AS TOURISM CONTINUES TO UNITE US, LET US CONSIDER DEVELOPMENT OF OUR RURAL COMMUNITIES. By: Ben Ogbang Akwaji Jnr.

Participants at the Occassion

Tourism, like football, unites a people. The Tourism sector in Nigeria places the nation on advantage given its rich
resource-base in the natural beaches, tropical rain forests, historical monuments, ancient sites, arts and culture, not leaving out the historical events and festivals of the diverse ethnic groups.
Undoubtedly, the sector remains ever glorying in the joy and dwelling in entertainment, where all classes of people wish to part-take in the ever flowing thrills and frills.
Therefore, looking at tourism today in Nigeria, it is best to reason that if properly developed and with sustainable strategies put in place, it would sustainably boost the country’s national identity, by way of igniting its people to always enjoy having leisure and even do business together, as one entity. Recently, Nigeria joined the world over, to
celebrate this year’s World Tourism day. ”Tourism and
Rural Development”. The theme is very catchy and apt. as the celebration came at a critical moment that all
hopes were dashed, with the whole world in despair. Considering the havoc caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and its attendant dividing economies in the world, it is right to look at the rural development as an integral part of tourism
promotion.

“…tourism sector plays unique role in providing opportunities for both urban and rural populations. It is equally true that rural development is an integral component in Tourism promotion. We cannot therefore, separate the two from each other…”

Realistically, we must face the truth, look at ourselves right into the eyes and ask the question ” The urban and rural life in today’s Nigeria, which is better?” Does migrating from the rural areas to the big cities still hold sway in today’s
Nigeria? When you attempt answers to these questions then you would believe that this year’s theme ”Tourism and Rural Development” is very apt.
It is true that the tourism sector plays unique role in providing opportunities for both urban and rural populations. It is equally true that rural development is an integral component in Tourism promotion. We cannot therefore, separate the two from each other, when we wish to attain sustainable development and growth.
Today, urban and rural poverty persist. The people living in the rural areas have little or no access to raised standards of living like their counterparts living in the metropolis. This disadvantage pushes them, particularly the
youths to migrate to the urban areas, even when a critical look at the standard of living in the big cities, shows that urban poverty also persists.
This year’s celebration of  the Tourism Day comes with glad tidings for the rural populace, particularly, the youths
living in the heart of the communities. They are encouraged to stay as ”happy” as they can be, for ”every cloud has its silver lining”. As countries around the world look to tourism to drive recovery, including rural communities where the sector has its roots at offering employment opportunities that build strong economies, our government has promises coming in the way of the rural people, with enhanced recognition of rural development at the fore-front.
Nigeria has been one of the most visited tourist locations in the world. Cross River State is the choice destination of
Tourists visiting the country. Tourists, business men and women alike who visit Cross River experience fantastic new
feelings that would always make them have a return visit. That is why the Cross River State governments, both past and present give priority attention to tourism in the State. This has been the reason why the State has continually
recorded high in-flow of travelers trooping onto the communities of the State, for both business and leisure.
The clarion call for the Integration of rural development should be taken with all amount of seriousness. We can begin with supporting community-based tourism which enables visitors to our communities to meet local people in their real form and experience authentic cultural exchange. This way, it would facilitate the establishment of locally led projects that have direct impact on both the people, as well as the travelers. One important aspect of community-based Tourism is that, it is an idea that is supported and led by the natives themselves, thus, giving them opportunity to participate actively in the designing of the local projects from the beginning to the end of the project. Good projects breed development and growth.
The many benefits of community-based Tourism abound for both local community visitors and the society at large. When we get into executing environmentally sustainable community own projects, we would invariably, be promoting development and growth in our communities.
Community-based tourism at its best is sustainable, providing environmentally-friendly experiences and attractions. The economic benefits that come with an enabling environment can encourage the establishment of more businesses by the day. Community-based Tourism is simply good for the planet. Local people are provided opportunities to
make more income, introduce their culture, as they begin to attract potential investors to their local markets. The locals have a chance to share their culture with the world, as well as learn more about other people’s culture and
experiences. When the locals are engaged in community formations that give them hope for life, they are bound to glow with great pride and automatically begin to even think about living in the big cities, with nostalgia. The cross cultural understanding that begins to exist between the locals and the outside world allows people from very different backgrounds to come together in a respectful and proactive environment, engaging with one another. It is
incredible and heartwarming to see people who may never normally have met, spend time together and learn with
much fun. This helps to broaden everyone’s horizons and bring greater inter-faith and intercultural understanding.
What would our youths, women and other active community members who ordinarily would be faring better in the country side than the urban, be rushing out of their promising communities, if they had tourism-driven projects
that enable them drive sustainable livelihood.
Community-based tourism can provide income and opportunities for all people including women and other disadvantaged groups, more so, people living with disabilities.
Social problems would reduce if our young people and other highly disadvantage people in the communities’ tourism-induced projects make the bulk of money spent by tourists and investors, stay right in the local communities. Rather than tourist dollars going to other places, these instead, go directly to the local people; children in the local communities too, will begin to attend school comfortably, as community-tourism projects create financial
security for the community members.
Therefore, let us look towards the direction of injecting community tourism into our rural communities’ development system.