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Tourism & Lifestyle | Hoteliers are very happy with Uzodimma for navigating Imo out of the insecurity logjam - Uche Ohia

Hoteliers are very happy with Uzodimma for navigating Imo out of the insecurity logjam - Uche Ohia

"We are monitoring compliance with extant laws and operational regulations and we are optimising training of personnel with security training and orientation as top priority. We are encouraging the use of digital devices in security surveillance in hotels

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Eze UgochukwuJan 2, 2022
Hoteliers are very happy with Uzodimma for navigating Imo out of the insecurity logjam - Uche Ohia

Imo State Commissioner For Tourism, Mazi Uche Ohia PhD, discusses With The Special Adviser To Imo State Governor On Public Enlightenment, Prince Eze Ugochukwu On Issues Surrounding The Hospitality Industry In Imo State

"The hoteliers are very happy with His Excellency Governor Hope Uzodimma for navigating Imo out of the insecurity logjam that panicked the Imo populace and threatened the tourism industry"~Uche Ohia PhD.

QUESTION:  What is the state of the tourism industry in Imo State. Is it buoyant enough

ANSWER:  My answer to that would be a definite YES! Imo State is highly blessed and naturally endowed as far as tourism is concerned. The potential for tourism development - for optimisation of the tourism endowments, the tourism products, the tourism assets and the tourism resources is very high. First, the location of Imo State, is so naturally tourism friendly: Imo State is equidistant to all the major commercial hubs in the Southeast and South South geopolitical zones. For instance, Imo State is equidistant to Port Harcourt, to Aba, to Uyo , to Umuahia, to Enugu, to Onitsha, to Asaba and to Nnewi and Awka. So Imo State is placed in a wonderful position to harness visitors from all these hubs for leisure, for conferences, for entertainment, for enjoyment, for investment, for any legitimate purpose whatsoever.

Q:  Are we doing enough to harness these visitors. Are we building  the necessary infrastructures that will attract visitors?

ANS:  Of course! The structures in terms of hotels and hospitality are already there. Our people have invested heavily in hotels and hospitality. But our tourist sites, our heritage sites, our places of interests, historical sites, our tourism events are not properly catalogued or developed. There are no tourism information networks where visitors and prospective visitors can readily obtain basic information on what the state has to offer. No Tourist Guide, no Tourist Information Centre, no Tourism Calendar, no Directory of Hotels and Lodging, no Directory of Event Centres, Eatries, and Shops, etc, No souvenirs shop properly so called, no tourism logo, no brand identity, no destination marketing. Visitors who come to any destination always need information before arrival and on arrival - information on lodging and accomodation facilities, information on classes of hotels and rates, information on room type and available facilities, information on shopping, travel, touring, eateries, souvenirs and even information on investment opportunities. Visitors to any tourism destination need information on places to visit so that they can stay longer because it's all about visitors coming and finding exciting tourism products that will make their visit worthwhile - memorable and thrilling experiences. That will make them to stay longer. As they stay longer, they spend more money on accommodation, spend more money on food and drinks, spend more money shopping or getting entertained, spend more money on transport, etc. That is our target right now. We have standard facilities, a hospitable population and an environment that is receptive to visitors. We have all classes of hotels including those that meet all international standards. We have luxurious hotels and budget hotels and room rates are reasonable compared to other cities in Nigeria and abroad. What the ministry is doing is to create a tourism brand identity, update baseline data, activate our Tourism Roadmap, leverage on available tourism assets, to create, upgrade and/or revamp and rebrand our tourism products and assets and to market Imo State as an irresistible tourism destination.

Thankfully, we are lucky to have at the helm of affairs in Imo State today a tourism-friendly governor who not only understands the need but has shown unwavering commitment to ensuring that the tourism environment and the axis on which tourism rotates is kept intact. One of this fundamental axis is security. Our Governor, Sen. Hope Uzodimma has prioritized security. Without security, without peace and order, the tourism sector in Imo State will collapse. The Governor and the Government of Imo State came out strongly and firmly to ensure that peace and security are maintained and sustained at every point for the simple reason that, Imo being a tourism dependent economy, the collapse of the tourism industry could sound the nunc dimittis for the Imo economy. Another is infrastructures. The governor is delivering quality infrastructures of world class standard.

