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|Tourism Lessons From The Bahamas (Lagos, Nigeria)|
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|Posted by:||Oct 21st 2005, 02:11:22 pm|
|Fig Tree News Team||Tourism Lessons From the Bahamas
This Day (Lagos)
October 17, 2005
Posted to the web October 18, 2005
By Funke Aboyade
The Bahama Mama, from which this piece derives its name is a well known tropical drink with lots of rum and gets its name from the Carribean nation of the Bahamas.
Earlier this month I was in the Bahamas for an idyllic, if brief, spell. I spent the period in Nassau the capital, a very picturesque island. But that is not what this piece is essentially about. Rather, it's about what lessons we, that is Nigeria, can draw from it.
Let me go back a bit down the road to August, when I was at the Embassy of the Bahamas in Washington D.C. I had telephoned the Embassy from Chicago where I was staying, to ask about visa requirements. The requirements were simple enough, but I was told the process would take some three to four days and could be transacted by post. I however did not have the luxury of three days as I was due to return to Lagos, but as I also planned to be in Maryland for one day, I asked if the process could be expedited for me. I explained my predicament to the switchboard operator. I noted that she was very pleasant, polite and helpful. In spite of this, the Naija in me thought it would not be do-able. This, from an attitude often encountered back home from minions or anybody down (or in some cases, up) the ladder who often is in a position to help but derives pleasure from not only not helping, but putting obstacles in one's way, in the hope of being "settled" when the person seeking assistance eventually catches on.
I arrived the Embassy promptly on the appointed day as soon as the doors opened to the public at 9.00 a.m. The receptionist, whom I guessed was the same lady who had attended to my call, apologised (shock of all shocks!) that the officer I was scheduled to see appeared to be running a little late and suggested I drop my documents and go about my other business if I wished, then return. It was not necessary to wait, she said, though if I wished I could stay in their waiting room. The Naija in me (again, from past experiences, and I will explain shortly) decided to stay put in the Embassy. What if I left and upon returning wasn't allowed back in? I reasoned in my Naija mind. O fe lo fun mi ni (she's having me on). No Sir, I wasn't going anywhere. I was too smart for that.
In any event, the officer in question arrived (at about 9.03 a.m.) whilst I was talking to the receptionist, so I didn't have to put her to the test.
Now, to my explanation of the battered and bruised Naija in me. About two years ago, I had cause to go to the Nigerian High Commission in London. I was appalled at the shabby manner that Nigerian citizens who had one thing or the other to request from the High Commission were treated. Even second class citizens get better treatment. The problem was not from the very pleasant female Nigerian official who eventually dealt with my request with admirable dispatch. It was with the security men or doormen or whatever designation they were called. Very nasty, very rude, very indifferent, very unhelpful period! They were Nigerians by the way.
So now you'll appreciate my reluctance to leave the Bahamian Embassy.
Anyhow, I was shown to a waiting room by the same receptionist, asked if I wanted the TV on and which channel, given the remote control and generally urged to feel comfortable. Note, I was not a resident of the United States (green card holder), nor a citizen of the U.S, I was there merely on a regular B1/B2 visa. I was not even a citizen of the Bahamas. But I was treated with the utmost courtesy and respect.
In a short while, the officer in question came to attend to me and it turned out that what I thought was my travel itinerary to the Bahamas (a visa requirement) for my October trip was not one. Worse, when I phoned my brother (the visa officer made their phone available as my mobile phone had no signals) he was on the road and couldn't give me the telephone details of the travel agent. He however gave me the name. Again, the officer was helpful. He produced the Yellow Pages, which unfortunately did not have my agent's name as it was a local Yellow pages. So he dialled one of the travel agents listed and asked if they knew my agent's number. They did. Again, he let me use their phone to make the series of calls (the agent needed the cruise ship's authorisation before releasing the itinerary, it was getting more and more complicated and I was getting anxious) I needed for the document to be faxed directly to him.
All through this, he was courteous and clearly, wanted my visa application to succeed. I knew then, why the Bahamas is a top tourist destination worldwide. Within 15 minutes of receiving the faxed document, I had my visa. No fuss, no muss, no trouble, no begging, no bowing, no scraping, no nothing. All told, I spent 45 minutes max at the Embassy. He even hoped I would have a nice stay in the Bahamas! My God, I left with my head spinning in disbelief!
Fast forward to my arrival in the Bahamas six weeks later. The cruise ship had checked my passport before departing the United States, though I think they were more concerned with whether I had a multiple entry visa with which I could re-enter the U.S. and once they were satisfied about this, the rest was - pardon the pun - smooth sailing. We disembarked the ship and freely entered the Bahamas, there was no immigration officer in sight. To return to the ship - and one was free to do so as often as one wanted - we simply had to show the immigration officer stationed at the exit door, our photo IDs. No one said, "How is Sunday ma?", "Anything for the boys?" or "How is weekend?" or "What did you bring back for me". The officers were polite and pleasant and the lines moved so fast, one was done in seconds. In fact, one immigration officer asked me, upon my umpteenth exit, if it was my first time in the Bahamas. When I replied in the affirmative, he smiled, "enjoy your stay" like he actually meant it.
Those who travel regularly through our international airports will appreciate this narrative. When you're not viewed as a potential criminal or asked the dumbest questions (one officer at the Murtala Mohammed Airport once asked me what I had gone to do in Singapore, when "your mates are going to London". Another, only recently, asked my teenage daughter what she had for him!) either leaving or arriving the country, you queue up on arrival and it takes forever to get your passport stamped. More, the MMA car park is badly lit and peopled with beggars who beg aggressively.
I arrived the Bahamas the day Nigerians woke up to the news that armed robbers had taken over a portion of Ozumba Mbadiwe Street in Victoria Island, Lagos in broad daylight practically unchallenged! I couldn't help but contrast the Bahamas where the Police are not allowed to be armed, they simply carry batons, with Nigeria where our Police are armed and one is never sure if they will unleash their violence on one. Indeed, the police/soldier mayhem in Surulere, Lagos was going on about the same time.
Again, whilst enjoying the cool splendour of the Atlantic ocean at the famous Blue Lagoon beach (the water is unbelievably blue), I couldn't help but think sadly, that we have the same Atlantic Ocean back home. Check out our Bar Beach!
A drive around the island revealed that even the poor section or "the hood" was clean, with basic amenities provided. There was poverty sure, but it was not of the abject kind. The taxi driver, a polite, well groomed and articulate lady who called herself "Barbara, the original Bahama Mama" who took us round explained that it is mandatory that anybody (including taxi drivers, immigration officers, just about everybody) connected with the tourism industry attend a three month course at the local tourism school.
What am I driving at? A good product sells itself. You do not need a president in an overpriced advert on CNN urging you to come and visit. If Nigeria were more conducive for tourism - and we have some of the most amazing places of interest and a rich tradition and cultural heritage all over the country - more tourists would, of their own accord, visit. From our various High Commissions and Embassies abroad, to the officers one comes into contact with when leaving or arriving our ports, to security of lives and property, to cleaning up our environment, once we can take care of these, the rest will take care of itself.
The number one foreign exchange earner in the Bahamas is tourism. The second foreign exchange earner is banking, with over 300 banks operating in the Bahamas. The third is agriculture. Moral? You do not need great or indeed, any, natural resources to prosper as a nation. The Bahamas, Switzerland and Japan, to mention a few, are sound testimonies of this fact.
If we are serious about tourism in this country, we have to move beyond paying mere lip service to it. Maybe then, we can become a desired tourist destination for the world's citizens.
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