A TOURISM DES­TI­NA­TION FULL OF CHAL­LENGES? 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 to

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Special Feature | Nigeria - Words: CHIKODI OKEREOCHA

nige­ria is lit­er­ally sit­ting on a tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity gold mine. Ac­cord­ing to the Nige­ria Hos­pi­tal­ity Re­port 2016, the in­dus­try gen­er­ated an es­ti­mated $5.5 mil­lion, 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 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 re­cent­ly­launched 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 south-south 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.

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 for the 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 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 on 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.

Some ex­perts and op­er­a­tors 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 yearly, they be­lieve that a syn­ergy be­tween gov­ern­ment and pri­vate sec­tor stake­hold­ers in the film in­dus­try will au­gur well for tourism.

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 star­ing Nige­ria in the face, the gov­ern­ment was left with no option other than to re­vive the tourism plan. This was after the In­ter­na­tional Tourism Ad­viser of the UNWTO, 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 recog­nised 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 the 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 kick­started the process of ac­tu­al­is­ing the six­point 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.

“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…”. Said Imoke

The Direc­tor-Gen­eral, Nige­ria Tourism De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (NTDC), 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

Some ex­perts 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 yearly, they be­lieve that a syn­ergy be­tween gov­ern­ment and pri­vate sec­tor stake­hold­ers in the film in­dus­try will au­gur well for tourism.

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