WTD 2011: Challenges before Nigeria Tourism

Posted: September 27, 2011 in travel & tourism

As the world marked the World Tourism Day (WTD), last Tuesday, September 27, under the platform of the United Nations agency for tourism matters, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), attention has once again shifted to the role and place of tourism in global economies, with Nigeria coming into focus.

This year’s World Tourism Day for 2011 was celebrated under the theme of; Tourism–Linking Cultures, which according to UNWTO, is intended to highlight tourism’s role in bringing the cultures of the world together and promoting global understanding through travel.

Till date, one of the biggest contributors to economic growths in various countries of the world, tourism alone is the fastest growing sub-sector after the solid minerals, according to a UNWTO survey.

Against the backdrop of this year’s celebrations and choice of theme, the UNWTO said the decision was predicated on the fact that last year alone, 940 million tourists travelled to a different country, coming into direct contact with tangible–art, monuments–and intangible– music, food, traditions–culture.

“Culture is one of our most precious assets and needs protecting. As we launch World Tourism Day 2011, I call on all people to conduct tourism in a way that preserves and enriches the cultural wealth of the world for future generations,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Dr. Taleb Rifai.

On a broader scope, however, the World Tourism Day is celebrated annually with a purpose to foster awareness among the international community of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic value, with an ultimate goal of addressing global challenges outlined in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to highlight the contribution the tourism sector can make in reaching these goals.

Beyond the celebrations, however, most tourism practitioners and professionals alike have expressed worry over the state and pace of development of the sub-sector in the country, a dispositions which stems largely from the fact of the industry’s passive role and contribution to the overall economic growth in the country.

The choice of this year’s World Tourism Day aside, the real issue on the table appears to be that of the need to reposition Nigeria tourism on a path of viability which the federal government on its part appears to have come to terms with following its appointment in July this year of a much-clamoured-for technocrat as minister to oversee the industry.

As many are wont to agree with, self denial has remained a challenge to identifying the root of Nigeria’s slide and lacklustre performance in the tourism subsector whether on the domestic or international level with most government agencies and their heads refusing to admit the problems in the first instance.

With a thinning number of tourist destinations, inbound tourism operators, leisure tourists and even long-staying tourists, coupled with a typical lack of adequate and accurate statistics on tourist movements, and the gradually dilapidation of the few tourist attractions on account of dwindling revenue, policy formulators and overseeing ministries and agencies have continually failed to acknowledge the dire straits the sub-sector was headed.

Rather, to justify the huge annual allocations due to their offices, these agencies point to fictitious awards bagged from international groups and organizations whose primary aim is to see that their regular clients kept to their scheduled attendance at their various tourism fairs and exhibitions.

Aptly put, domestic tourism in Nigeria was taking a bashing as foreign destinations that had done their homework had lucratively engaged immensely talented Nigerian tourism professionals, while the authorities in the country alienated the same professionals and their laudable ideas but to the detriment of the country’s tourism.

Many also believe that the reason for this ugly scenario had been the lack of a tested technocrat to lead the industry to viability especially when considered against the background that Nigeria is gifted with enormous human and material resources in tourism sub-sector which only require a knowledgeable head to drive its potentials to the fullest.

While some experts have posited that the path to exorcising the industry of the decay that had seemingly crippled its development, lies solely in revisiting the controversial tourism masterplan which they describe as ‘defective’ many have equally called on the federal government to turn its listening ear in the direction of the various ideas canvassed by some industry players who as they argue are in the position to know where the shoe pinches.

The controversial Nigeria tourism masterplan was put together by both local experts in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and was launched in October, 2007 just as its epileptic implementation commenced in March, 2008.

The specific objectives of the country’s tourism Masterplan are to provide a framework for the sustainable development of tourism in Nigeria, identify priority areas and clusters for tourism development; structure the development of tourism facilities in terms of time and location.

Other objectives of the Masterplan include: identifying finance and investment needs, identifying potential tourism markets and also identify the appropriate strategies needed at both the policy and operational levels for implementation of the Masterplan, amongst others.

However, in the opinion of tourism consultant, Mr. Andy Osa Ehanire, the major problem with the Nigerian Tourism Masterplan stems from the fact of its very documentation rather than its implementation; from its non-domestication rather than its intended objectives. As far as Enahire is concerned, the document was dead on arrival.

And the sad reality of Enahire’s position is that he is not alone in that school of thought, going by the many dissenting voices that have continued to sound their disapproval in various media publications and industry workshops.

