• Monday, July 15, 2024
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BusinessDay

How Rivers is rebooting economy with tourism, entertainment after economic summit

…As tourism board partners mayor of Housing, banks to pluck hanging fruits

Rivers State seems determined to return to the lead after its economic and investment summit, and has set plans to start rebooting the economy with tourism and entertainment. The government has found partners in this task, one of them the Mayor of Housing, MY-ACE China, who is the CEO of the Housing and Construction Mayor Limited.

Some banks are said to have held extensive talks with the authorities of the Rivers State Tourism Development Agency (RSTDA) to kickstart series of already identified activities that would create new vibes other than negative political stories that seem to destroy the long-built image of the Garden City.

BusinessDay gathered that tourism alone can restart the economy, based on what worked for the state in years past when the city led other states and cities in entertainment and tourism.

Read also: How recognition drives growth in tourism, hospitality

The new role of the RSTDA seemed to have been rediscovered at the economic summit and fresh mandates with marching orders may have been issued.

To concretise the moves, the RSTDA led by Yibo Koko, a seasoned movie expert, unveiled partnership strategies with the Mayor of Housing.

RSTDA executive shows the new card:

The Director-General (DG) of the Rivers State Tourism Development Agency (RSTDA), Yibo Koko, talked about low hanging fruits initiative to be revived, saying the first effort last time led to three artistes going to Dubai to train and be exposed.

He talked glowingly about the gains of the Rivers State Economic Summit and the Creative Art, saying the Mayor of Housing was part of the panel on creative economy and his participation led to the decision to go back and start from the ‘Low Hanging Fruits Initiative.’

He said the body language of Gov Sim Fubara suggests positivity and this has led to trickling effects on creative economy and the young people.

He remarked that the state lost a lot in buy-in of the young people. He said the state slumped to where youths were being made to come into schemes instead of being attracted by what is good.

He gave insight into how reputations are ruined online, saying Algorithm or Artificial Intelligence (AI) picks what comes online most frequently and uses it to characterize a person or place for profiling. “So, when people click on your name, what comes up is the thing AI says you are. For Rivers State, it’s the steady bad news in the media that AI picks to brand the state.

“The RSTDA wants to reverse that and we want the many good things happening in the state to be brought up deliberately.

“The state government wants entrepreneurs and investors to be the ones driving wealth creation and the growth of the economy. We want to bring back the vibrancy of the Garden City and we know the role tourism and entertainment can play.

He said they want to do this by plucking the hanging fruits through such projects as photos exhibitions, documentary contest, meet the legends, The Mystery Rider, the Unknown Lodger strategy, etc.

On-Air-Personalities (AOPs) would be engaged for slants and be rewarded. There would be festival evenings to showcase all the works on the various areas. “We perceive that the governor is willing to support.”

He said understanding the basic concept of tourism is key. “Local tourism is very important whereby residents or citizens take trips around the state to enjoy food, sights, music, fun, etc.

“Tourism is low because people do not talk about what they have and what they know. There is no organic promotion of what is on ground by the people themselves. People do not speak well of this state.”

He regretted that the people do not tell their own stories well, but that the present governor wants to push a positive narrative.

He talked about lack of trust whereby the people hardly showed interest in what governments say and even do not participate in contests and things that should be done.

He revealed a major virus eating deep in the Niger Delta region, saying companies diverted their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) budgets to security, and that money left the city that way.

Mayor of Housing shakes the stakes:

I am more excited than the Director-General of the Rivers State Tourism Development Agency (RSTDA). One of my friends and I sat down months ago on how to change the Rivers’ narrative from negative to positive; from crisis to investments; and from violence to opportunities. From afar, you will think Rivers State is on fire and blood is flowing on the streets. So, it makes business people scared to visit Port Harcourt; and that too happened to me when I attempted to visit some few years back.

How investors are discouraged from coming to PH:

I started estate business in Abuja. In 2021, we wanted to extend to Port Harcourt, but the first thing the CEO of our company then told me was all about insecurity in the Garden City and all the associated hypes. He asked me how I would need over five Mopol (military police operatives) to move about in Port Harcourt. The narrative then was that Port Harcourt was unstable and unsafe. We argued and agreed I would be the one to go, and if I was killed, he would stay away.

A different PH:

Coming into Port Harcourt at last, I was shocked at the peace and stability, at the hospitality, at the liveliness, cuisine, housing potentials, etc. In housing we were more than 100 brands in Abuja hustling for space, but I came into Port Harcourt and saw only two active brands. It was like I could beat them ad be the topmost.

I called my people and said, this is a deep market. I staged the biggest event in Port Harcourt. It was shocking. People came out because of the shouting I did. This was the same Port Harcourt they said would swallow me.

