Tourism definitely is the missing link in a diversified economy like that of Nigeria, considering the poor attention accorded to the industry by the federal government in recent time.
With the recent development in the Nigerian tourism industry where the President Muhammadu Buhari led administration scrapped the ministry of Culture and Tourism, it has become imperative for tourism stakeholders in the country to define the path for the industry in a diversified economy like that of Nigeria.
It was against this development that the recently concluded Nigeria Association of Tour Operators, NATOP Annual General Meeting in Calabar with the theme, “Nigeria Tourism: The missing link in a diversified economy dwelt extensively on the way forward for the country’s tourism industry against the scrapping of the ministry by the federal government.
The scrapping of the tourism ministry may not be unconnected with the lip service paid by successive administrations to the growth and development of the sector in the country. This was also compounded by the meager contribution of the tourism industry to the Gross Domestic Product, GDP of the country.
More so, the industry has performed poorly in recent time due to the poor managerial skills of those responsible for promoting and marketing the country’s tourism potentials to the world.
With the dwindling oil prices grounding the country’s economy which is sorely dependent on oil, tourism would have serve as an alternative to oil in helping the dwindling economy. But this cannot be because the industry is never considered as an alternative to oil. While other African countries even the western countries that do not have oil, including those that have oil are investing heavily in tourism to tap from the huge international tourists market, the government has left the sector only to the private sector to develop; thereby abandoning its responsibilities like provision of the enabling environment and building of super structures that will help tourism grow.
In his remarks at the AGM in Calabar, the minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has observed that the tourism sector in very key in the federal government’s ongoing diversification of the economy.
Lai Mohammed stated that in order to boost tourism and give it the required impetus in contributing to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product, GDP, the federal government has taken the ranking of tourism among the six priority sectors of the economy and the review of the National tourism policy 1990.
Others include the provision of attractive incentives for prospective investors, encouraging Public Private Partnership and launching of the Nigerian Tourism Development Master Plan.
The minister of information and Culture said in the days ahead, it shall be bringing all stakeholders together in Calabar to chart a definite path forward.
In his welcome address, the President of Nigeria Association of Tour Operators, NATOP, Mr. Nkereuwem Onung stated that the conference has come at the right time when it appears that tourism is not a priority on the agenda of the present administration which is demonstrated by the scrapping of the federal ministry of tourism.
He observed that this is also necessitated by the fact that despite the potential of Nigerian Tourism, the county’s tourism policy makers have not seen it as alternative to oil with an earning capacity of over $7billion annually.
He expressed the hope that after the conference, NATOP will attempt to deliver on her mandate of contributing to the development and promotion of Nigerian tourism through strong advocacy, policy implementation, engagement with government and other relevant bodies or persons within and outside the country.
Mr. Onung expressed sadness that after many years of weak attempt to market\promote the destination Nigeria in international fora and trade shows, Nigeria failed to show up in all international events last year without any explanation. We believe that Nigerian Tourism can have a visa regime that encourages tourist/visitors to Nigeria.
According to Onung: ”Nigeria can have a national carrier that is partially privatized and fully commercialised with a mandate for National development. We can develop our tourist sites in collaboration with the state or local community. Tourism needs accurate and reliable statistics for planning and development. We must know the contribution of tourism to GDP (TSA). We have to strengthen our institutions and redefine their mandate (Supreme Court judgement July 19, 2013 where states can regulate their tourism activities independent of national government. This renders the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, NTDC impotent without any clear mandate.”
Mr. Onung observed that, “we have done well s a business destination, but we do better promoting leisure.’
He expressed the hope that the conference will generate meaningful discussion that will galvanise tourism institution and government to rethink their approach and drive tourism as an alternative to the faltering and failing oil price, thereby arresting the downward trend of the economy.
In her presentation on the role of creative industry in the development and promotion of Nigeria Tourism with reference to the National Council of Arts and Culture, NCAC’s mandate by its director general, Mrs. Dayo Keshi explained that over the last 40 years, the National Council of Arts and Culture has continued to leverage on Nigeria’s art crafts and culture to serve as a veritable resource for promoting national unity and integration as well as a catalyst for job and wealth creation.
According to her, this is achieved through its programs and activities, especially with its flagship, the annual National Festival of Arts and Culture, NAFEST involving all the states of the federations and FCT.
