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Anambra’s Untapped Tourism Potential: Why Valentine Ozigbo Is The Round Peg In The Round Hole (READ)

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[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ospitality is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as, “Relating to or denoting the business of entertaining clients, conference delegates, or other official visitors”. While Wikipedia defines tourism as, “…travel for pleasure or business; also, the theory and practice of touring, the business of attracting, accommodating, and entertaining tourists, and the business of operating tours”.

The foregoing definitions comfortably place hospitality and tourism in the BUSINESS column. With this understanding that hospitalism and tourism are all about business, I was taken aback when one political neophyte described Mr Valentine Ozigbo, one of the leading aspirants in the upcoming Anambra governorship poll as “just a hotel manager”. It is very obvious that a good number of Ndi Anambra have not really come to the realization of the important role that hospitality and tourism play in the leading global economies. Unfortunately, this includes the successive governments of our dear state.

In 2019 the global revenue from tourism was $1.4 trillion (USD). Dubai (a single city in the United Arab Emirates) raked in over $30 billion of this amount. In 2017, the United State of America made $211 billion from its 77 million international visitors. Countries like Maldives, British Virgin Islands, Macau, Belize, and Aruba depend almost entirely on tourism for most of their GDP.

Let’s take a look at Nigeria. Lagos State tops the chart of the top earners and contributors to Nigeria’s GDP and the bulk of this comes from tourism. The former federal capital territory is home to 70 percent of the best hotels and businesses in Nigeria. The state also boasts of an array of tourist sites such as beaches and game reserves; and Lagos is the hottest center for the Nigerian entertainment industry.

Then we have Cross River State, another state that invests heavily in its tourism and hospitality sector. Thanks to the past governors of the state, who made conscious, concerted, and well-articulated investments to grow the tourist and hospitality potentials of the state. The Obudu Cattle Ranch Resort, Tinapa Free Trade Resort, the Annual Christmas Calabar Carnival, Cross River National Parks, Oban Hills, and the Alok Ikom Monoliths are some of the many tourist attractions the state boasts of. As far back as 2017, the state laid down sustainable modalities for generating at least N1.7 billion from tourism annually. Currently, tourism is one of the highest contributors to Cross River State’s GDP.

It is very regrettable that this gold mine has been neglected by successive governments in Anambra State. Despite the fact that we have, arguably, the most vibrant private sectors in the world which has its root in a unique homegrown small and medium business growth model. Our unique Igbo Business Apprenticeship System has produced the largest markets in Africa in our home state.

Globally, hospitality is an allied sector of commerce. Sadly, this has not been the case with Anambra State. The home of the largest market in Africa doesn’t have a hospitality industry to write home about! No hotel in Anambra is listed among the best 30 hotels in Nigeria. We should be in the best 10 list given the number of local and international visitors who come to our state. It is grieving.

Entrance to the Ogbunike Caves located in Ogbunike, Anambra State, southeastern Nigeria

Anambra has a good number of natural and man-made tourist attractions like Ogbunike Cave, Osomari Forest Reserve, Awka Wonderland, Rojenny Tourist Village, Igbo Ukwu, a village reputed for some of the world’s best bronze art, the Agulu Crocodile Lake, and several more. A visit to any of our tourist sites will remind you of that horror film titled ‘Anaconda’. We have no games reserves, which could conveniently be attributed to urbanization and scarcity of land. These sites are yearning for purposeful investments.

The questions that come to mind, in considering these important sectors and the need for a radical intervention is: What is the way forward? Who will bell the cat?

The Igbos have a saying, “Ihe a gba n’aka e jighi ugegbe enyo ya!” Meaning, you do not need a mirror to view a bangle you are wearing on your wrist. Of all the array of aspirants to the position for Governor of Anambra State, only one stands out in the area of hospitality and tourism. His name is Valentine Ozigbo, the immediate past President and Group CEO of Transcorp Plc.

