Monday, 18 November 2013

Tourism Is A Serious Business – Sally Uwechuo-Mbanefo

Sally Uwechue-Mbanefo, Director General of  The Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) just back from  the  World Travel Market Forum which held  at  Excel, London between  November 4th and November 7th 2013 speaks on her vision for NTDC.
 Nigeria at the 2013 World Travel Market Forum
 This is a global travel market which a lot of travel and tourism stakeholders attend and it gives Nigeria the opportunity to showcase her tourism potentials. It’s also an opportunity to tell people why they should link-up with Nigeria, an opportunity to say “I know you heard so many stories about Nigeria that are not complimentary but here we are in person to show you just a tip of the ice berg of the beauty of Nigeria, the fascinating culture and  the beautiful and  very warm people that we are”.
Her Vision for Nigeria’s tourism sector
I think the most important thing is for us to be able to pass a message through to Nigerians that tourism is a very serious business. There are many things that are quite good and tangible happening for Nigeria that we need to talk about.  Nigerians want to be appreciated for what we are, who we are and what we stand for. We are warm and positive people. Our culture is quite rich and diverse. There are beautiful world heritage sites in Nigeria which include the Osun Oshogbo grooves.  I’m totally brand new in this industry and I have come with fresh ideas, I have come with a reflective attitude to tourism.  I want to look at tourism in a holistic manner. We have tourist attractions that people don’t know about and one of the things I have been working on is domestic tourism.  With a population of 170 million, who can best sell Nigeria than us? Don’t forget, one of our big assets is oil but the vision is to steer Nigerians away from oil to focus on tourism.
We’re exploring how tourism can be embraced by the private sector because tourism is a private sector activity. It’s driven by the private sector, so it requires somebody with experience in the private sector to drive tourism in Nigeria. Nigerians are educated people, we have also travelled far and wide and that is why I’m focusing on domestic tourism, because we want to encourage Nigerians to travel within Nigeria and those that travel out should speak well about our country and invite foreigners to visit Nigeria. Nigeria is a compelling story that must be told. Every Nigerian must take advantage of what we have. The beauty, the sights and sounds of beautiful people. We have a very friendly weather all year round. Among Nigeria’s success stories of tourism is Nollywood and we are partnering Nollywood in selling Nigeria’s tourism potentials. Nigeria’s success story also features business tourism which has been the most powerful one, but we do not want outsiders to come to Nigeria only for business tourism. You come in, spend and enjoy. Subsequently, you go out and speak well of Nigeria.
 The impact ‘Fascinating Nigeria’ campaign has made
‘Fascinating Nigeria’ means we are a fascinating people. The country’s diverse cultures, multiple festivals make it very rich and we are very warm people. It’s an attempt to persuade Nigerians to key into that understanding of tourism in Nigeria and how they will share their experiences with non- Nigerians. We just launched it in June 2013 and it’s interesting to know that people are aware something is going on. Nigeria’s tourism sector has something to offer, but tourists generally need to give us time, so that we can put our infrastructure in place. When we talk about it, they will come and see that what we say matches what we are showing them. We need to put some certain things in place, so that we can deliver, because we are promising tourists that when they come to Nigeria, they will have a fascinating experience. Obtaining their visas, meeting people at the airport (including taxi drivers that take them to the hotels), the tourist attractions they visit, all make the difference.
Her Dress Sense
It’s been very interesting to me. It’s quite nice, I feel more Nigerian than I really am. I’m really Nigerian.  I speak Nigerian languages and I did  all my schooling here. All my children are in Nigeria. It’s exciting that I dress in native these days. I try to encourage the youth and budding designers to make my dresses.
Life before NTDC
I was in the private sector. I was a banker and I spent about 20 years in banking. Before NTDC, I was an executive director in a bank. Then I had a three-year stint in manufacturing. I was also a director at The Coca--Cola Company and a cement company. Furthermore, I worked in the oil and gas sector as an executive director as well.

Working at NTDC
It’s not been easy, but everything depends on my mind-set. I was prepared to work for my country and I am determined to make it a success no matter what. I’m committed and dedicated to the success of Nigeria’s tourism sector. I want people to be curious about Nigeria and be interested in coming to Nigeria. I’m focused  on people’s development and job creation too.  Countries like Gambia, Kenya and South Africa are willing to partner with us. We want  all Nigerians to be part of the change.

First day at NTDC

It was very interesting. I think one of the nicest things about NTDC is the fact that more than 50% of the staff are women. That makes it very nice for me, because I relate very well with women. Women are very flexible and they can multi-task. That helps a lot when you are new in a place. You’re motivated to create change in an environment like that and people respond positively to you. That has been my experience.
I visit our tourist attractions. I also draw and paint. I’m an artist. I draw my outfits too and designers work on them. They are young entrepreneurs. 
Staying Fit

I eat carbohydrates and anything except unhealthy food. I’m most concerned about the nutritional value of what I eat. If you eat three square meals, then you don’t snack. A snack is supposed to be a snack not a meal. If you eat cake when you are hungry it’s no longer a snack, but when you eat a proper meal then you see a cake, you find yourself taking  very little of it . If you are hungry and you jump on a cake as a meal, that is empty calories and you continue to be hungry because it’s empty calories. It’s just empty sugar and doesn’t add any value to your body. You need to eat in a way that is natural to your body. Eat everything that your body likes but moderation.
Mrs Sally Uwechuo-Mbanefo spoke to Christy Anyanwu of The Sunday Sun

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