Tourism: Nigeria’s untapped gold mine

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Despite boasting tourism destinations that could make other countries envious, Nigeria has yet to develop the industry to drive diversification, boost revenue and create jobs. But a strategic rethink on making tourism the economy’s mainstay has taken the centre-stage. Those behind the initiative are seeking stakeholders, the Federal Government’s support to make it work. Assistant Editor CHIKODI OKEREOCHA reports.

Nigeria is literally sitting on tourism and hospitality gold mine. According to Nigeria Hospitality Report 2016, the industry generated an estimated $5.5 million, about N1.7 billion, representing about 4.8 per cent contribution to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the third quarter of 2016. The report by Jumia Travel Nigeria, Africa’s hotel booking online portal, also said the industry employed about 1.6 per cent of Nigerians in 2016.

Although Jumia’s Country Manager Mr. Kushal Dutta predicted that the industry’s contribution to the GDP will fall by 7.3 per cent this year, if security challenges persist, he projected that tourism will overtake the downstream oil and gas sector by 2021, if Nigeria adopts the recently-launched African Union (AU) passport. According to him, a unified, pan-African passport will allow free movement of domestic tourists in Nigeria.

The AU had last year unveiled a common electronic passport that will grant holders visa-free access to all its 54-member countries.. The initiative represented the first step towards increasing mobility for Africans on the continent as well as boosting trade and opportunities for economic growth. The e-passport is expected to be distributed by 2018, with Dutta and other experts expressing optimism that it will boost Nigeria’s tourism.

But the anticipated boost in tourism, which the proposed AU passport is expected to engender, is not the only indication that the industry’s future is bright. Industry operators and stakeholders also believe that Nigeria boasts viable tourism destinations with potential to turn around the fortunes of an economy severely bruised by recession, if the required infrastructure and appropriate investments are put in place.

From east to west, north to south, Nigeria is naturally endowed with rich tourist destinations waiting to be fully exploited and harnessed. For instance, while the south west boasts breathtaking sites, such as the Ikogosi Warm Spring in Ekiti State, Olumo Rock in Abeokuta, Ogun State; Osun Osogbo Groove in Osun State, and Idanre Hills in Oyo State, the southsouth prides itself with the Obudu Cattle Ranch and Tinapa Resort, both in Cross River State.

From the north comes the enchanting Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State, Mambila Plateau in Plateau State, and the Sukur Cultural Landscape in Adamawa State, among others. The southeast, on the other hand, has the Ogbunike Cave in Anambra State, Oguta Late in Imo State, National War Museum, Umuahia, Abia State.

Festivals that can draw tourists from far and near also abound. Some of them include the Argungu Fishing Festival in Kebbi State, Osun Osogbo Festival, Abuja Carnival, Calabar Christmas Carnival, Cross Rivers State Carnival, Eyo Festival, Igue Festival, Ojude Oba Festival, Badagry Festival, and Durba Festival. There is hardly any state in Nigeria without a festival of international standard.

Unfortunately, most, if not all of these tourist attractions, have yet to be fully developed by successive governments. Issues around lack of supportive infrastructure and investments in each of the tourist sites, insecurity, policy inconsistency, and lack of political will to articulate a clear policy roadmap that will reposition the tourism industry have combined to frustrate efforts at leveraging on a vibrant tourism industry to grow the economy.

New dawn on the horizon

Hitherto neglected, the tourism industry looks good to bounce back. Encouraged by the avalanche of tourist sites across the country with potential to make tourism a major revenue earner and also create jobs, the Federal Government has taken a number of steps aimed at repositioning the sector to become the economy’s mainstay.

Some of the recent initiatives and steps include the recent tripartite partnership involving the Ministry of Information and Culture, the United Nation (UN) World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and global news leader CNN, resuscitation of the Presidential Council on Tourism, and relaxation of Nigeria’s rigid visa regime.

Others are the setting up of a Committee to implement the Tourism Roadmap and the putting in place of a Task Force on creative economy. The Federal Government has also designed a festival calendar for the country to stimulate internal tourism and attract foreign tourists, among other steps.

The overall objective, The Nation learnt, was to position tourism as the major driver of the ongoing economic diversification agenda aimed at weaning the economy from its over-dependence on proceeds from the oil and gas sector. This was in the wake of the crisis that hit the economy, forcing it into recession, following the crash in oil prices at the international market.

Already, the ministry’s tripartite partnership with UNWTO and CNN may have raised hopes of industry operators and stakeholders that a rebound of the tourism industry is in the offing. Essentially, the plan, according to Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed was to ride on the back of Nigeria’s comparative advantage in film production through Nollywood to promote tourism.

The Minister made this known at the Nigerian Tour Operators (NATOP) Annual General Meeting (AGM) held in Lagos, early this month. At the AGM with the theme, ‘Positioning tourism within the Nigerian economic space’, he noted that the tripartite partnership was the first of its kind in Nigeria. He said it would go a long way in pushing tourism from the back-burner to the mainstream of the economy.

