Tourism development in Nigeria… Beyond rhetoric, grandstanding

Nollywood stars Rita Dominic, Ramsey Noah, Pete Edochie and Florence Ita Giwa at the Calabar Carnival.

Nollywood stars Rita Dominic, Ramsey Noah, Pete Edochie and Florence Ita Giwa at the Calabar Carnival.

The richness and diversity of Nigeria’s culture has always been cited as strong reason why tourism should be a major foreign exchange earner for the country.
From east to west, from north down to south, the country is naturally endowed with rich tourist sites.

The Osun Osogbo Groove, Sukur Cultural Landscape in Adamawa, Obudu Cattle Ranch, Ogbunike Cave, Oguta Late, Yankari Game Reserve, Olumo Rock, Idanre Hills, Ikogosi Waterfall, Mambila Plateau… the list is inexhaustible, including those that are yet to come to limelight.

When it comes to festivals, Nigeria is not lacking. From the Argungu Fishing Festival, to Osun Osogbo Festival, Abuja Carnival, Calabar Christams Carnival, Cross Rivers State Carnival, Eyo Festival, Igue Festival, Ojude Oba Festival, Badagry Festival, Durba Festival… almost every state in the country hosts one or more festivals yearly.

However, the big question is: how much of these opportunities have been fully developed to attract tourists locally and internationally as well as earn revenue? Beyond cacophony of voices especially from the state actors, how prepared really is Nigeria showing that it has so much more to offer other the dwindling number of barrels of oil?Talk of visa; Nigeria’s visa is one of the most difficult to obtain worldwide, thereby putting off potential tourists, who are eager to visit the most populous black nation in the world. In fact, the country was once rated 9th hardest visa application globally, only ahead of China, which was rated 1st, Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, India, Thailand and Chad respectively.

In addition to your hotel booking confirmation, visitors need to provide bank statements and a letter of employment. You’ll also have to make three separate payments: the first to the Nigerian government (which is done online when you fill out your application form); the second to the Nigerian High Commission (which can be done only at the post office as a postal order); and the third to the visa application centre when your application is submitted. However, you can’t do this yourself because the Embassy prefers dealing with visa companies.

On the other hand, poor state of Nigeria’s roads remains a major challenge to tourism development. But the intervention by the last administration, Nigerian airports, including Murtala Mohammed International Airport, would have been a huge mess. And perhaps, the most crucial point is insecurity. No thanks to Boko Haram insurgents and activities of Niger Delta militants, which has put the country on ‘no go area’ list for most foreign nationals, particularly the United State of America, which consistently updates its nationals with information on states to avoid in Nigeria; that’s if they visit at all.

On assumption of office in 1999, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration identified tourism, as one of the six priority areas for development, and a Tourism Master Plan was required to activate the sector. With the help of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Tourism Development International was contracted as consultants to produce a Tourism Master Plan for Nigeria.

When the master plan was eventually inaugurated in 2008 by the then Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, the aim was to launch the sector as a viable economic alternative to oil, as well as market Nigeria’s tourism assets both at the local and international levels. With an existing Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), a Federal Government agency established in 1992 under the Ministry of Culture, Tourism & National Orientation to develop the tourism sector of Nigeria, it looked like a done deal.

Unfortunately, years after, the Nigerian Tourism Master Plan, which would have set the tone for a holistic development of the sector, is still lying on the government shelf. Amid discordant tunes from stakeholders, implementing the plan suddenly became a herculean task, with scanty activities thriving in the sector. And with the oil money still flowing, the plan was almost forgotten.

If there’s any takeaway from the country’s current economic distress, it is the fact that both individuals and government are becoming creative, as they grapple with wealth and job creation. With the downturn owing to devastating fall in the price of crude oil, it has become very crucial for the country to go beyond rhetoric and grandstanding in the quest to develop the tourism sector.

