Chief Samuel Alabi
By VICTOR NZE
Chairman, Board of Trustees of the umbrella body of tourism and travel practitioners in the country, the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), Chief Samuel Alabi, has called on the federal government to decentralize its policies geared towards tourism development and promotion in the country.
This is just as the tourism expert urged the Nigerian elite to buy into products of domestic tourism in the country in order to drive the industry and position it effectively to realize its full potential.
At a Media Forum with travel and tourism writers, Tuesday, at the Eko Hotel & Suites, Lagos, Alabi posited that Nigeria was too large an entity for a one-size-fits-all policy and tourism marketing plan, as, according to him, states of the federation should be encouraged to develop their own tourism products and market among themselves.
“We are still being pursued by the military experience, where everything was expected to be unitary, including programmes and policies geared towards growing the economy or improving the lives and business of the people. It would be an anomaly for any minister of tourism in Nigeria to attempt to cover the country with one development and marketing plan.
“As far as tourism policies are concerned, it has to be state-based. Nigeria is too large to attempt to cover it with one programme or policy, or even as in the case of a tourism development body like the NTDC somewhere to attempt to proffer solutions or evolve a one-policy to fit all states of the federation. Every state in Nigeria has unique products, they should be allowed to develop, market and showcase these products to suit their own peculiar identities.
“States should evolve tourism projects, packages and others to sell to other states and market it, and vice versa. Let each state of the federation evolve its own tourism products. We have gotten our indices wrong under the present modality of attempting a wholesale production of tourism product as brand identity for Nigeria.
“If you are attempting to promote a destination from the platform of the hotels located in that area, you also have to know that nobody visits a destination because of the hotels there, but rather for other attractions there and then they get to stay in the hotel for added comfort. By the way, not all tourists come for hotel relaxation; some will even carry their own backpacks, so it’s not the luxury of the hotel that they are looking for. We should all come together and brainstorm on the way forward. If you don’t have enough resources to build a hotel, why not partner with others to realize that project; just as they do in Kenya,” said Alabi, a one-time president of FTAN.
Continuing, Alabi, who is presently Company Secretary/Legal Adviser of the Eko Hotels and Suites, Lagos, also advised the country’s elite to buy into products of domestic tourism so as to lift the sector and reposition it in the minds of the populace for patronage, while insisting that this remains the biggest challenge to growing domestic tourism.
“The Nigerian elite should be encouraged or even be made to key in to local tourism products. We need them to buy into these products by way of patronage. The problem of Nigeria tourism is the elite. Once we begin to consume our products, sincerely, we will begin to get it right. Basically, we have to redesign our scope; we have to begin to consume our tourism products for a start. The Nigerian elite should also be made to buy into it.
On the issue of capacity in the industry, Alabi called for streamlining of training in the industry and in the academia.
“We don’t have a streamlined training and curriculum on the subject of tourism in the country today. So if you hear or see anybody who says he or she is a tourism graduate, it’s a lie. The tourism sector is diverse. There’s wildlife, travel, hospitality, adventure, and so on. So it not right for anyone to claim to be a tourism graduate just for having studied one aspect of the industry,” he said.
Alabi also used the platform of the Forum to caution the government to be mindful of its economic policies, which, according to him, tended to put the industry on the first line of impact, due to what he described as the ‘fragile’ nature of the sector.
“The hotel industry typically is a fragile one. Any slight shift in the economy affects the industry first and directly. This is largely because for whatever it offers, there are alternatives for the consumer. So it is at the first-line of hit in any policy or paradigm shift in the economy. Also, any negative fiscal policy of government puts the hotel industry in the frontline of impact.
“So we are careful and we are always wary of government policies, hence we constantly advise them on these. If it is coming to the hotel for food only and you suddenly cannot afford it, you go to the nearest cafeteria, if you can’t afford that, you eat at home, all depending on your bank account. The same goes for accommodation. So for much of what the hotel offers, there are alternatives, in addition, also to there being competition among the operators. So any government that tends to affect the purchasing power of the consumer hits us first at the hotels,” he said.
Describing his entrance into tourism as an act of ‘sheer providence’, the legal practitioner pointed out that his tenure at FTAN provided him a veritable platform to effect some fundamental changes in the industry, even as he was quick to admit the inherent problems bedeviling the association.
I’m a corporate guy and I’m in the tourism industry. I’ve been at the Eko Hotels since 1997 right from my national Youth Service time when I was posted here. I came into tourism by sheer providence because I studied law and I’m a lawyer by practice. I was called to the bar technically while still serving in the NYSC at the Eko Hotels where I was posted to. I came into hotel industry as a youth corper. If I had my way I’d want my children to go into the hotel industry. It’s very peaceful. This is where you can grow without any godfatherism.
“In my time as president of FTAN, much as I tried, we are unable to bring all or most people onboard, we tried to bring the road transporters like the ABC Transport company man but it wasn’t possible. Today, no tourism and travel event can hold without consultation with FTAN. We also ensured that hoteliers didn’t dominate the affairs of the association since so many past presidents of the body had been produced by the hoteliers affiliate bodies to FTAN.
“We made sure that the travel agents body like NANTA made an inroad into FTAN in terms of control. We put an end to international branches of FTAN, when you used to hear of FTAN USA, FTAN UK, FTAN Ghana, and many such anomalies. We ended the cap-in- hand to government trend for execution of association’s programmes and events. I believe we should be independent. Tourism is a private sector driven industry, government does not even own hotels, hence, you don’t have to go to government for money.
“However, today, we are unfortunate to have pretenders at FTAN. We have people who are there for what they can get rather than for what they can contribute to the organization, and by extension the tourism industry inn Nigeria. The seeming lack of real standard in the industry is the greatest burden and challenge of FTAN as it is today.
“That the association has been weakened at the expense of affiliate bodies within it is a sad case. The FTAN I met on ground when I came was comatose and if I had known that before, I probably would not have not come in. But I was encouraged to go in because of my relationship with the association as former President of the Hotel and Personal Services Employers Association of Nigeria (HOPESEA). There are professional bodies affiliated to FTAN that have become stronger and domineering over the parent body itself. That should not be the case, but is a major problem. If FTAN is to grow, the stakeholders must come together instead of allowing consultants to control the body,” he said.