Whither Nigeria’s tourism sub-sector?

It is a sector that is capable of challenging oil as the nation’s number one revenue earner, but recent developments have shown that the tourism sector has not been properly exploited. ELEOJO IDACHABA writes.

In the nation’s political dispensation, the tourism sub-sector appears to have been getting less attention despite the gains it has recorded in the country’s GDP. In countries like the Republic of South Africa; United Arab Emirate; USA; Singapore; Kenya; Ghana; Swaziland; Zambia, Angola and lately Rwanda, the economies of these countries are driven largely by the revenue from tourism. To that extent, governments of these countries accord this all-important sub-sector its pride of place. In Nigeria, however, that appears not to be the way. To many Nigerians and indeed policy makers, the proverbial ‘grasses being greener on the other side’ holds sway as far as tourism development is concerned. To them, tourism is in far-fetched lands and so can never be developed in the country despite the huge potentials and several institutions.

Recently, worried by what appears to government’s commitment to the industry, the Association of Nigerian Journalists and Writers of Tourism (ANJET) challenged the government to show more commitment to tourism development and promotion.

Also, the tourism writers want the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), which appears to have taken a permanent rest, to wake up from its deep slumber rather than wait until a ministry is re-created for it to take on the responsibilities of developing, marketing and promoting the nation’s tourism. It noted with dismay the fact that for almost five years, the country is completely off the radar from international tourism expos and meetings where it had made tremendous gains in the past.

According the association, in 2014, tourism posted about $7.6 trillion which is approximately 10 per cent of global gross domestic product in employment generation rating with over 277 million jobs. This, it stated, represents one out of every 11 jobs unveiled that year. On international visits and arrivals in Nigeria under the period, it underlined a $1.4 billion ranking, which is about six per cent growth with African countries recording a mere 67 million arrivals with no one sure of what Nigeria recorded under the period in focus.

The body, therefore, lamented that despite the vast potential and comparative advantages that the country has in tourism, government and critical stakeholders have continued to pay lip-service to the industry.

Stakeholders’ concern

During the launch of Project Tourism, an initiative of Linas International Limited and NTDC in Abuja recently, the elasticity of tourism in orchestrating enviable and sustainable development in any country that explores its potentialities was emphasised. Piqued by the lamentation in the sector, the project was designed to, among other things, project the tourism assets of Nigeria and run profitable projects that will highlight Nigeria’s hospitality culture as well as her rich cultural endowments.

Speaking at the event, a former House of Representative member, Ned Nwoko, noted that no country “can survive without harnessing the potentials in the tourism sector.”

Nwoko emphasised the fact that Nigeria is hugely blessed with tourism potentials which, if harnessed, would not only create huge wealth for the country and her people, but would also propel unity among the various segments of the country towards a greater nation.

Giving a breakdown on tourism potentialities across the world, Nwoko quoted the United World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO’s)s January 21, 2019, submission that, “Worldwide, international tourists’ arrival (overnight) visitors increased by 6% which was equivalent to 1.4 billion in 2018 above the 3.7% growth registered in the global economy. Out of this number, the Middle East had 10%; Africa, 7%, Asia and the Pacific and Europe both stood at 6%. The Americans are below the world average 3%.”

The co-ordinator of Afrifoods&drink Project, an initiative of the former Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Evang Olusegun James Ola-Oyedeji, said in an interview with Blueprint Weekend that, “Nigeria is specially blessed with vast and diverse tourism resources. From the west to east, north to south, each state of the federation has something special to offer that could be transformed into tourism asset for the socio-economic development of Nigeria.”

Ola-Oyedeji, who has been an active partner in the industry for over 20 years, further stated that, “Tourism management got turned into a child’s play without seriousness of purpose attached to its functions. The presidency exhibited her no-interest in tourism by relegating tourism to the background in changing the status of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation to mere Ministry of Information and Culture without clear-cut definition of its mandate on tourism development.”

“All that is left of tourism is the entertainment segment which is shrouded with dishonesty and nonchalant plagiarism of proposals that could have transformed the industry into a power-house for economic development.

“Agents of political opportunism see the ministry as a fertile ground for lining their pockets with ill-gotten wealth. It is therefore up to the president, the executive governors to see this as the ‘bane’ of the industry and take bold steps to stop the decay and redesign an operational framework that will ensure that tourism works for the prosperity of the states. What we have now will not stand the test of time,” he said.