In most countries of the world, travel and tourism is an important economic activity. Aside from its direct economic impact, the sector has significant indirect and induced impacts. Despite wars, political turmoil, natural disasters, medical scares, terrorist attacks, and economic and energy crises in various parts of the world, international trade in tourism services has grown spectacularly since the 1970s.

For instance, in 2012, international tourist arrivals worldwide reached 1.035 billion; slightly over half of them were on leisure trips. By comparison, there were just 166 million international tourist arrivals worldwide in 1970. Available data also shows that the 2012 visitors spent $1 trillion on travel (excluding international passenger transportation expenses valued at $213 billion). Directly and indirectly, their spending accounted for nine per cent of the world’s GDP and six percent of its exports.

For tourism-dependent countries and destinations, tourism’s share of GDP can exceed twice the world average. Today, international tourism receipts exceed $1 billion per year in some 90 nations. Worldwide, domestic tourism is typically several times larger. In deed, tourism has become a global economic and social force to the extent that in 2012, G20 heads of state recognised the sector as a driver of growth and development, as well as a sector that has the potential to spur global economic recovery.

Before now, only developing countries actively pursued tourism exports as a key development strategy. For instance, countries like Japan and the United States have historically paid little attention to luring tourists to their shores. Today, that has changed; both countries have implemented policy changes and relaxed visa regulations to promote inbound foreign travel, create jobs, and stimulate their sluggish economies.

Statistics shows that in 2013, Japan hosted 10 million foreign visitors—an all-time high, which it hopes to double by the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020, and reach 30 million by 2030. The United States, which is widely perceived as a nation unfriendly to foreign visitors due to its strict entry regulations, is making efforts to improve its international image. It achieved a record 67 million international visitor arrivals in 2012, and President Obama has set a goal of attracting 100 million visitors by 2021. Notwithstanding, tourist arrivals in emerging countries have grown much faster than in developed ones in recent years, with the Asia-Pacific region experiencing the fastest growth.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) prediction, international tourism arrivals will grow by 3.3 per cent per year between 2010 and 2030 and reach 1.8 billion total arrivals by 2030. On the other hand, growth in emerging countries is expected to be twice as fast as in advanced ones. Tourism’s market share in emerging countries is predicted to rise to 57 percent by 2030, compared to 47 percent in 2012.

In African countries like South Africa, tourism has been earmarked as a key sector with excellent potential for growth. And according to the country’s National Department of Tourism, the government aims to increase its contribution, both direct and indirectly, to the economy from the 2009 baseline of R189,4-billion (7.9% of GDP) to R499-billion by 2020.

South Africa’s spectacular scenery, friendly people, world-class infrastructure make it one of the most desired destinations in the world. The sector was given a massive boost by the successful hosting of the World Cup in 2010, when the country received a record-breaking 8.1-million foreign visitors. And despite tough global economic conditions, tourism grew in 2011, with 8.3-million international tourists.

Within east Africa, Kenya has one of the biggest and most diverse tourism industries, with offerings in a range of niches, including the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events (MICE) segment and safari ecotourism. However, in recent years, challenges have arisen for the sector that have negatively affected the country’s economy, including two high profile terrorist attacks.

Though a raft of security advisories were issued from countries that traditionally make up a large percentage of Kenya’s target market for tourism, putting pressure on visitor numbers and hospitality revenues, the government and a number of private investors are currently taking steps to improve security and re-establish Kenya as a safe, attractive destination for visitors.

According to the Oxford Business Group, while the short-term forecast is concerning given the role tourism plays in revenues, foreign exchange and employment for Kenya’s economy, the medium-term and long-term outlook are more encouraging. The recent challenges have spurred operators to explore new revenue streams, including business and domestic tourism.

However, there seems to be a renewed effort by the current administration to get the Nigerian tourism sector up and running. Being a labour-intensive sector, with a supply chain that links across sectors, the sector seems to be a priority in the ongoing efforts to diversity the nation’s economy.