“More than the $280m in currency in which the deal was transacted, the language, presentation and scope of the socio-cultural issues in the plan do not lend credence to any serious role by our local consultants. This preliminary evidence apart, reinforcing the perception that our local experts could only have played passive or minimal roles in producing the master plan, I had earlier made a controversial statement that this master plan is a dummy, but nobody took me up on it.

“There is no way we can spend $280m on a local project without seriously enriching stakeholders and the industry at large. It is my thinking that this huge sum was largely exported, because if it trickled down while truly doing the right project, much poverty would have been eradicated,” Enahire stressed.

Admittedly, the newly appointed minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, High Chief Edem Duke, has himself expressed regret that despite strong evidence that the tourism sector has good potentials for poverty alleviation, and socio-economic development, these have not yet been fully realized in the country.

Duke had said at the opening ceremony of Information and Sensitization workshop on Sustainable Tourism Policy, Strategy and Hospitality Development in the Implementation of the Nigerian Tourism Development Masterplan, last month, which Nigeria must this time, domesticate the tourism Masterplan.

He said it was against this background that the present federal government has given tremendous support to the development of a viable tourism policy, and the production of the Nigerian Tourism Development Masterplan (NTDM) which serves as the road map for the phased and systematic development of the tourism sector.

Duke who noted that Nigeria provides very unique interesting tourism products and facilities, capable of being developed to promote both international and domestic tourism, however, accepted that the implementation of the Masterplan has been a major challenge to the ministry.

“Apart from inadequate budgetary provisions, there is dearth of professional capacity to implement its recommendations. A large segment of stakeholders seemed unaware of their roles in the implementation process”.

It is of note that due to the shortcomings, an implementation committee constituted in 2008 had to be disbanded in 2010; a task team comprising all relevant agencies was constituted in April, 2011 to ensure the implementation of the Masterplan which is expected to be completed in the fourth (4th) quarter of 2012, with the guidance and assistance of experts from UNWTO.

Duke disclosed that the first (1st) quarter 2011 report of the task team is being produced at the moment.

The minister said the targets for the plan period starting from 2010 to 2013 were set to achieve a 10 per cent annual growth rate in tourists arrival at Nigerian airports and land borders from 2010; increase contribution of tourism to GDP from 2.5 per cent in 2007 to 5 per cent by 2013; increase the number of registered hotels in Nigeria from 1,700 in 2008 to 2,500 by 2013.

Other targets includes to promote the occupancy rates of hotels from 85 per cent in 2007 to 90 per cent in 2013, develop five (5) tourism clusters in Nigeria by the year 2013; develop a two-day entry visa processing procedure for Nigeria embassies; and train additional 10,000 tourism and hospitality workers by 2013.

On the face of it, the disposition of the present political dispensation under President Goodluck Jonathan appears to hold some promises for the sub-sector’s many practitioners considering the resolve of the government as contained in its much-touted Transformation Agenda, where it seeks to reposition the industry among the league of major contributors to the country’s purse.

Going by Duke’s words, his ministry has been saddled with the responsibility of repositioning the tourism sector as a major contributor to the economy and to make Nigeria the ultimate tourism destination in Africa, under the Transformation Agenda; a sharp departure from past trends.

While, government is set to tackle the lacklustre performance in the industry, experts in the industry have also drawn attention to issues the government have overlooked in its quest to reposition the sub-sector if it is to succeed in that goal.

According to Messrs Andy Osa Ehanire and Piriye Kiyaramo, both former executive members of the South-South Zonal Council of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) / West Africa Travel Union (WATU), in a joint position, the present tourism masterplan document as configured by the federal government does not take into proper consideration the developmental needs of the region from where the bulk of Nigeria’s economy is produced in what they clearly describe as ‘oversight’.

“The clear exclusion of the BRACED States of  Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, Edo and Akwa Ibom States, from the five tourism clusters designed in the National Tourism Master Plan, is both illogical and insensitive; evidencing another form of disregard or neglect of these key states even while configuring areas for accelerated national tourism development.”

Continuing, the stakeholders maintained that tourism development ought to be one of the safeguards for a sustainable future in the event of an end of the crude oil mono-economic dependence.

“Given the kaleidoscope of peoples and cultures with renowned historical civilizations such as the legendary Benin empire that manifest in diverse monuments, priceless artefacts and art, no consideration was given to these in the Master Plan.