Q:  His Excellency Governor Hope Uzodimma has repeatedly harped on hoteliers to scrutinize their guests in order to weed out criminal elements. How are you interfacing with hospitality industry owners to achieve this objective to make sure criminal elements do not use hotels as their launching pad for untoward activities?

ANS:  The first thing we did was to establish a closer relationship or what we call a new partnership, a strategic partnership with stakeholders in the tourism industry - both hotel owners, restaurant owners, travel and tour operators, etc, and in our interactions with them, security has been the topmost of the agenda. This is because security is fundamental in the tourism sector of the economy and, therefore, in the Imo State economy. Tourism is security dependent and without security nothing works because no tourist - domestic, national, diasporan or expatriate - will step into an unsafe destination. We have catalogued hotels in Imo State pending inspection and recertification. We are monitoring compliance with extant laws and operational regulations and we are optimising training of personnel with security training and orientation as top priority. We are encouraging the use of digital devices in security surveillance in hotels.

Q:  What is the opinion of the hoteliers in terms of realising the security objectives of the government.   ANS:  The hoteliers are very happy with His Excellency Governor Hope Uzodimma for navigating Imo out of the insecurity logjam that panicked the Imo populace and threatened the tourism industry. They are eager to join hands with government to ensure law and order which is fundamental for tourism, for hotel and hospitality business. However, the penchant for analogue operation is still very high. What we are doing now is to encourage digitalisation of security to ensure that as many hotels as possible have CCTV so that they can more efficiently monitor movements in their hotels from a digital platform. We are equally digitalizing access to information about hotels. We are also looking at hotels that fulfill their statutory obligations -  some of them are not licensed, so how do you track them? So what we are doing is to ensure that hotels are properly documented, properly licenced and, more importantly, that they maintain minimum industry standards.

Q:  Do you have a licensing desk in your Ministry for hotels, guest houses, motels, eateries etc.

ANS: Yes, we do. The Ministry of Tourism has parastatals and one of them is the Imo State Tourism Board. The Tourism Board is the agency that represents the Ministry of Tourism in the field. The ministry also has the manpower to go to the field because it is our core mandate to inspect, monitor and regulate the tourism industry. Through the Tourist Board, we ensure that every tourism establishment in Imo State is licensed to operate. Licence fees, operational fees and annual renewal fees are paid to public revenue via the TSA account. However, you find out, sometimes, that investors establish Hotels or Motels and Guest Houses without following due processes and without obtaining operational licences. Such establishments are in violation of extant laws ab initio.

Q:  On 6th July 2021 you received a delegation from the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) where you talked about compilation, classification, and training for industry personnels. Can you elaborate further on this.

ANS:  This administration inherited a tourism sector that has too many deficiencies in information, too many deficiencies in data. We had to go back to update the database of the Ministry of Tourism. What we have done first and foremost is to compile a comprehensive list of hotels and hospitality establishments not only in Owerri, but in Imo State as a whole. In the process of carrying out this exercise we discovered that hotels in Imo State are much more than we have on record meaning that many are undocumented and, most probably, unlicensed.

Now, what we have done is to arrange our database of hotels alphabetically so that we can create a directory. We went further to arrange them by location to hasten accessibility for visitors. So, if you come to Aladinma, Ikenegbu, new Owerri, Akwakuma, Obowo, Orlu, Okigwe or any other local government or tourism cluster, we have compilation of the hotels in that area. The object of doing that is for ease of information accessibility - for those who are planning events, conferences, workshops, group visits or even individual visits to be able to have information at their finger tips. Also, for us, it becomes easier to monitor and regulate hotels which is a core duty. Any hotel that operates outside the minimum standards can ruin the industry whether in terms of facilities or in terms of service delivery or in terms of products. We have to ensure that one bad apple does not ruin the bunch.

Q:  What about training for hospitality industry personnel? I read about your discussion with the management of the Imo State University in the area of manpower training.

