Mr Nkereuwem Onung is the president of Federation of Tourism Association of Nigeria (FTAN) and the Senior Special Adviser to the Governor of Akwa Ibom State on Culture and Tourism. In this exclusive interview with WALE OLAPADE, Onung, who is presently exploring the tourism model of China, speaks on his tour of Beijing and what Nigeria needs to reposition tourism for economic development.
Recently, you were in China for an online seminar on innovative development of culture and tourism for African countries, what is it all about?
Yes, I am presently on a fam-Trip in China. At the seminar, i delivered the opening speech on behalf of 60 participants from African countries at the opening of the online seminar on innovative development of culture and tourism for African countries organised by the Central Academy of Culture and Tourism Administration, China Ministry of Culture and tourism.
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The meeting was chaired by Mrs Lu Juan, Vice President of the Central Academy and supported by Mr Zhang Weiguo, Deputy Director-General, Bureau of International Exchange and Cooperation, Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China.
Good life is about innovation, even so, tourism is beyond visiting physical assets, it is about experience, culture, food and the people among others things that complete the tourism value chain. China has actually created innovative development in the area of digital technology and connectivity, community-based tourism, sustainable tourism practices, strong partnerships and collaboration, Niche tourism products, tourism training and capacity building. All these are needed for growth and development of the industry.
What is or are your take home from the seminar and how do you think you can sustainably create impact with your experience to better Nigeria’s economy?
The seminar has opened my eyes to many grey areas that reduce nation’s opportunity from reaching the desired tourism goal to better the economy. Nations fail due to failure of institutions and collapse of culture and in order to make a meaningful development in tourism, we need to redirect our values so that we can grow as a nation.
What do you mean when you say the seminar projected the main logic of the consumption driver of cultural and tourism economy?
During the seminar which lasted for two weeks, we saw amongst others the main logic of the consumption driver of cultural and tourism economy in relation to the journey of China’s tourism development and construction of world-class tourist destination. We understand that people will not consume products that they can’t afford and also the purchasing power parity is very crucial to economic development.
How can Nigeria replicate the journey of China’s tourism development and construction of world- class tourist destination?
In trying to follow the China model, we start with right policies, strong institutions and good market development, which are key factors in determining our contributions to GDP. We must understand the relationship between tourism and culture. For tourism, culture is a guide and for culture, tourism is a carrier. To construct a world-class tourism destination; we should attempt to create a unique and attractive image, iconic cultural symbols or public arts, restoration, packaging and utilisation of culture heritages. We also need to repackage our rich and colourful tourism festivals and event, development of cultural tourism products and construction and development of museums, etc.
What do you mean when you said you have studied the Chinese wisdom, dream and solution? Do you refer to a model for sustainable and all-inclusive development of tourism?
They have built community of shared future for humankind while promoting peace and development.
Did you explore the China’s ancient heritage?
Yes, we have a swell time moving from one city to the other with stop at some sites, which included the Great Wall of China, Palace museum and the temple of heaven, among other interesting places.
What is the model you saw in China that you likened to the vision of Pastor Umo Eno, Governor of Akwa Ibom State?
The China model concentrated on poverty alleviation. Poverty and its associated problems; including hunger, disease and social conflicts are serious impediments to people’s pursuit of a better life. So the eradication of poverty is the wish of all. The history of mankind is the history of struggle against poverty. China in the last 20 years, has moved the per capital of its citizens from $500 to over $12,000. So, in this same scenario, Governor Umo Eno started by spending over N1billion to pay pensions. His ARISE mandate is targeted at the poor. Agriculture, rural development, etc. This will help to not only engage all and sundry through purposeful programmes but also create a secure future for the people of Akwa-Ibom State.
Anji is one the county you talked about on your social media post, how fascinating was the trip?
Wow!! Anji, here we come. Anji means peace and fortune. Anji is a county in a city called Huzhou. A place of about 600,000 people. A model for the sustainable development in China. Serene and green environment with clean air and water. We learnt that Anji is a model of the future China. The owner of the Lui Xue resorts where we had dinner received us. I had to use chopsticks, otherwise no food.
Yangzhou is a city of 12 million people. A city of high-rise buildings. The home town of Alibaba. The city is 70 percent mountains, 20 percent land and 10 percent water. The 19th Asian games is taking place in Hangzhou this September. Great Infrastructural development and a super airport.
We visited the Yu village in Anji county and the Xilong Tea Plantation. This shows that tourism thrives on a strong and productive population and commitment to youth development. You see children of very young age with smartphones. China is said to be the world’s largest developing country, yet the largest economy by nominal GDP and purchasing power parity (PPP). I stayed at Veegle by Landison, a 4-star hotel in Anji, every food served in this hotel is produced locally. This is at the root of Chinese philosophy, dream, wisdom and culture.
What is the socioeconomic status of China?
China has a population of about 1.4 billion people, seven times that of Nigeria. In the last 20 years, the country’s per capital has moved from $500 to about $12,000. The President, Xi Jinping, had an objective “to preserve social equity and justice and achieve harmony between man and society and man and nature. They also set out to achieve the MDGs. On February 25, 2021, China celebrated the completion of the hard task of eliminating extreme poverty. That means poverty is not predestined nor is it unconquerable. It only takes courage, vision, sense of responsibility and the eagerness to take on challenges as they come. China is said to have 85 million disabled persons and yet none is begging on the streets. Most of them are gainfully employed working from their homes. We need a complete reorientation in Nigeria. So help us God.
What is the Temple of Heaven known for?
As the largest of Beijing’s imperial of religious building complexes, the Temple of Heaven is known for its symbolic layout, peculiar structure and magnificent decoration. It is the most representative example of Chinese ritual architecture. Emperors of the Ming and Quig dynasties worshipped the god of heaven and prayed for good harvest there. The Temple of Heaven is located south of the Forbidden City. In 2007, it was listed as a World Heritage Site. In 2009, it became a ‘National Model Scenic Area’. This is what history, tradition and culture can do in tourism promotion. Culture is the soul of tourism and tourism is the carrier of culture.
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