Andy Osa Ehanire is the Chief Executive of Ogba Zoo and Nature Park, Benin City, Edo State, and also the National Secretary of the Nigerian Association of Zoos and Parks (NAZAP). He speaks on the efforts at resuscitating this foremost eco-tourism enclave and rescuing it from land poachers, who are hell bent on decimating the state’s only claim to eco-tourism wealth.
Ogba Zoo and Nature Park is Edo State’s foremost conservation and tourism enclave, could you tell us about the historical background of the zoo and what it was meant to achieve?
The Ogba Zoo, which we manage, was designed and developed in the early 70s by then military administrator of former Bendel State, the late Brig. General Samuel O. Ogbemudia. Its concept was an extensive biological garden, with potential for resort development.
In tandem with the ambitious and iconic scale of Ogbemudia’s drive and vision for the then Midwest Region, later Bendel State, and now Edo/Delta states. Ogba Zoo was at par or even surpassed most of its kind, both far and near. Soon after Ogbemudia’s regime, the zoo suffered a long era of decline and eventual collapse, spanning the late 80s and 90s. By the time of our private sector-led intervention in the year 2000, the zoo was already in the ‘mortuary’.
What was the mandate given to your firm by the state government at the time of taking over the management of the zoo?
Our mandate was to reverse the rot or what was left of the decayed zoo in order to revitalise its essential functions as an urban recreational park and field laboratory in the biological sciences, where schools and colleges in the entire sub-region derived conservation education and awareness.
To what extent has your company gone in bringing it back from the brink?
The extent of its abandonment and decay, notwithstanding, Ogba Zoo experienced a painful rebirth through our rescue mission, which was purely self-financing, with no support from government. On the contrary, it is the nature of the lease agreement we hold that our private sector led eco-tourism outfit pays rents to the government. But as challenging as reviving a moribund zoo was, there were other hidden challenges that can hardly be imagined in a sane society.
What were some of these challenges?
It started as a minor incursion by community land grabbers into the zoo land until it was aided by official government instruments in the form of a gazette. Even with government claiming, soon after, that it committed an error in issuing such gazette, which was attested to by two administrative panels set up to look into the problems at the initial stage. Unfortunately, the errant instrument has not been repealed for more than 10 years running.
This legal instrument has unwittingly served as a licence for unlimited plundering of a foremost tourism heritage of the state. All these years of battling the encroachment on the zoo, our private-sector led management was as good as left to solely tackle the growing menace unaided with little or no response to the dozens of memos from us crying for speedy deployment of government’s machineries to dislodge and prosecute offenders.
Could you say exactly how vast is the zoo’s land that has been taken over by these land grabbers?
The land area encroached upon grew from about 10 per cent of the zoo land that was purportedly ceded by the gazette, to more than 60 per cent of the entire zoo. It was like a horror movie seeing bulldozers levelling priceless flora in this pristine conservation heritage that had been a classic urban forest rarely found anywhere in the world.
It is a sad commentary that these last three years (2014 to 2016) had seen the greatest devastation of the zoo, even when the then Comrade governor Adams Oshiomhole, would be making pronouncements as to immediate government’s intervention. While not tolerating any nonsense in other areas, all the administrative machineries of his government were helpless in the face of the onslaught on the zoo.
Besides writing memos to the state governor and other concerned interests, what other actions were taken by your firm to secure the zoo from further encroachment?
I published a series of open letters to Oshiomhole, calling for an administrative or judicial inquiry, but all to no avail. It also became evident that a cabal was bent on sharing most of the zoo’s land without any official government process but using the deceptive ploy of community youths and thugs as decoy.
The sum effect was to create widespread but dangerous impression in the area that government had acquiesced to sharing the zoo land, but that we were the only one standing in the way. It was also painfully obvious that the security situation had long degenerated, with threats and suspicions of ecological terrorism becoming a constant nightmare, yet our pleas for police protection went unheeded.
We expended huge resources on frequent police patrols, but in spite of all the Forestry Laws criminalising all manners of trespasses in this reserve, the police authorities insisted that it was a civil matter and their role was only to ensure peace.
Fingers also pointed at the state House of Assembly committee members, who were assigned to look into the issues, but spent over three years purporting to be engaging community agents without any new position on the matter. This was after an initial committee by it had declared that the encroachment was illegal and unacceptable, as far back as 2011.