Going down memory lane, he said one of the good legacies of the former military president Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s administration was to tag the industry as the ‘Preferred Sector of the Economy’ next to oil. According to him, Babangida took that bold step in order to see that the sector thrives. He noted that the same can be replicated for a re-birth and growth of the industry in order to rejuvenate the economy taken after Ghana during its former president, Jerry Rawlings.

“In 1992, Ft. Lt. Jerry Rawlings took advantage of the World Tourism Organisation (WHO) meeting in Ghana to organise a National Tourism Finance Summit. The move paid off for Ghana when she was in her economic ruins and metamorphosed to a tourism-based economy. Nigeria can do same using the Ghana’s scenario to fund the development of her tourism and culturally ‘God’- endowed numerous natural and man-made facilities on ground,” he said.

The present political scenario of winner ‘takes-all’, he said, has even worsened the situation. “In the 80s/90s, there was the surge and serious drive to make tourism to thrive. This was dampened by political gladiators who got appointments into sensitive positions as compensation and not on the account of merit. To that extent, those who would have driven the sector to its enviable heights were forced to compromise their professional integrity.”

While decrying conferences without any results, Ole-Oyedeji also said, “One would have thought the United Nation (UN) and World Tourism Organisation (WTO) meeting of 2018 would make the difference but it was another jamboree of getting the ministry busy with huge revenue wasted. If not, let the Ministry of Information and Culture give a report of the conference and strategy and their follow-up plans as the result of huge investment put into it.”

Also, Dr Jide Ojo, a public affairs analyst and the executive director, OJA Development Consult, in a chat with Blueprint Weekend, said it is painful to say that it’s an error of omission or commission for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to have been scrapped thereby neglecting tourism development in the country.

“This is a sad commentary considering the fact that in other better climes such as Brazil, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Israel, tourism is a goldmine; a money spinner. In these climes, millions of jobs are created by the sector with value chains across catering, lodging, tour-guiding, manufacturing and marketing of souvenirs, curating, provisioning of security and others,” he said.

Speaking further, Dr Ojo said, “A great deal of revenue has been lost due to Nigerian government’s lackadaisical attitude to the tourism sector. Nigeria has over 100 tourist sites many of which are in deplorable conditions due to neglect and lack of proper funding. Although speaking the truth, insecurity has also contributed in no small measure to the decline in the sector. Who wants to come to a country that has been waging a protracted war against insurgents since 2009 or where abduction and banditry have become a normal life?”

Experts on way forward

For the industry to thrive again, he noted that “there is a need for improved security around the country so that fun-seekers are not scared of those tourist sites due to fear of being attacked or abducted.” He also pointed out that adequate maintenance culture “is desirable in order to ensure that the tourism sites are perpetually in top shape.”

He said, “Although people are at liberty to have their vacation wherever they deem fit. It’s a matter of cash and choice. In our case, it is, however, a different scenario. Painfully, our own leaders have not been leading by example in that regard. American presidents go  to Camp David in the US for their holidays, but our president, governors and all elected public office holders prefer Dubai, Kenya, Rwanda, Caribbean Islands, Europe and America  for their annual vacations rather than patronising the Obudu Cattle Ranch, Ikogosi Warm Spring Resort, Yankari Game Reserve and other holiday resorts here in Nigeria. Change must begin with our leaders.  As it is said, it is the front horse that the back one uses to pace.”

Also, speaking on the way forward, Dr Ojo said it is for Nigeria to have improved funding for the country’s tourism sub-sector. “The public private partnership model of funding is desirable in order to guarantee accountable administration of these tourist sites. These are some of the ways by which tourism can contribute significantly to Nigeria’s GDP.”

For Ola-Oyedeji, an independent ministry is solicited to be headed by a seasoned tourism practitioner with records of achievement in the industry and not mere academics. “In the interim, the government should reverse the presidency’s misplacement of tourism. The tourism budget for year 2019/20 should focus seriously on developing the tourism industry and implement the tourism master plan that has been lying on the shelf for years without political will for implementation. The Senate and the House of Representatives can look into projects like a National Tourism Finance Summit as their contribution for the rejuvenation of the economy,” he said.

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