ANS:  It is an understanding that we are trying to reach. We are still working out details. Imo State University is willing to design short courses targeted at manpower development for personnel in the tourism industry. To meet up with international best practices we must upgrade skills of tourism personnel at all levels. We are working towards an MoU so that we can collaborate with Imo State University, Owerri -  Department of Tourism and Hospitality - to conduct training. We are also looking to collaborate with the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR). NIHOTOUR is a federal agency responsible for training of hospitality and tourism personnel. We are also discussing with Evette Institute of Catering and Hotel Management, a private sector training centre for skills upgrade in the informal sector. So we are capitalising on all resources and resource persons and training institutes to ensure that all levels of manpower in the tourism industry - be it managerial, administrative and service, large, medium or small receive some training to atune them to the tourism vision of the state. Our long term plan is that all personnel in the tourism industry must have minimum training. We have had a situation where a non resident hotel guest asked for directions to the nearest "rest room" to the reception in a major hotel only for the young service staff she sought directions from to inform her that they have no "rest room" and that if she wants to "rest" it is best to go to her room. What an embarrassment!  We have a responsibility to make sure such incidents do not re-occur. That was an obvious display of lack of training.

Q:  You recently called upon owners of hotels and eateries to endeavour to pay their taxes. What categories of taxes were you talking about.

ANS:  There are various taxes that government has statutorily imposed on businesses generally. In the tourism industry and for hotels especially, there are procedures. There is an application fee for new hotels, an inspection fee, a registration fee, and an operational licence. Then there is an annual renewal to show that you are still in business. These fees are graduated for all cadres of hotels and most of them are one-off fees. These are the statutory taxes that a hotel owner has to pay. You have to be licensed to operate as a hotel. Government does not want a situation where people build houses for some other purposes and then change the purpose without authorisation and approval. Government wants to avoid a situation where a structure that is not meant for a hotel is being used as a hotel. There are inspections that have to be conducted structure wise and facility wise in order to ensure that basic standards are met.

There are a few other taxes like the Hotel Occupancy and Resturant Consumption tax and The Tourism Infrastructure Levy which cuts across the Tourism Industry to other sectors of the economy with a link to tourism. None of these taxes were imposed by the present administration. They have been in existence for years. All taxes are collected by the Imo Internal Revenue Service and they are all paid direct to the TSA. Our duty is mere sanction monitoring - to monitor compliance and the compliance level is very low.

Q:  In terms of the conversion of premises that you talked about. We have problems primarily with Guest Houses where people convert private and residential homes into public hospitality establishments. Guest Houses should have different regulations from hotels.

ANS:  The licensing of hotels, motels, guest houses varies. But all are expected to register with government, all are expected to be licensed to operate, all are expected to subject themselves to inspection to ensure that proper things are put in place. People who want to transform a structure from one thing to other -  from residential to commercial, - there are legal procedures for doing that like change of purpose which is not handled by our Ministry. But then for the transformation to a hotel, you have to get an operational licence and this is where we come in. So we have to be sure that what you are converting to a hotel or Guest House meets the minimum standard. But some people do not do that.

Q:  We have hotel clusters within the Owerri capital city. Do you have plans to engage the owners to pool resources together as development partners to upgrade road infrastructures within their cluster as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

ANS:  We have been harping on the need for hotel owners to see government as a partner in progress. Government cannot do everything. They have a duty to give back to the community. His Excellency has made it public that the state will recognise anybody that will contribute meaningfully to development beyond their civic duties. Some of the hotel owners are waking up to that responsibility. The high density of hotels in certain areas calls for the owners to intervene within their clusters while the government concentrates on the major and link roads into the clusters. Next to security, infrastructure is a requisite for tourism to thrive. We are looking to more partnerships in the days ahead. We are also partnering with the media to promote tourism in Imo State. On August 24, 2021 we undertook a tour of media houses in Imo State to solicit the support of the media in the promotion of places of interest in Imo State. Even hotels and hospitality places in Imo Stste need publicity and we are planning a Tourism Summit soon to bring all partners in tourism development - MDAs, tourism stakeholders, investors, communities, the media, etc to interract and synergise for tourism development. We are looking to increase tourist/visitor traffic to Imo State by at least 50% and to increase hotel occupancy in the same token. Ultimately, we are determined to realize the vision of our Governor  which is to make Imo State an Irresistible Tourism Destination.

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