It was in the public domain that at a point you opted for arbitration, tell us about the outcome of this arbitration?
We eventually had recourse to this arbitration process in order to encapsulate the issues in proper legal perspective. Our reliefs were substantially granted with compensatory considerations. The arbitration award was forwarded to the government for its implementation since January this year and we are anxiously awaiting compliance, as there was no appeal against the ruling.
With the court judgments not being enforced, what is the next line of action?
The bottom line is that the state government must protect this heritage and grant us peaceful possession for all our eco-tourism operations. Immediate delineation and survey of the zoo land is paramount, as well as fulltime security protection.
It is, however, disheartening that even while the arbitration was ongoing and up till the award was published, various levels of devastations were still being unleashed on the zoo and its assets without government’s response. For example, even after the arbitrating ruling, a six block staff quarters meant to keep critical personnel of the zoo resident in close proximity to the zoo was bulldozed and the land taken over by some well-connected individuals.
A purpose-built lion enclosure in the middle of the encroached land was also bulldozed only last month (April) and the foundation of a mansion is coming up on the site. The case of the zoo staff quarters that have now been demolished is of particular interest since it was part of the specific provisions in the arbitration award requiring it to be dedicated for the use of the zoo.
Have you in anyway made effort to draw the attention of the new Governor, Godwin Obaseki, to the plight of the zoo?
We have sent letters to Governor Obaseki on the extant matters and maintained contacts with the solicitor general and the secretary to the state government on the issue. We equally sought and have been promised audience with the governor, but it is on record that he recently told a visiting FRIN delegation that he would move swiftly to deal with the encroachment issues concerning the zoo. We are, therefore, hopeful that the new governor will take a decisive approach to save the zoo from the grips of brigandage and looters.
We are also anxious as to when specific government interventions would commence to save the zoo, before all that needs to be saved are totally destroyed. We do pray that the forces of light will prevail over those of darkness in this nascent and very promising administration of governor Obaseki.
My role in the rescue and resuscitation of Ogba Zoo has evolved from just its management, to that of an activist, since the Nigerian Association of Zoos and Parks (NAZAP), of which I am the national secretary, is aimed at the pioneering mission of bringing sanity to all the zoos across Nigeria.
FTAN AT 20 Committed to product development, branding to attract tourists
Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) has a long history dating back to 1997 when it was midwifed by the federal government through the aggregation of existing tourism associations in the country then.
It was established as the umbrella body for all associations in the travel and tourism trade in Nigeria to serve primarily as a voice for the private sector and interface with the government in the pursuit of development and promotion of the tourism industry.
With the beleaguered history of the 20 years old federation, opinions are divided as to the desirability of the federation and if it has added value to the development of tourism and its federating associations.
However, the leadership of the federation is less perturbed by the divided opinions as it set to roll out the drum next week Tuesday February 27 to mark the 2oth anniversary of the body and honour some of its members, including government officials that are adjudged to have contributed immensely to the development of Nigeria tourism and the federation.
The event is billed to hold at Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos. The president of the federation, Alhaji Saleh Rabo, who is the managing director and chief operating officer of Allstates Travels and Tours, speaks on the strides of the federation, Nigeria tourism, his sojourn in the industry and among others.
What informed your decision to be FTAN president in 2017 when you contested for the post and got elected?
I have always been passionate about tourism development in Nigeria. So I am here to contribute my quota to the development of tourism in Nigeria.
Most of the new executive members in FTAN share the same perspective of a more inclusive and strategic development in tourism.
Hence, since I became FTAN president, precisely six months ago, we have started laying the foundation for the eventual sustainable growth of the industry. We are being dogged at it, and thank God, things are beginning to unfold.
What is your vision for building and popularising FTAN?
By providing technical services to FTAN member associations and, most importantly, getting the instrumentality that set up FTAN to become an Act of the National Assembly. So far, we are making progress in the pursuit of these two pronged vision.
What is your plan for promoting and developing tourism in Nigeria using FTAN’s platform and how do you intend to get the buy in of the government in this venture?
Most of Nigeria’s tourist attractions are domiciled in the rural areas. Hence, the challenge and one of the winning strategies of developing Nigeria’s tourism is to transform our local attractions into competitive tourist products.
