Driving national growth through tourism by the NIHOTOUR initiative




Again, there are calls for a total diversification of the country’s economy from oil to non-oil sectors. This is even as stakeholders applaud the initiatives of NIHOTOUR towards tourism as a veritable tool for revenue drive for the country. ELEOJO IDACHABA writes.

In view of uncertainties about the prices of petroleum products in the international markets which inadvertently affect the economy of many OPEC and non OPEC member-countries, there have been repeated calls for respective countries to divest their economies in order not to be caught in the web of economic global uncertainties.

Nigeria, like many other developing countries that depends solely on income from oil, is among those often hit by the unstable global oil price regime any time it occurs. That is why economic and political analysts have at various fora canvassed the need for a re-evaluation of the nation’s source of income. This is more so as Nigeria is blessed with other abundant resources beside oil. One of those resources is the country’s highly marketable, but untapped tourism sector.

For instance, just last week,  the global community observed the World Tourism Day set aside by the United Nations Tourism Organisation in 1980 with the cardinal objective of sensitising the entire world about long-term planning and development with a view to harnessing the multiple benefits from the sector.

Available statistics shows that there are tremendous benefits in tourism if the experiences of African countries like Kenya, Gambia, Egypt and South Africa are anything to go by.

Over the past six decades, for instance, report indicates that tourism destination countries and sites have witnessed a progressive growth from 25m viewers to well over 1.4 billion. Similarly, earnings from the sector have also leapt from $2bn in 1950 to $1,260trn as at 2015, roughly representing 10% of the world’s GDP and one in every 10 jobs.

To every discerning mind, therefore, tourism has become one of the fastest growing sectors that drive the economy of the entire globe. There is therefore no gainsaying the fact that it is in the best interest of tourism destination countries to develop the sector on a sustainable basis to enable them progressively enhance their capacity to reap maximum benefits from this money spinning sector.

Applause

It was in the light of this that the minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed, recently commended the foresight of the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) for embedding skills acquisition training in tour-guiding as part of activities marking the 2021 World Tourism Day celebration in Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi state. Mohammed whose ministry supervises tourism in Nigeria, no doubt, saw the compelling need to enhance the capacity of stakeholders in the industry.

He noted that the move by NIHOTOUR would no doubt improve the capacity of personnel needed to boost tourism activities in the country.

On his part, the director general of NIHOTOUR, Alhaji Nura Sani Kangiwa, called on beneficiaries of the skills acquisition and training programme to be steadfast in their pursuit of career in Travel, Tourism and Hospitality for gainful and self-employment.

As a testimony of gradual return to the era of tourism revolution, this year’s celebration witnessed a lot of activities like polo ride and other tourism-related events.

Speaking at the closing ceremony, Kangiwa who was elated by the reception the celebration received in Nigeria, said, “It is an indication that Nigerians are getting informed, enlightened and ready to identify with the goals and aspirations of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to grow the Nigerian tourism industry for the socio-economic benefits of the country.”

The climax of the celebration, according to this reporter’s investigation, was when dignitaries converged on the Presidential Lodge in Birnin Kebbi, to brainstorm on the theme of the celebration: ‘Tourism for Inclusive Growth’ which is indicative that tourism has come to be identified as a viable economic venture requiring all to be involved and engaged in tourism trades for job creation, poverty alleviation and a veritable revenue earner for the country.

An expert’s lamentation

A tourism expert, Mosun Debo, told this reporter that Nigeria has everything she needs to overcome the vicissitudes of an uncertain oil climate. He said, “Endowed with breath-taking and sprawling geography, cultural heterogeneity and a plethora of historical sites and monuments, the Nigerian landscape undoubtedly holds great promises for a sector that can compete favourably with the black gold in terms of foreign exchange earnings.

“However, owing to the easy and quick bucks that flow from the oil sector, tourism has suffered terrible neglect like the other sectors of our economy such as agriculture and solid minerals.” 

He said it is the over-reliance of the country on oil that has brought the country to where she is today. According to Debo, “Everyone knows that the Arab nations are endowed with oil, but of all those countries, only United Arab Emirate saw the need to diversify its economy by using the windfall from oil to develop a robust tourism sector that is attracting world attention today. Today, everyone wants to see the wonders of Dubai and surrounding cities because of the tourism attractions there.”

Abandoned tourism sites

According to Blueprint editorial, “The once vibrant Argungu Fishing Festival alongside the famous Argungu Motor Rally, the Yankari Game Reserve, the Jos Wildlife Park, the Olumo Rock, the Asop Falls as well as the boat regatta in the littoral parts of the country have all, but gone under whereas the Elmina Slave Castle in Ghana has continued to attract tourists desiring glimpses into the horrendous experience of victims of the trans-Atlantic slavery; Nigeria’s similar monuments at Calabar, Lagos, and Badagry are today receding into insignificance on the world tourism chart.

