Ondo: A Tourist Destination Waiting to Explode
I am inclined to tell this story and for obvious reasons. During the course of our planning for the 8th edition of the Best of Nollywood Awards (BON), which the Ondo State Government graciously agreed to host in 2015, I made several trips to the city of Akure in the last few months of that year to perfect the arrangements.
On each of these trips, I had no problem securing reservations in any of the numerous good hotels dotting the capital city of Akure. But that was not the case in the afternoon of a day in November, when I travelled to honour some of the appointments with a few government officials and some of the service providers whom we had engaged to work with us on the BON 2015.
I had arrived Akure that afternoon hoping to just drive to the hotel of my choice and secure a room as I always did the other times, where I planned to spend a night or two before returning to my base in Lagos. I, however, got the shock of my life at the first hotel I went. There was not a single room left for any new guest on this particular day. The same thing happened in the second, third and fourth hotels I went and it was at this stage that I decided to ask questions.
In my findings, I was told that the National Engineering Conference and Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, tagged “Sunrise 2015” was on for the rest of that week. Well over 4000 engineers from all over Nigeria and abroad had attended the conference and so, hotels in Akure were on lockdown that week. It was the first time that Governor Olusegun Mimiko’s often stated determination to make Ondo State a tourism destination came practically alive and what I could understandably relate with.
If a state could host close to five thousand engineers in one week, there would, without that, be so much for that economy to benefit. One of such is the revenue accruable to hotels within the one week. In addition to hotels, the food business would also feel the impact of the presence of these professionals in Akure, so would the transportation business and same extended to other informal sectors of the state willing to key in. The sleepy town of Akure, no doubt, explodes with an uncommon buzzing on a week like that.
What therefore happens if such a state is able to replicate such a feat about 12 to 24 times in a year? Wouldn’t the government and the people of that state be on a path to developing the potential to attract tens of thousands of professionals and possibly high net worth individuals, thereby consolidating its potential as a natural tourist state?
Isn’t this one of the things that governments in Nigeria should consider especially at this moment when circumstances have shown us the folly in 170 million people solely depending on one product, whose price they don’t control despite being the main source of our national revenue and foreign exchange earner? Each of the 36 states in Nigeria should therefore begin to position for a level of self-sufficiency that would reduce citizen’s vulnerability following the sharp decrease in the price of crude oil as we have seen in the past months.
Governor Mimiko is already on that path in my very humble opinion. With the construction of the International Event Centre, known as ‘The Dome’ in Akure, the governor, whose tenure incidentally ends next year is opening the state up to professional bodies and corporate world within and outside Nigeria, who desire to hold conferences, annual general meetings in a safe, serene and non-obstructive city like Akure.
Another advantage that Akure has is its proximity to Lagos. Although there are commercial flights to the city, driving to Akure is a smooth and convenient five hours that would be no problem for anyone, who wants out of the hustle and bustle of cities like Lagos and Abuja. In addition to the Dome which main hall sits about 2000 persons is an auditorium for about 450 persons, four syndicated rooms for meetings, 40 toilets, a bar and a restaurant. Mimiko is also working to attract more attention to the ancient Idanre community.
At Idanre, which is a 20-miunte drive from Akure, there is a world-class mountain resort and two major golf courses. Not far away from Idanre, there is the Elizade Golf Course, the Smoking Hills and the Atosin Golf Course, all along this same corridor. When a state harnesses all of these, such a state is certainly on the path to becoming a huge tourism hub in Nigeria in line with the dream of Mimiko, a testament which my frequent trips to Akure during last year adequately bears.
One thing that I hope Governor Mimiko could do, however, is to go one step further by attracting filmmakers to the state. I am always fascinated by the story of California, the American State, where Hollywood – the globally acclaimed leaders in the provision of entertainment – is domicile.
Although entertainment is just one of the eight other industries that give the state its status as the eighth biggest economy in the world, the entertainment and media industry provide by far, the highest employment opportunities in the state. In California alone, about 6,600 business establishments exist just because they service the film and television industry. This has had a multiplier effect on the national scale over the years.
A 2009 data by the Motion Pictures Association of America revealed that box office revenue hit $10b during one of the worst economic recessions in recent history. The report also claimed that the industry made an additional $30b in worldwide ticket sales. Who says Ondo cannot become the Hollywood of Nigeria? Can Ondo dare the challenge?