Re-inventing tourism amidst dwindling incomes




If Nigeria intends to recover the lost grounds occasioned by the consequences of the drop in oil prices globally, this is the time to pay attention to tourism. ELEOJO IDACHABA gathers the views expressed by experts in the industry.

Nigeria, like other countries of the world whose economies are driven largely by petroleum, may in the coming years find it difficult to run the government if they fail to look beyond oil into other thriving sectors like tourism.

This is coming on the heels of the recent announcement by the minister of finance, Zainab Ahmed, that the government revenue was on a steady decline.

This is so because Nigeria is among other countries often hit by the unstable global oil price regime; and that is why there is a need for a re-evaluation of the nation’s revenue source aside from taxes. It is no longer news that Nigeria has a highly marketable, but untapped tourism sector. Available statistics show that there are tremendous benefits in the sector if the experiences of African countries like Rwanda, Kenya, Gambia, Egypt and South Africa are anything to go by.

Over the past six decades, for instance, a report indicates that tourism destination countries and sites have witnessed progressive growth from 25 million 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.

Tourism, therefore, 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, like Nigeria to develop the sector on a sustainable basis to enable them progressively enhance their capacity to reap maximum benefits from this money spinning sector.

Paradoxically in Nigeria, especially under the current administration, the sector is not on its scorecards, thereby fuelling concerns.

Concerns

Recently, tourism operators under the aegis of Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) kicked against the planned hosting of United Nations World Tourism Organisations (UNWTO) first conference on cultural tourism and creative industries by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.

They said if the government goes ahead to host the fiesta, the tourism umbrella body said they would boycott the conference as according to the association through its president, Nkwereuwem Onung, “it is neither beneficial to the Nigerian tourism industry nor operators.”

It would be recalled that the information and national orientation minister, Lai Mohammed, recently inaugurated a central planning committee to organise the UNWTO conference billed to hold between November 14 and 17 as part of events slated for the reopening of the National Arts Theatre.

Onung, however, said private operators in the sector resolved to boycott the conference because of the neglect they have suffered in the hands of the minister in the last seven years.

According to him, all efforts to have a meeting with the minister to discuss had always proved abortive despite over six letters written to him. He said rather than meet with them or attend any of the local tourism events, the minister prefers the UNWTO conference where he only parades himself as the country’s tourism Minister, but with neglected domestic tourism.

“Hosting the November UNWTO conference is not what the country needs to recover from its present economic woes as it is only an avenue to enrich few people and fritter tax payers money away in a mere jamboree that is of no benefit contrary to what the minister has made the Presidency and nation to believe.”

Security concerns

As everyone is putting heads together to fashion out a safe haven for tourism operators, a tourism consultant, Dr. Paul Adalikwu, said one of the areas the government needs to look into if practitioners can make any inroad is insecurity that, according to him, has turned many tourism sites into slaughter zones.

“At the moment, I am not aware of any tourism site currently operating at 100 percent capacity due to the insecure environment in the country. We don’t even need to talk about the northern part of the country overridden by bandits and terrorists. Right now down south, all the forests are overrun by kidnappers. How can tourism develop under such an atmosphere? Apart from neglect, insecurity is the major killer of the industry and the government needs to look into that seriously,” he said.

Imoke’s wise counsel

It was probably in consideration of complains from private operators that informed former Cross River state governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, to task governments at all levels to make incentives a key factor that can stimulate the sector, as according to him, it is the only way to grow the sector towards contributing to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

He spoke recently at the 25th Annual General Meeting and tourism conference of FTAN in Abuja.

Imoke said, “Tourism has to be private sector driven with the government as the enabler but sometimes the government becomes the mover; the government must create incentives as one of the mandatory roles otherwise we would not grow the industry.

“The greatest challenge I find is insecurity and access to tourism, which the government has to provide and when the government fails, then the investors and operators too would fail.

“These are critical issues that we must address. Why is the tourism budget shrinking when we have a sector that we want to grow? How and when do we create capital for the industry? Is tourism a luxury good or is it a necessity? All of these are part of the challenges that we face.”

Lessons from Arab nations

A tourism expert, Mr. Mosun Debo, also bemoaned the state of the sector. He said, “Nigeria has everything she needs to overcome the vicissitudes of an uncertain oil climate. He said the country is endowed with breath-taking and sprawling geography, cultural heterogeneity and a plethora of historical sites that would be a tourism delight any day.

“The Nigerian landscape undoubtedly holds great promise 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.

“Everyone knows that the Arab nations are endowed with oil, but of all those countries, only the 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.”

Any deliberate attention to the sector?

On his part, a lecturer in the Department of Hospitality Management and Applied Sciences at Dorben Polytechnic Abuja, Dr. Obinna Ugochukwu Onyeocha, said tourism in Nigeria “has 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.

“In looking at the challenges of tourism in Nigeria, it is not only the duty of the government to keep a track on tourism development, but 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 the government about tourism in Nigeria have not been 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 Corporation (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?”

More expert advice

According to tours experts, Ogechi and Kennedy Ezenwafor while writing 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, while at the same time working on deliberate actions to end insecurity. You cannot quantify the number of jobs the sector can create if well developed.”

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