When I went into the nitty-gritty of doing business in Port Harcourt, I found why the narrative was looking gloomy.

There was a political dilution of peoples’ goodwill and will, and most persons here are victims, including top people doing so well. I discovered that there are very many unsung people here that felt they would not make it unless they went to Lagos.

So, I chose the comedy industry to start the push to sell Port Harcourt with positive narrative and restart of the story of the city. I began to sponsor them with whatever little I had.

I am the first corporate body to scale Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) because others start CSR when they make it, but I started from the start or even before the start of my project. As of this year, we have won ‘brand of the year’ for three years running just by doing little by little.

This year, having seen the battle we faced to succeed, we found that most investors study the algorithm (digital representation of frequency of happening in a given city) and they flee. Now, we said, let’s do media visibility for the Garden City. We made sure we briefed the press frequently on the positive things happening in Port Harcourt which would have been ignored. We saw it paid off because more positive stories began to come out of Port Harcourt. Now, we have decided to start a competition in the body of journalists in the state on positive news. It has been said that bad news is good news. So, for good news to overtake bad news, it has to be told 100 times over bad news. Bad travels 10 times faster than good news. So, good news has to perform 100 times more than bad news to overtake bad news.

So, I was waiting for my land papers to come out so I can start big news moves when suddenly I learnt that an economic summit was about to hold.

The same excitement I had in 2021 with the housing estate opportunity is the same excitement I had when the economic summit exploded. I was excited because I said, for the first time, we are going to actually discuss value. I am not a politician, I am a valuetician.

In fact, I pride myself as Africa’s biggest value-monger. The way rumour mongers look for rumours, create rumours, peddle and perpetuate rumours, that is the way I look for value, create value, peddle and perpetuate value.

Only for that summit, apart from participation, the news sponsorship we did to try and promote that summit and carry the news as wide as possible, the media can tell you. It may even be bigger than anybody’s. It is not because I have the money but because I have seen a state with so much potential; their story is not being told, their potential is not being sold, their cuisine is not being exposed, the culture everything. Rivers State is a place that has over 10 times bigger heritage sites than any other place in Nigeria.

So, when they came up with the ‘Mix and Legend’ programme, I jumped up because the only man that has captured the solution to Nigeria’s problem is what Peter Obi is doing recently about borehole drive. The future of Nigeria is in individuals, not in any corporate body.

Peter Obi talks about 200,000 boreholes. If one per cent of Nigerians is 200,000, so if you can do one borehole in a year, you can have water solution. That’s is just the statistics.

Rivers State has six million people, Lagos has 15 million. But we are not one third in Lagos with publicity, in tourism, in algorithm. It is not because we lack potential but we lack awareness for being deliberate.

So, part of the fundamental things why we are here today is to tell everybody that the awareness and deliberate narrative change can start now and here; and we can begin to talk about the positives of Rivers State, we can skew the algorithm back in our favour. If Lagos State has 15 million people and they have less people talking about their potential, that would reduce visibility to the work of about three million people. Rivers with six million people need to work harder. If 50 per cent or more of our people talk about the positives of this state, it will beat that pattern or algorithm.

So, the idea is, who else will tell them. The good book said how will they hear, if somebody doesn’t preach to them. We thus put this meeting together so you can all preach the message of the positives of Rivers State.

When this competition as outlined by the DG (of the RSTDA) begins, it would launch Rivers State back as the tourism capital of the world. By the story told by the DG, if the tourism promoters of Dubai could come to Port Harcourt to promote a show and only seven persons showed up, the small number was not because there was scarcity of talent or lack of interest from the youths of Rivers State, it was because of lack of narrative-pushing to tell the youths that there was opportunity somewhere.

When I started my project in Alesa Eleme, I was told don’t go oh, they do worry oh. But today, I have not even started the project proper and I have got an award from the same Alesa Elele youths as ‘Hero of Development’ all because of little corporate social responsibility (CSR) things I did for them. It broke my heart when they came to me and said they could secure our facility. They said all we needed to give them were equipment and gears not costing up to N5m. We did that donation in December 2023 but I was weak when they said for 20 years, no company had donated those things.

It is about the narrative being peddled around the state and around the communities. The story is not being told. If you don’t load the search engine with good stories, you won’t move up on the scale of attractive cities and investments. Let’s get to the level of knowing what to tell and what not to.

The question today is; what is Port Harcourt and who is going to tell the story.

Conclusion:

The governor says Rivers State is open for business again, and the RSTDA seems to take the bull by the horn to lead the charge. They have a huge ally in an enthusiastic entrepreneur and investor, the Mayor of Housing, who has taken the state by storm to shake it back to action and national reckoning, and away from image of centre of political crisis.

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