Before Akwa Ibom blossomed as a state, I had always loved everything about the people and their culture. Indeed, Akwa Ibom could easily become the centrepoint of Nigeria’s tourism aspirations if its leaders remain focused on development of key infrastructure that could fast-track tourism and hospitality.
Akwa Ibom, in my opinion, is the veritable launch pad for cultural hospitality without embellished trade lines from the books and classroom lectures on service and courtesy.
Before going into the main subject of today’s discussion, let me congratulate the governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel, for making the state a major stakeholder in aviation business in Nigeria. It is also important to congratulate the entire people and leaders of Akwa Ibom for this giant stride and the determination to break the hold of poverty in the land.
When the Ibom planes landed, it was magical even though some people believed it might be a political gimmick to divert attention or win the minds of the people for the governor and government of the people of Akwa Ibom at a time like this.
To tell the truth, I was not initially excited and had quickly dismissed the news as one of the masterstrokes of our political vodooism. I couldn’t just understand why Udom Emmanuel could bring in Ibom Air at this time and not last year or before. Then the Okorocha magic with “Imo Air” pasted on the body of a private airline operator jumped into my mind to further nail to the coffin of Udom’s uncommon decision and economic effort. I just laughed!!
Then a WhatsApp message came from a top-line travel services influencer based in Port Harcourt, Mr. Chima James Ihe. He not only sent a clear picture of the Ibom Air aircraft but a very telling footnote commending the effort and the many tourism job openings that would follow.
I know Mr. Chima Ihe to be a serious businessman not easily carried away by mundane talk that he usually stays away from as a catholic creed. When I listed my fears considering the famed failure of governments in business in Nigeria, this humble enigma of travel business in Nigeria noted with a sense of confidence and finality that Ibom Air would not fail.
Though James Chima Ihe, who runs one of the best travel service companies with strategic foothold across Nigeria, including Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, claimed he was not in the know of those who could run the airline, he assured me that the prospects of Ibom Air far outweighed the fear of its failure or perceived poor performance.
A piece on this brilliant travel trade operator and top-line officer of National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies is in the works as soon as I can break from some factored works in the making.
Significantly, that interface with the Hec travel boss not only changed by fears about the Udom Emmanuel aviation investment but to factor a thorough appraisal of what this business can bring the way of Akwa Ibom’s economy and the quest of the people for their state to truly be the ideal destination for tourism in Nigeria.
My mind ran through the many good things, ongoing and delivered infrastructure in the state, the airport, the stadium, the interconnecting rural roads, the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, Ibom Golf Hotel, the rich food culture, the dance, smiles, beautiful landscape, beautiful people and their natural hospitality.
So, with a weekend gathering powered by the airline with hospitality operators throwing in discounted offerings, such possibilities and doable stuff makes the Ibom Air and the state a winning solution for rapid development of its cultural and tourism offerings. Though the presence of ground tour is very important to drive the initiative, my problem has always been the quality of service and the mentality of service providers in the sector.
This is an issue hardly addressed in Nigeria and often placed on the lower rungs of operational mix and ignored at the foundation and even as growth sets in. A full-fledged tourism desk in the Ibom Air management structure with eyes for prompt service and respect for the customer would not only surpass the expectations of job openings and profitability, it could make Ibom Air the fertile ground for regional tourism collaboration and a fulcrum of effective rural development.
And with the Ibom Air on ground, Udom should move to the next phase of development at the state airport. The airport’s current carrying capacity at the arrival and departure wings are chaotic and make a mess of having the airline reposition tourism in the state.
In fact, the airport is suffocating presently at full capacity. So, effective attempts must be channelled to its strategic expansion. Also, the state government’s tax on services at the airport should be properly addressed with specific briefs to make Akwa Ibom a preferred destination.
This brings me to the ADC Airlines experience. At its height of glory and operating from its Opebi, Ikeja, office, ADC Airlines brought a sense of joy and relief to Nigerian domestic travellers. Before its infamous crash in the Atlantic Ocean in Lagos many years ago, the airline gradually died on the altars of poor services and arrogance of its workforce. The workers of the airline become the boss, could mess anyone up and it gave room for a draw-down on its reputation, with the workforce at the forefront of its operational dislocation.
The amiable founder, Captain Augustine Okon, was nowhere around the sales office, weighted down with operational development of the airline, a process that contributed to the multiple windows of internal and external problems for the promising carrier. Indeed, Okon could not possibly run the airline all by himself.
I recall the very promising engagement of ADC with organised travel/tourism trade operators, with the airline powering conference meetings to Yankari National Park in Bauchi, which served as a winning edge for tourism. There were many gains the tourism content in ADC Airlines’ operation could have impacted on Nigerian tourism and the airline’s profit margins, but it was an effort thrown to the dogs by an uncaring staffers that never possibly understood that customers are kings.