Just recently, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) rolled out a number of measures, including technical assistance, capacity building and the revision of the country’s Tourism Master Plan, as part of efforts to lift tourism in the country. The measures were announced at the end of a two-day meeting between the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and the global tourism agency in Madrid, Spain.

The session, which marked the return of Nigeria to the centre stage of the organisation it joined in 1975, was held at the instance of the UNWTO Secretary-General, who invited the Minister to the Agency’s headquarters, as a follow up to their meeting at the 58th UNWTO CAF Meeting in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, last April.

Based on the partnership, the global agency is widening access to its e-library for Nigerian tourism officials, as well as offering support for relevant tourism institutions and agencies in Nigeria. Under the UNWTO’s technical assistance programme, Nigeria will be assisted in the area of data collection for the elaboration of tourism statistics, rural tourism development, hotel classification and creation of awareness.

According to Alhaji Mohammed, who led the Nigerian delegation to the meeting, the UNWTO support will be most useful and beneficial to the country, especially with the current economic hardship.

“The Secretary General of UNWTO, Taleb Rifai was so impressed with our presentation that he said that Nigeria has shown to have political will to move tourism forward in the country. He observed that, ‘There’s the existence of political will and we can feel it from the outside. Anyone who is interested in Nigeria will know the positive development that has taken place in that country.’ At the end of the meeting, both sides agreed to a two-year programme to help boost tourism development in Nigeria,” Mohammed hinted.

Aside from offering technical assistance and capacity building, UNWTO, under the new agreement, will also help in the revision of the Nigerian Tourism Master Plan, which will set the tone for a robust output.

“The global body has also indicated interest in helping us to review the tourism master plan, which has been sitting on the shelf for a number of years. They will also help in the certification of tourism courses and celebration of the UNWTO World Toursim Day 2016.

The agreement also include granting of unlimited access to designated Nigerians officials to UNWTO Library and the secondment of relevant Nigerian officials to the UNWTO Headquarters under their internship programme. “As at today, there’s no Nigerian working at the UNWTO headquarters. This was brought to their attention and they have promised to look into it,” the minister said.

However, the icing on the cake for Nigeria, according to Mohammed, is the request to host the 68 meeting of the UNWTO Commission for Africa in 2018, in order to attract global attention to tourism in Nigeria. Though there are still formalities to be taken to ensure Nigeria gets the hosting right, the hosting is Nigeria’s to reject, going by the enthusiasm with which the request was received by the Secretary General and members of his executive council.

For easy implementation, the agreed programmes between Nigeria and UNWTO were classified under five broad clusters: Policy, Activities and Events, Governance Issues, Technical Assistance and Capacity Building, Bilateral Relations.

“Every programme that will be implemented under the agreement will fall under one of these clusters,” the minister hinted.Under Technical Assistance, Nigeria will be assisted in the area of data collection for the elaboration of tourism statistics, as well as hotel classification and designing programmes to create awareness for tourism.

“The UNWTO will soon deploy a needs assessment mission to Nigeria to be followed by deployment of experts to train tourism officials, boards and agencies responsible for tourism and national agencies such as the bureau for national statistics.”

There’s also plan to organise sensitisation workshop in conjunction with the Ministry of Information and Culture in the area of capacity building. “The area of focus being on the empowerment of women in tourism through the centers being planned for the six geopolitical zones. They will also help in training tour guides, festival managers, repertoires etc,” Mohammed said.

To fast track the process, the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture has commenced the process of reactivating the Presidential Council on Tourism (PCT), with President Muhammadu Buhari as chair. Already, a Steering Committee meeting, which will draft the agenda for the inaugural session of the PCT, is slated for September 6, 2015.

Resuscitation of the PCT was one of the recommendations adopted at the National Summit on Culture and Tourism, organised by the Ministry in April, as a deliberate strategy to make tourism a viable sector of the economy.

“My predecessors found wisdom in constituting what is termed as the Presidential Council on Tourism, which is the highest advisory body on tourism in Nigeria, and the composition of that Council is such that the Ministers of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Works, Power and Housing, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Health, Environment, Aviation and Transport are members, as well as the President of FTAN,’’ Alhaji Mohammed said.