“Other potential tourism destinations across the country include the Mambilla Plateau whose potential revenue could very well have hugely competed with the nation’s earnings from the oil sector unfortunately is left to rot. There are the Gashaka-Gumti Gane Reserves, the Ngel-Nyaki Forest Reserves and the numerous pure, indigenous festivals in the Taraba axis which, if fully packaged, would have freed the state from being considered as one of the poorest states in Nigeria today. Yobe and Borno states have between them celebrated Dagona Birds Sanctuary which phenomenally attracts different species of birds from Europe, North America, Australia and Asia fleeing from the harsh effects of the winter in those continents.

“There is also the 8,000-year-old Dafuna Canoe, the Tulo-Tulowa, also known as a Desert Land of Hope and, of course, the sadly receding Lake Chad which in another clime would have been sustained and developed as a huge tourist and economic hub. These few are some of the instances we believe that the government should have done much more towards their sustenance and growth.

“At a time Nigeria is committed to divesting its economy away from oil, and given the growing projected economic and other benefits from tourism, Nigeria must wake up and look towards the tourism industry among other strategies and options in line with the dictates of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We recommend that only qualified people are appointed to supervise agencies and other related departments. Tourism is a specialised industry and those appointed to superintend it must be those with relevant qualifications and not on the basis of political patronage.”

Challenges

According to research clue.com, an online tourism blog, the number one challenge facing hospitality and tourism industry is the relegation of NIHOTOUR as s research institute on tourism to the background, a development that is really affecting the normal operation of the industry.

“The National Universities Commission (NUC) has not taken time to visit the institute for upgrade as it is done in other countries where Nigerians go to study in similar institutes and are awarded certificates for master’s and doctorate’s and these are accepted and upheld in Nigeria. 

“The greatest challenge tourism industry is having in Nigeria now is not merging or scrapping, but it is wrong management and administration through quackery and the education system management of tourism programmed and its related courses from Business Management to Agricultural Science departments, as such the government would lack ideas and advice as to what and where tourism belongs. All professionals should advise the government to strengthen the tourism parastatal with tourism and hospitality management graduates. Let it be on record that as a professional in tourism studied at home and abroad, it is not agric science.”

On his part, a lecturer in the Department of Hospitality Management and Applied Sciences at Dorben Polytechnic Abuja, Dr. Obinna Ugochukwu Onyeocha, said the activities of tourism in Nigeria have not been taken into consideration as part of the country’s economic development plan as it has been relegated to the background. It’s also being managed by non-experts and those who ventured into tourism and activities by investment. 

He said, “In looking at the challenges of tourism in Nigeria, it is not only the duties of the government to keep a track on tourism development, but the professionals in the field have been very quiet about the management of tourism in Nigeria.

“The merging of tourism with another ministry is not a surprise for anyone who has followed trends in the industry for the past 15 years. Tourism has been relegated to the third or fourth tier of economic generation of the nation.

“The policies of government about tourism in Nigeria have been not reflected in the prospects of this nation and the reasons are very obvious though discreet. The persons managing the affairs of tourism in Nigeria have nothing to do with tourism and on many occasions, they are just investors or walk-in persons through politics. The Nigeria Tourism Development Cooperation (NTDC) has those that read Geography, Sociology and Anthropology, Public Administration or any other Arts course. If the policy- making body is sick, why won’t the national decision on tourism be sick?”

Way out

Tourism experts are of the views that not only should the private sector be fully engaged to harness the benefits of tourism, but an enabling environment needs to be created by the government so that the essence of ‘Ease of Doing Business’ can reflect on the sector.

Continuing further, the Blueprint editorial read, “The government should increase its funding to the sector for infrastructure development. The need to showcase Nigerian tourism attractions to the world on international mass media platforms, embassies and other forums to further enhance patronage from the world over cannot be over-emphasised. Efforts must also be geared towards encouraging and attracting private sector involvement.

“We also charge the government to intensify its efforts at tackling security challenges in parts of the country which are capable of throwing wet blanket on the sector. No tourists would look in the direction of a country seething with terrorism, armed robbery, kidnapping and other allied crimes no matter how attractive its tourism destinations are. These are the critical issues Nigeria should address as we join the global community in celebrating the annual ritual.”

According to tours experts, Ogechi and Kennedy Ezenwafor, on ‘The Hospitality Business in Nigeria, Issues and Challenges,’ the operating environment of the hospitality sector in Nigeria has an effect on the supply of skills and financial performance of restaurant and similar hospitality businesses. 

“To improve overall performances of the industry, private-public partnerships between government agencies, hospitality colleges and hospitality businesses, strategic partnerships between expert hospitality institutions and business schools, cooperation among hospitality business owners and improvement in managerial practices could be strategic moves for an industry operating under heavy institutional hindrances peculiar to Nigeria.”