Monday, November 1, 2010

Maximising Tinapa’s Potentials

Cross River State is arguably Nigeria’s home of tourism. The State hosts the famous Obudu Ranch Resort, Old Residency Museum, Marina Beach Resort, Agbokim Waterfalls , Ikom Monoliths, Mary Slessor’s Tomb, Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort, Cross Rivers National Park and Carnival Calabar (a month long cultural festival held every December). Recently, I was in Calabar on official assignment and lodged at Amber Tinapa, the 243 room hotel situated right inside the Tinapa environ. This should be my third time visiting the business resort, the last time being in 2007. Tinapa is an architectural masterpiece, the first integrated business and leisure resort in Nigeria. It was conceived to be a free trade zone in the mould of Dubai. It comprises four emporiums of 10,000m2 each and about fifty four line shops that range between 150m2 to 200m2 in size. The edifice was commissioned in December 2008. However, two years down the line, I am very unimpressed with the lacklustre way the multi-million dollar project is lying fallow, grossly underutilised thus gradually turning into a white elephant project.

During my stay at the resort, I took a walk round the large expanse premises and what I saw shocked me. Save for the Amber Hotel which takes bulk guests who are looking for a serene atmosphere for conferences, retreats and seminars, as well as the Tmart emporium, few banks and a couple of other boutiques, the business arm of the resort is largely empty while the world class facilities installed barely five years ago are near dilapidation due to disuse. At Studio Tinapa, a movie production hub which boasts of Eagle Visitor Centre, Studio Tinapa Stars Boulevard, Amphitheatre, Pre-production suites, Post-production, Editing and Sound Studios, Cafeteria, Movie Set workshop and Studios 1 and 2, the story is cheerless. The place is locked up, devoid of any activities while many of the ornaments that adore the buildings have lost their shine. At the Ponet Waterpark in Tinapa only a handful of merry-makers and tourists were seen on a Saturday when this writer visited. The news is heart-rending too at the Seaworld Arcade and the Crafts village situated behind the Amber as both facilities were desolate.

Tinapa is a public/private partnership initiative. I have heard of the huge debts incurred by Cross Rivers State Government in building Tinapa, I was also informed sometime ago that there was issue with legal framework setting up the free trade zone, particularly customs procedures, which I believe have been sorted out. Free trade zones are designed to attract local and international investors to a particular business environment where transactions and production take place with minimum government intervention or restrictions in the form of nationality requirement, taxes, duties and other trade barriers. One glaring challenge I observed in the course of my recent three day stay at Tinapa is that the entire resort is wholly dependent on electricity generators. This is not sustainable. One of the workers at the complex told me that at the inception the resort was to have its own independent power generating plant but because the State government is owing the company that constructed the plant, they have since abandoned the project thus each enterprise or organisation wanting to do business at the resort have to provide its own electricity. This automatically pushes up the cost of doing business at the resort. At night, apart from the Amber which runs 24 hours on generator and therefore could light its immediate environment, the streetlights are non-functional and the entire business resort is in darkness. This makes security of lives at night a great issue.

With most of the spaces at the large shopping complex being mostly unoccupied either due to exorbitant rent, lack of basic facilities or its isolated location (10km from Calabar Town), it is not surprising that in spite of the huge resources spent on advertisement on Cable News Network (CNN) for many years, the Free Trade Zone (FTZ) is still deserted. Tinapa’s potential is huge and should be fully tapped. The place needs to be lighted up and well maintained if it hopes to enjoy patronage. The Tinapa vision has to be repackaged, rebranded and relaunched with adequate incentives that will enable tourists to crave for a visit. I think the Studio Tinapa should start to show films and host musical concerts. Am sure many of the patrons at Amber and the emporium will love that for relaxation. There is need for branded souvenirs that could be purchased by visitors who want to keep mementoes of their trip to the FTZ. Regular exhibitions and trade fairs will make the place come alive. .However, the cost of doing business there must be affordable and profitable. The reason most Nigerian traders go to Dubai is because of its cheap commodities. Tinapa’s services must therefore be qualitative and pocket-friendly. Whatever is hampering free trade in this zone must be removed expeditiously.