Realising that the Presidential Council might not be able to meet as regularly as would have been desirable, the UNWTO has agreed to help Nigeria in constituting a technical body, just below the PCT, to ensure a more robust approach in tourism development. And to coincide with the first meeting of the revived Presidential Council on Tourism, the UN agency is planning an international conference on the Role of Tourism As A Catalyst For Development, Peace And Reconciliation in Maiduguri, the hot bed of the ‘defeated’ Boko Haram.

“The conference is being fashioned after a similar session recently held in Sir Lanka. We are very confident that tourism will very soon become another veritable source of revenue for the government and employment for our youths, by the time we are able to provide the missing infrastructure.”

To the minister, the biggest challenge for Nigeria is how to turn our tourist sites to tourist attractions.“ We can’t do that alone in the ministry of Information and Culture. We will need the support and collaboration of not just other ministries, but also the practitioners in tourism,” he said.

Though the development of the sector is the primary assignment of the Information and Culture Ministry, the government has identified the need for cooperation, hence the reactivation of the PCT.

“Tourism is not a stand-alone ministry. Ministry of Information and Culture does not provide road, they don’t provide electricity; they don’t even provide security. They are not in charge of visas, they are not in charge of airports; they don’t control customs and immigration. These are all the various sectors that need to work together for tourism to thrive, including Ministry of Health; you all know what Ebola did to our tourism,” he noted.

On concerns from some quarters that the Nigerian Tourism Master Plan may be outdated, Mohammed explained that, “we must not only embark on the implementation of that master plan, but because we also realised that many things have changed between then and today, we may have to retouch it where necessary. That’s why the first agreement with the UNWTO is to revisit the master plan. Yes, there might be some things that are obsolete there, but I assure you that the entire master plan as a whole is still very useful,” he said.

In line with the renewed intensity, the ministry is on the verge of visiting and assessing the level of infrastructure in each of the tourist sites across the nation and ascertain potentials for development in those areas.

“We must understand that tourism is always a joint responsible between states and the federal government. The federal government is to basically provide the enabling environment, policies and laws such as security, bilateral agreement. The most important of these infrastructures, to me, is security, followed by advocacy and perception.”

Though insecurity remains a challenge, Mohammed sees potentials waiting to be harnessed.“Many of you watch CNN and you see smaller countries than Nigeria, more troubled than Nigeria, and everyday, you see the scenic beauty of these countries; that’s very important. I’ve said it before that Nigeria is more peaceful than most countries in the world today where tourism has become the main source of revenue,” he noted.

He observed that every country has its security challenges, including developed countries in the world that can no longer boast of capacity to protect their territories.
“Otherwise, what happened in Paris would not happen; what happened in Nice would not happen; what happened in Brussels would not happen. In the area of providing security, Nigeria has done extremely well; I beat my chest to say so. Tune to CNN, Aljajeera and see the kinds of bombs being detonated everyday. Nigeria has one of the most thriving religious tourisms in the world, which is underreported,” he said.

While commending Lagos, Cross Rivers and Kano states for their support in providing road infrastructure to support tourism, Mohammed informed that the Federal Government is giving priority to all roads leading to tourist sites across the country.

“This year, what we did was to ask the Minister of Works, Power and Housing to ensure that access roads to all our tourist sites were given priority; we also appeal to all state governments to assist us. Once again, I thank Lagos State government for what they are doing in terms of constructing roads leading to tourist sites in the state,” he said.

Though the long-term plan is to attract inbound tourists, the immediate plan, according to the minister, is to develop local tourism in the country and make it vibrant.

“As much as we want foreigner to visit Nigeria, we want to first of all build infrastructures to grow local tourism; the same infrastructure is what you need for international tourists. Right now, the effort is to train our people on how to treat tourists, which I believe UNTWO will help us actualise,” he said.

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