With 17 years of international banking experience, in October 2011, Val was appointed the first-ever Managing Director of Transcorp Hotels Plc, the owners of Transcorp Hilton Abuja. At the helm of the hotel, he superintended the transformation and reemergence of the hotel as a premier brand in the Nigerian hospitality industry and its subsequent attainment of global renown as the biggest business hotel in Africa and a prime destination for world leaders visiting Nigeria.

He was also responsible for developing five new projects worth over $500 million including two hotels in Lagos and Port Harcourt, a 5000-capacity conference facility, luxury apartments, and the upgrade of existing hotels with additional retail facilities.

Valentine Ozigbo Tourism
Nigeria’s Leading Hotel 2013 Transcorp Hilton Abuja at the 20th Annual World Travel Awards held in Kenya in October 2013. Valentine Ozigbo, CEO, Transcorp Hilton Abuja (middle) | Photo Courtesy: Wold Travel Awards

It didn’t come as a surprise that in 2012, Transcorp Hilton Abuja was named the winner of the Hilton Worldwide Prize for the 2012 GC&E (Group Conference and Events) Sales Team of the year for the Middle East and Africa regions and was recognized several times by Seven Stars Awards group.

Similarly, the years 2013 through to 2019 saw the hotel named consistently as World Travel Awards’ Africa’s Leading Business Hotel, Nigeria’s Leading Business Hotel, Nigeria’s Leading MICE Hotel and recognized as having Nigeria’s Best Hotel Suite (The Presidential Suite) all under Ozigbo’s dynamic and dedicated leadership.

Several other service excellence and CEO of the year awards soon followed, highlighting his level of adaptability and professional dexterity consequently situating him as the undisputed king of leisure and hospitality services in Nigeria.

In 2013, he was instrumental to the hotel’s successful listing on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, a clear testament and tribute to the transformational leadership of Val.

Mr Ozigbo is not only a consummate manager and developer of businesses having worked in different developmental sectors in the banking industry, but he has also developed ideas that have the capacity of transforming into major international tourist events with the potential of generating mega-millions for Anambra State.

The African Freestyle Football Championship organized annually by his brainchild Feet ‘N’ Tricks International in conjunction with the World Freestyle Football Association (WFFA) is a case in point. The tournament, held alongside the Nigerian Freestyle Football Championship, is in its 4th year. This tournament attracted participants from 18 countries in 2019 and 21 countries in 2020. Sports tournaments are a huge source of investment and income for countries and cities around the globe. Freestyle football is the fastest-growing type of football in Africa. This event has the capacity of catapulting Anambra State to the league of top tourist states in Nigeria!

With his unquantifiable experience in the hospitality tourism sector, Mr Valentine Ozigbo is the best man for the job of starting a revolution in the tourism sector of Anambra State. The existing tourist sites like the Ogbunike Caves, the Igboukwu Museum (a Federal facility), the Niger Bridge, the Agulu Crocodile Lake, even the privately owned Rojenny Tourist Village, Oba and Awka Wonderland will all be repackaged to generate income for the state.

Untapped natural sites such as caves (which are scattered throughout the state) and shrines will be developed into modern tourist attractions. Popular events like New Yam Festivals and Ofalas will also be developed to major international tourist events that will surpass the Calabar Carnival. It is only when the right person takes up the mantle of leadership that such lofty ideas and ideals are achievable. It is not in doubt that the right man is none other than Mr. Valentine Ozigbo. I am only concerned that Ndi Anambra may still be wallowing in the backwaters of confusing populism with tested managerial know-how.

One Igbo saying has it that “Afia onye na-azu ka o ma mgbe o ji aga“. MR. VALENTINE OZIGBO knows the afia of hospitality and tourism and knows mgbe o ji azu better than any other aspirant to the coveted office of the Governor of Anambra State. Therefore, Ndi Anambra and his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) should not fail to cease this opportunity to change the narrative of these twin sectors in the state. The reason is simple: #KaAnambraChawapu!!!

Cosmas Anyabolu is a legal practitioner, human rights activist, and a political analyst. He writes from Nnewi, Anambra State. He can be reached via e-mail HERE and on Facebook

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. 

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