To achieve this, the leadership of FTAN at the geo-political zones have since commenced engagement with the local host communities to get their buy-in, and contribution, for the creation of tourist products from the tourist attractions in their domain.
While that is on-going, we are also making efforts to engage with some state governments to provide basic tourist infrastructure, including roads, lodges and security at the selected tourist host communities. One of our long term plans is to keep coordinating our development programmes with state governments and host communities to create reliable tourist products that can be competitive.
In that regard, we are already using the structures of FTAN geo-political zones as pilot schemes to perfect the identification, enrichment, operation and management of our envisioned Nigeria tourist product development.
I must confess that tourist product development is a painstaking and rigorous process; nevertheless we are committed to birthing some in the next six to 12 months.
What is your plan for enlisting membership for FTAN, bringing about unity and coordination among the various tourism associations in Nigeria?
It is important that we get the FTAN family to be very strong, secure and committed to our common interest, which is the development of the business of tourism services in Nigeria. We need each member association to give this executive council the benefit of a doubt and to support the ongoing reform process in FTAN.
Thankfully, when we assumed office, we inherited a constitutional review process initiated by the preceding executive council. We are now working to quickly finalise the constitutional review by getting all FTAN member associations’ interest fully addressed in the final constitution.
What are your plans for making FTAN more coordinated, effective and visible in Nigeria as the most recognised voice for tourism?
We have since put machinery in place to interface with all internal and external tourism stakeholders in Nigeria. Since we assumed office, we have reached out to ministries, departments and agencies of federal and state governments to share our vision for Nigeria tourism. We have been listening to their concerns, and we have even started identifying areas of mutual interest and partnerships.
In this regard, we have also commenced engagement with other tourism related businesses and professional services in Nigeria, who are not traditional members of FTAN.
Our goal is to identify the impact of such groups on FTAN programmes, and to eventually sign Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with them. It will make FTAN’s operations seamless and all-encompassing across the tourism industry.
What is your view of the present state of Nigeria tourism?
Nigeria tourism is still infantile. Presently, we cannot say that we have a tourism industry yet, as such the learning curve is very steep for Nigeria. More so, there are few reliable foundations for the industry to become sustainable. However, the responsibility of growing a thriving tourism industry in Nigeria rests on both the operators, which includes me of course, and government.
What can be done to improve on it by both the government and the private operators?
We must have bankable foundations to build our tourism industry on. This means all tourism stakeholders in Nigeria, both public and private, must coalesce around certain tourism development strategic positions. And, subsequently share responsibility of effectively implementing their agreed tourism development goals.
You see, all over the world, tourism is a competitive business. It is not an easy enterprise, or as simple a trade as buying and selling finished goods at a profit.
In tourism management, there is a principle called the Tourist Push & Pull Factor. The principle implies that tourists typically travel to different destinations to have different experiences. Meaning that for a tourist destination to thrive, it must offer a unique experience different from other destinations.
The factors that determine a destination’s long term success are numerous. Tourism destination management is a concerted effort with set targets and benefits.
For Nigeria to become a thriving tourist destination, the public and private tourism stakeholders, must agree on our tourism comparative advantages, work in partnerships to package them as products, and afterwards, strategically start promoting and positioning Nigeria, at our target source markets.
Lack of competitive tourist products is also impairing our destination marketing plans. This explains why there is no coordination in marketing Nigeria as a destination, both for the domestic and inbound tourist sector. We seem to be working at cross purposes. Hopefully, with the machinery FTAN is instituting Nigeria tourism products would be better packaged and branded to attract domestic and inbound tourists.
Do you think that the private operators have done enough to promote and develop tourism business in Nigeria?
Certainly not! The private sector can do much more. In fact, the private sector is the best positioned tourism stakeholder to create, nurture and manage tourist services and destinations. But first things first, our governments, both federal and states, must incentivize Nigerian tourism sub-sectors, so as to attract more investment portfolios and professionalism.
You must appreciate that private sector are businesses established to provide services and make profit thereby. Governments, over the years, have failed to provide even the most basic social infrastructure, which both citizens and tourists live with. Secondly, the sheer lack of a national tourism economic policy has not encouraged substantial private sector investments in tourism.
