to believe that 50 per cent of the economic activities in Cross River are hospitality-related. So, tourism is the main-stay of Cross River economy”.

Speaking further, Mr. Ogar said; “Yes, there are issues and we have challenges. We want government to push visitor-traffic, while we are ready to provide rooms. So, this initiative by Remlords and others should be applauded”.

Evidently, despite Cross River’s widely accepted position as Nigeria’s leading tourism destination, authorities of the state and key stakeholders in the private sector are determined that, even the best should be getting better.

During his speech, NATOP President Nkereuwem Onung, who also stressed that Experience Cross River partnership was much-needed intervention to move the hotel and hospitality industry in the state to the next level; added, “What brought us together is partnership.

“And, this is a partnership to package and promote the foremost and most peaceful tourism destination in Nigeria. We are the ones to drive the business forward; and so we have created a platform where people can access and book easily hotels in Cross River State online.

Experience Cross River projects the best tourism asset in Nigeria, the Obudu Ranch Resort; which is the foremost of the Seven Wonders of Nigeria, and at the same time the most developed tourism destination in Nigeria and in Africa as a whole”.

For tourism reporters/travel writers, invited to Experience Cross River; the exercise snowballed into three days of work-and-play. The journalists/media practitioners played gourmet/connoisseurs in the course of savouring Breakfast at Lakeside Tinapa, Lunch at Chinese Restaurant, The Mirage, Dinner at Five-Two-Zero and another Breakfast at Jorany, not to talk of the several treats at Le Chatteau; all in Nigeria’s famed Canaan City.

It also came to light during the event that a national campaign promoting Cross River State is billed for launch around October, this year. That campaign, we gathered, would seek to register in everyone’s mind that Cross River’s enviable attractions, sites and services are possible, appealing and available.

Interestingly, Mr. Uko, who is also the publisher of Africa Travel Quarterly Magazine (ATQ), practically stole the show through his insightful lecture, entitled The Role of Hotels in Tourism Marketing and Development: The Gambia Experience.

The original lecturer, Mr. Aliu Secka, former General Manager of Gambia Tourism; couldn’t make it to Calabar due to aviation schedule issues.

Nonetheless, Uko more than rose to the occasion and even though his presentation was extempore, gave a most illuminating lecture; further reinforcing his pedigree as a leading travel expert in Nigeria.

Drawing on his exposure to markets across the globe and decades of experience studying the tourism industry, Uko went on to say; “In every project you need to discover the risk owners. Who own the risk? Who are the risk owners in Cross River State hotel business”? He came up with the answer:

“The hotel owners”! Uko again: “The more the risk involved in a business the greater the profit. Your statistics has shown that there are over 260 hotels with 4000 rooms. With what is on the ground, from where would the visitors come to fill 4000 beds?

“Considering that only three flights come into Cross River daily, how many people do the airlines carry, and; how many of those would lodge in a hotel? Most modern travellers come by air, and this is the class of people most likely going to lodge in hotels.

“So, the hoteliers need to sit down and find out how to stimulate and increase the number of people coming into Cross River State and to their various hotels. This is the only way that you can make the hotels more efficient. Yes, 150,000 Nigerians can fly into Cross River State every year! And, about one of the most effective ways to do this is for you to market your corporate brand”.

Not surprisingly, the issue of pricing popped up at the forum. Uko’s take on this issue was: “For you to eat a meal in any hotel in Calabar at $45 (over N7,000) is too expensive in comparison with the quality of your hotels and services”.

Summarising, Uko advised: “Standardise your hotel products to comply with international standards, (and) “As hotel owners and managers, see yourselves not as competitors but as mutual workers in the hospitality industry. That’s how your partnership can work”.

To remain top cropper, Uko advised: “Discover the dynamics of your hotel business, and apply to the business. This means mastery of your businesses’ high and low seasons, and taking full advantage of them”.

On how to facilitate the arrival of more visitors, Uko opined: “Deal with the air access issue. Air access problem is not a problem that can be solved only by the hotels alone. Your association partnering with the government and other related agencies can deal with the issue”.

As regards the proliferation of hotels across the state, Uko advised: “Establish a body to regulate the rate at which hotels are being built, so that the business can remain viable and profitable; and, last but not the least; Uko added: “You have to create a brand. I expect Cross River brand to compete with MTN!”, he stressed.

Concluding, Mr. Uko advised Cross River Hoteliers Association members to adopt the Gambian hotels’ strategy to further enhance their fortunes, while also urging Cross River tourism stakeholders to be flexible and change their marketing perspective and priority as the need arose.


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