Some experts and operators, who spoke with The Nation, noted that an arrangement involving Nollywood, as Nigeria’s film industry is called, could be the tonic to turn around the fortunes of the tourism industry. With the film industry worth about $5 billion, about N1.523 trillion, yearly, they believe that a synergy between government and private sector stakeholders in the film industry will augur well for tourism.

For instance, the Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Filmhouse Cinemas, Mr. Kene Mkparu, told The Nation that with Nigeria’s film industry generating a whopping N1.523 trillion yearly, there was the need forthe government, industry operators (film makers) and the private sector to work together.

Such collaboration, he said, was necessary to fight the over 90 per cent piracy penetration in the film industry. “Nigeria’s over 90 per cent piracy penetration is detrimental to the film industry,” Mkparu said, blaming the country’s high piracy rate on inadequate formal distribution outlets like cinemas or video shops.

While reiterating that tourism has become a focal point for the government, the Minister added that the Committee on the Presidential Council on Tourism has been resuscitated to engender the sector’s rapid development through policy directions. According to him, The Committee will see to the implementation of the tourism roadmap and the festival calendar.

Nigeria’s Tourism Master Plan was inaugurated in 2008 with UNWTO’s help and Tourism Development International as consultants. It was aimed at launching the sector as a viable economic alternative to oil, as well as marketing Nigeria’s tourism assets both at the local and international levels. Nine years down the line, the master plan, which would have set the tone for a holistic development of the sector, remained in limbo.

However, with the harsh realities of the recession caused by crashing oil prices steering Nigeria in the face, the government was left with no option than to revive the tourism plan. This was after the International Tourism Adviser of the UNWTO, Mr. Jim Flanner, visited Nigeria.

Flanner and his team were in the country to assist in the review of Nigeria’s Tourism Master Plan. He said he was in Nigeria to assist the Technical Committee set up by the Minister to review the document and identify those areas that can be implemented within the shortest time possible.

According to Flannery, there is a renewed interest in tourism even among the big economies like the United States, because it’s assuming prominence in the global economy due to its vitality and inexhaustible nature.

“Tourism worldwide is becoming recognized more and more as one of the great economic activities that is of major benefit to countries. Why is it of benefit?  Because tourism unlike manufacturing industry can go into the regions and in fact, it does go into communities and you don’t need major structured investment for tourism to be successful,” he said.

The UNWTO official observed that the Tourism Master Plan could not be implemented nine years ago because of the sheer volume of activities that previous governments wanted to undertake at once, but lauded the new approach where salient areas can be identified for immediate implementation.

For Mohammed, Flannery’s visit had kick-started the process of actualizing the six-point agreement reached between Nigeria and the UNWTO during his (Muhammed’s) visit to UNWTO’s headquarters in Madrid, Spain, in July last year.

He said apart from reviewing the Tourism Master Plan, government has also moved to relax the rigid visa regime that has been discouraging tourists from coming into the country. With the review of the nation’s policies on issuance of visas, it now takes 48 hours to issue visas to foreign tourists interested in exploring Nigeria’s tourism sites.

Also, the government has designed a festival calendar for the country. The aim was to stimulate domestic tourism and attract foreign tourists. The move was in line with Cross River State former Governor Dr. Liyel Imoke, who canvassed more focus on domestic tourism as a strategy to develop external tourism.

Imoke, who spoke at the NATOP AGM, however, canvassed the harmonisation of festivals in the country to stimulate patronage and reduce confusion associated with simultaneous holding of festivals. The former governor and indeed, other experts believe that duplicity of festivals was stalling tourism’s growth.

For instance, following the successful launch and continuity of the Calabar International Festival, similar carnivals/festivals have sprung up in some states across the country, causing confusion in the process. Some of them include the Abuja Carnival, Port Harcourt Carnival (Carniriv), and Akwa Ibom Festival, among others.

Beyond the need to harmonise these festivals to reduce confusion and stimulate patronage, Imoke was optimistic that with the right policy, vision, infrastructure and attitude, the country could transform tourism into a major revenue earner, if Nigerians could stop the misrepresentation of the country to the outside world.

Hear him: “The greatest problem facing the development of tourism in the country is Nigerians running Nigeria down, especially some of our people abroad. This is not good for our tourism, as foreigners will have wrong perceptions about us. We need to believe in the country for our tourism to grow. We need to speak well of the country everywhere we go….”

The Director-General, Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Mr. Folarin Coker, is no less optimistic over the prospects of tourism emerging the new driver of economic development and growth. He said the agency was partnering with stakeholders to promote domestic tourism while developing the right template to attract foreign tourists.

Will these initiatives and interventions salvage the tourism industry? The consensus is that the success or otherwise will depend on how far government musters the political will to make the environment conducive through the provision of infrastructure to attract investments


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