Till date in Nigeria, FTAN members are the largest financial and material investors in the tourism industry; mention it, ranging from resorts, hotels, entertainment centres, travel to and tour agencies. This is despite being burdened with multiple taxations and, arguably, the largest cost of tourism business operations in Africa.
What is the attraction for majority of Nigerian travel agencies and tour operators focusing on outbound tours rather than inbound?
I do not agree that majority of Nigerian travel agencies and tour operators focus on outbound tours rather than inbound tours.
Successful tourism businesses are built on meeting specific travellers’ needs. No private business is set up to operate at a loss. The answer, simply, is that, there are more demands for outbound tours than inbound tours in the Nigeria travel market. And we have just discussed how come that scenario prevails in our markets?
What can be done to encourage them to do more of inbound?
We should build more competitive Nigerian tourist products. Other West African destinations have established tourist products which pull inbound tourists. We have not yet defined our competitive Nigerian tourist products. Tourists will come when we offer what they want to experience.
In this regard, FTAN has begun the process of harmonising a national position for tourism product development and management. We are working on a tourism strategic developmental plan. It would include partnership with certain tourism oriented states and host communities in Nigeria towards creating two categories of tourist products for the domestic and inbound markets.
In line with that objective, we recently intensified our engagements with some states governments and tourist host communities to identify and transform their natural and cultural attractions into marketable tourist products.
What attracted you to tourism?
I was influenced by a friend who advised that we study tourism so that we can travel all over the world, and behold I did and today I have travelled all over the globe.
What informed your coming into travel agency business?
While working with the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) in Kano then as head of tour operation, I was invited by Alhaji Munzali Dantata to work in his travel agency as his tour operations manager.
After consultation and persuasion, I resigned my appointment with government and joined the private sector where I am till today.
Describe for us your journey into travel agency business?
I started the journey in travel business in 1994 after disengaging my services with NTDC in Kano and joining Allstates Travel and Tours. I was transferred to Abuja in 1999 as agency manager in the Transcorp Hilton Hotel branch of the company.
I continued to pursue my career in the industry since then. I have now risen to the position of the managing director and chief operating officer of Allstates Travel and Tours.
How challenging has it been and how have you been able to cope with it?
Like any business in Nigeria, it has been very challenging, especially when you take the economy which directly affects our business, like the fluctuation in the rates of exchange. The recession also greatly affected the travel business as people could not travel in large numbers again due to the effect it had on their disposable income.
All the same, we have been able to cope as we are now getting out of recession. Also because of some stability in the rate of exchange, business is gradually picking up.
At what point did you decide to add travel and tour operation to your ticketing business and what informed that?
Well, because of my training I have always seen travel and tour operation as part of the services to be offered by the travel agent, particularly if you have to diversify the business. Ticketing today has been affected with the growth of internet and online booking. People increasingly now make travel bookings directly themselves.
So, for us at Allstates Travel and Tours, we feel that to remain in business, we have to improve on the tour operation aspect which is very important to tourism growth. Nigeria can get tourism right by improving security and providing infrastructure.
How profitable is travel agency and tour operation businesses in Nigeria?
In Nigeria, the business of travel agency and tour operation is increasingly becoming challenging. There are several factors for this including internal and external factors. Airlines are now operating zero commission and also expanding their direct access to travellers via the enticing online portal platforms
Marriott International Hotels signs 8 new properties in Nigeria
Marriott International Hotels has signed a new deal to see it increase its visibility in Nigeria as the leading international brand with eight more properties expected within the next five years. This is according to the Vice President, Global Sales, Middle East and Africa, Vladimir Dabbah.
Dabbah made this disclosure recently at the hotel’s meet and greet session held for stakeholders in hospitality at the Sheraton Lagos Hotel and Towers in Ikeja.
This new signings will bring the number of Marriott Hotels in Nigeria to 12, with four, namely Sheraton Lagos, Sheraton Abuja, Four Points By Sheraton Lagos and Le Meridien Ogeyi Place, Port Harcourt in its portfolio. It will be noted that the brand earlier last month relinquished management of two its properties in Nigeria, Le Meridien Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State and Renaissance Hotel, Ikeja GRA, Lagos.
Dabbah noted that Nigeria is a strategic market in the region and that it is in the best interest of the brand to remain strong in the market hence it continues to seek a thriving relationship with major players in the market: “We have global relationships TMCs and we work with TMCs like America Express, BCD and others on a global level and in the local market, we localise that relationship with the same terms and conditions, with the same agreements that we have in place but the local connectivity is incredibly important.’’
