The Director- General of the National Institute for Tourism and Hospitality, Mrs Chika Balogun has said tourism is a veritable alternative to wealth creation outside oil and gas, even as she lauds Governor Seriake Dickson tourism drive, while calling on the federal government to broker a PPP arrangement on the development of Oloibiri museum.
She alluded that the systemic approach deployed by the Bayelsa State Government in making appropriate investments in the tourism sector to diversify the local economy, is the right way to stabilize amidst current economic hardship.
This, the Director General said when she paid a courtesy visit on the state Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah (Retired) in Yenagoa.
Balogun, who had earlier visited some projects and potential tourist sites in the state, including the historic Oloibiri Oil Well, expressed satisfaction with the state government’s investments in its international airport on the Wilberforce Island, Poultry and Cassava Farms at Ebedebiri as well as the Diagnostic Centre.
Describing Bayelsa as a state endowed with great tourist potentials, she noted that, if the current efforts are sustained, the state economy would be turned around in the near future in terms of revenue generation and employment opportunities with the influx of high profile investors.
Her words: Bayelsa is beautiful beyond belief. I’ve been here a couple of times before now, but everyday it amazes me and I keep finding new things. I didn’t realize you guys have dolphins here. I didn’t know you have sharks. It’s so amazing. I saw kites and not just one, which means it’s their natural habitat.
“In the two days of my being here, I’ve been on a river boat cruise. I’ve been to the Airport and I must commend the Governor and his team for the great job they are doing there. This is truly a dream as far as tourism is concerned and it is coming alive right before my very eyes because I’d been here when these things did seem not to exist.
“I went to your Diagnostic Centre and that speaks of medical tourism. We don’t have a lot of such facilities anywhere in Nigeria. We know how much we lose per second in terms of dollars for people, who have to travel abroad for health purposes. You know, health is wealth and with what I’ve seen on ground, I must say that Bayelsa is pushing the frontiers of providing quality and affordable healthcare for Nigeria. And I’ll happily advertise your diagnostic centre to all and sundry.
On the Oloibiri National Museum project, the Director General lamented why nothing substantial has been done by successive administrations and called for collaboration between the government and private investors to ensure the project comes on stream soonest to compensate for the people and the well site that been the mainstay of the economy in the 70s.
According to her, “When we visited Oloibiri yesterday (Wednesday) I promised my Sister, the Commissioner, that I was going to talk to my colleague who heads the NCMM, to push it for us even if it is through public private partnership (PPP) or whatever it will take to make sure that place becomes not just a spot or location that is fenced around but something that is actively engaged in tourism.
“If people in the West can make a movie out of Oloibiri, I don’t see any reason why we cannot make it a must-go-to tourism spot in Nigeria. So, we will push that very hard to make that happen.”
Responding, the State Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah, reaffirmed the Governor Dickson-led administration’s commitment towards diversifying the state economy from total dependence on proceeds from oil with special focus on tourism and agriculture.
He noted that, apart from the medical centre, airport, Ox-Bow Lake Pavilion and other projects the Director General visited, the administration is building an international standard polo club, Gulf course and hotel facilities, to boost socio-economic activities in the state.
While assuring the National Institute of Tourism and Hospitality of the government’s readiness to partner in the area of human capacity building, Jonah added that, efforts were on to resuscitate the Akassa Light House, White man’s Grave in Brass Local Government Area and other important historical tourist sites in other parts of the state.