She disclosed that the NCAC beyond scalling up the expo and introducing new innovations to make NAFEST better organised, more attractive and crowd pulling has ambitious plans to introduce more festivals between now and 2017 like National Durbar, National Boat Regatha Festivals, National Masquerade Festival, Festival of Nigerian Contemporary Arts, National Folks Songs Festival and Traditional Textiles and Fashion.
Mrs Keshi explained that this is in fulfillment of the core mandate of NCAC, which is the coordination, development and promotion of the living arts and culture of Nigeria.
In her words: “The proposed new festivals will not only complement and enhance NAFEST, the International Arts and Craft Expo (AFAC), but all other existing mini and upcoming festivals like the Calabar Carnival, the Ofala Festival of Onitsha, the Osun-Oshogbo Festival, in Osun, the Ojude Oba in Ogun state, the Eyo and lgue Festivals as well as Riverfest, in River State but would in due course, upgrade Nigeria as a tourist destination like Edinburgh which annually, organizes twelve festivals, attracting over one million visitors.”
The NCAC boss stated that there is a need for synergy of resources and ideas from relevant stakeholders, especially the private investors in areas of packaging, rebranding and proper finishing of these products in order to develop products attractive to international visitors.
The DG stressed that apart from their potentials to consolidate Nigeria’s tourism, promote employment and wealth creation, the existing and proposed festivals, if well packaged and promoted to international standard could also help change the current negative narratives of Nigeria which could lead to increased foreign direct investment. This is because, tourists that leave Nigeria impressed, are likely to tell of their impressions of Nigeria to their circle of friends, family and co-workers.
She said a cursory observation of tourism-rich economies like the UK, Israel, China and France reveal a common and consistent pattern of culture based tourism and that culture is the single biggest motivation of tourism.
She pointed out that the diversification program of the new government must pay attention and seek to in-cooperate the Creative Industries and Tourism as such a synergy will properly harness their potentials.
Mrs Keshi observed that no economy can claim to be diversified without the incorporation or appreciation of the Creative economy.
She said organizations and even economic regions that embrace creativity generate significantly higher revenue and provide greater stability, adding that culture and creative industries are being increasingly integrated into the policy agenda of both developed and developing countries.
In his keynote address, Professor Pat Utomi who was the keynote speaker said the collapse of oil is even a gift from heaven which will make the country look at other sources of revenue generation.
Prof. Utomi advised the federal government to make quick fix plans by catching the low hanging fruits like tourism, selling of culture before the long term Agricultural plans mature.
He noted that the country’s creative industry if properly organized can take over from the oil industry, adding that if our culture if better managed will generate enough income for the country.
Utomi stressed the need to clean up our coastlines to attract foreign tourists which The Gambia is reaping from.
He stressed that Nigeria and Africa needs strong institutions to thrive and not strong men.
The Don noted that the country’s Immigration officials need to be taught how to run our airports by being customer focused, friendly and giving visitors the best service they can get.
In his presentation at the event titled Preserving Nigeria’s heritage and monument for a tourism economy, the director general, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Alhaji Yusuf Abdallah Usman has said that the proper preservation of heritage materials and monuments of a people could help boost the tourism sector and diversify the economy leading to foreign exchange earnings and job creation.
Alhaji Usman explained that in developing countries, heritage tourism is a solid factor in the tourism industry that leads to significant growth of economy and welfare of its citizens.
He noted that Nigeria is blessed with a significant amount and varieties of heritage sites and resources expressed in both natural and cultural forms as well as in movable and immovable states.
Usman stressed the need for the sustenance of our natural and cultural heritage which must be integrated in the country’s overall strategic plans for national development.
Speaking at the event, the governor of Cross River State, Professor Ben Ayade who was represented by his Special Assistant, SA on Event, Ken Aklah emphasised the importance and priority the state government attaches to tourism.
He said for Cross River State, tourism is their oil, which explains why the Governor took over the overseeing of tourism ministry in the state.
Aklah observed that other state chief executives would have taken other ministry that is considered more lucrative to oversee, but instead of that the governor chose tourism, which is a testimony of the government commitment to the promotion and development of tourism in the state.
On hand to spice up the event were the beautiful dancers from the carnival Calabar band who made the occasion a memorable event with their fantastic performance.