To this end, he revealed that: “We are working with our owners in order to develop additional hotels. We have signed eight deals that will open over the next five years and we are continuously looking out for additional opportunities to grow. Nigeria is probably one of our most strategic markets for growth within the Middle East and Africa.
“Our goals are based on how we can add hotels within a certain country, bring them up to the level of talent within that country so that they can be efficient and effective within the hotels. It is about how you can develop the talents within Nigeria so that the people working in the Nigerian hotel industry are Nigerians.
‘‘Whether it is junior level or senior levels, we want to see our general managers from Nigeria for example. But you have to start from the bottom educating and providing the right level of training so that the employees would then grow and take on additional responsibilities and become leaders within the industry in the property segment.”
A number of stakeholders at the event commended the brand for its continuously seeking to deepen the market in Nigeria and Africa. According to the President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bankole Bernard, who is also managing director of Finchglow Travels and Tours Limited, there is need for mutual relationship between the brand and TMCs operating in the country so as to maximise the opportunities in the industry.
“The good thing about travel and hospitality is when we make provisions for those that have to travel somebody have to provide them with accommodation, the tour, where to buy things and so on.
‘‘It means that we constantly have to work together and that is the only way we can maximise the best out of this relationship.” He spoke on the window of opportunities in Nigeria even as he advised the hotel brand to take advantage of this in entrenching its presence in the country.
Also speaking at the event, Business Development Manager, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Doyin Ekundayo, said Nigeria is a big investment destination in Africa with a large population of over 180 million.
2018: Top five travel trends that will transform hospitality industry
Travel, of course, is as important as ever and it’s certainly evolving the hospitality industry at an extremely rapid pace. Concepts that were never-heard-of-before are trending today. The Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Hotelogix, Aditya Sanghi, a hospitality technology solution provider presents a glimpse of the key travel trends that are going to rule the roost in hospitality in 2018.
Europe shall experience an occupancy boom:
PWC’s global statistics show that in 2018, the hospitality industry in 15 cities across Europe shall be crossing over 70% occupancy. Despite the recent protests against tourists, Barcelona is expected to be the third European city with the highest occupancy rate in 2018.
Europe attracts a lot of corporate travel due to the numerous MICE events that take place in the continent.
Alliance between home sharing companies and hotels:
The line between traditional hotel listings and home-sharing might blur in 2018 as specialists in one area plan to branch out into others. Of late, hotels are seen getting immensely worried with the way home-sharing companies such as AirBnB are encroaching upon their businesses.
With presence in over 65,000 cities and more than 3 lakh rooms on offer, AirBnB has become top on the travellers mind.
Everyone from solo travellers to groups and now even business travellers are opting to book with these home-sharing platforms. In fact, as per some statistics, today, 33% of group rooms look at options beyond hotels.
Looking at this growing trend, hotel chains such as Accor, Hyatt, Wyndham hotels and resorts have started investing in home sharing companies and are looking at working in association with them.
Together as a team, they can offer more options to guests and cater to a wider audience.
Increase in travel pricing:
Good news for the hospitality industry; due to the strength in global economy, The 2018 Global Travel Forecast indicated airfares to increase by 3.5%, hotel prices to increase by 3.7% and ground transportation to rise by .6%.
Creating unique and local experiences:
Millennial travellers today look for native experiences when they travel. From exploring the local culture to ticking off the bucket list they want to experience everything but in a different way. That’s why we see hotels across the globe partnering with local vendors and travel companies.
This trend is definitely expected to witness some out-of-the-box ideas in the coming year. For instance, AirBnB has started offering experiences on their website to entice more customers.
The changing role of travel agents:
With numerous online travel agencies OTA options, travellers nowadays don’t really require a travel agent to book their tickets or hotel stays, especially since OTA’s offer more competitive pricing.
The role of a travel agent is slowly changing and advancing to be a travel consultant. In the coming year, travellers will expect more specific packages, catered personally for them keeping their or their group’s needs and wants in mind. They will be seen catering to varied preferences – all women’s trip, solo trips, senior citizen trips and so on.
*Kevin Taylor is of Hotelogix
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