According to the tourism practitioners, the tourism master plan as presently designed provides for three tourism clusters in the north of the country, which includes the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and one each in the South-East and South-West.

“We consider it imperative for the federal government to therefore urgently create a sixth Tourism Cluster to assuage the apparent short-changing of the BRACED States/Niger Delta Region in the National Tourism Master Plan. The historical, cultural and ecological endowments of the Zone should rightly form the hub of a viable accelerated tourism development, which should have as take-off Pilot Schemes the development of a Culture Resort in Benin City and a Petroleum Museum at Oloibiri. The need for tourism pilot schemes as a means for boosting the region’s economy was also highlighted in the Niger Delta Regional Master Plan,” they stressed.

For president and Chief Executive Officer of global hotel chain, Rezidor Hotels Group, Mr. Kurt Ritter, who was in the country in May, this year, for the opening of the Radisson Blu Anchorage Hotels in Victoria Island, Lagos, one of the major disincentives faced by international brands wishing to invest in Nigeria, in particular, remained the absence of any benchmark system for the hospitality industry.

As far as Ritter was concerned the problem was also a major challenge for prospective foreign investors in the industry in Nigeria.

“The problem in seeking to expand your brand in a territory like the sub-Saharan Africa including Nigeria and even to a large extent Africa as a whole is that there is no benchmarking system where an operator can use to either rate his own performance in the industry and project the future for his business or even use in evaluating his establishment,” said Ritter.

According to the hotelier, the problem of absence of benchmarking was only a part of the challenges faced by prospective investors, which he said, explains why international brands are hesitant in expanding their reach into this part of Africa.

The Rezidor chief then proceeded to list further challenges confronting investors in the hotel industry as cultural differences, lack of proper legal frameworks to cover and protect investments, bureaucratic bottlenecks encountered by investors in obtaining permits and clearances to operate.

“Then there is also the dearth or rather insufficient number of experienced and skilled professional who can effectively manage these establishments to international standards and also the lack of information which I pointed out earlier as part of the benchmarking system,” Ritter stressed.

Ritter also noted that Nigeria, and other countries on the continent, were notorious for having financial institutions who drag their feet when it comes to long-term financing or loans and facilities for investors wishing to enter the tourism sub-sector.

In the opinion of General Manager of the recently opened Four Points by Sheraton Hotels, in Lekki, Lagos, Mr. Peer-Christian Fritz, a recent interview with Champion Tourism, environmental challenges while becoming a major hindrance to promoting leisure tourism to its fullest in Nigeria, if surmounted, still guarantees the biggest return on investment for the country.

“Tourism in Nigeria, I’d honestly say, is expanding on a fast track. Especially for business hotels, but also note that resort hotels are few. So for the leisure industry to blossom, our efforts need to be aligned with nature. We need to keep the environment clean. That is the only to drive the leisure tourism market in the country. But to effectively corner the leisure tourism market, the authorities must address the environment and health issues of the country as a whole,” the Swiss-born hotelier said.

For others still, the golden egg lies in the identification and exploration of the country’s cultural potentials if the aim of the country to achieve membership of the top 20 economically powerful countries of the world by the year 2020 is to become feasible.

For this school of opinion, cultural tourism can drive economic growth in the country going by the abundance, minimal investment requirements and its sustainability for further growth in the country. This position, according to them, is even in line with this year’s celebrations.

Cultural tourism as a market has been around since at least the 17th century, when a privileged few experienced Europe’s art and architectural treasures on the Grand Tour. In Nigeria, specifically, there has always been culture, although transforming it into a tourism potential has remained a tough nut to crack for policy makers.

According to UNWTO, cultural tourism comprises 35-40 per cent of tourism globally and is growing at about 15 per cent annually–triple the growth of general tourism. This is remarkable, given that it was not a distinct “product category” until the 1980s.

The definition of cultural tourism has expanded into pop and indigenous culture but, however it is interpreted, the arts are a key component.

The National Festival of Arts (NAFEST) has, in the same vein, the potentials of attracting tourists if only well marketed and packaged for the foreign market. However, as observers would be quick to point out, that the cultural industry with all its potentials is perennially stuck in administrative quagmire to realize the viability it portends for the nation’s economy.

Much of the blame for this has been traditionally dumped at the doorsteps of government and its policy formulators, even though the private sector, according to experts, also shares in the blame if not all of it for this problem.

Cultural tourism, as a school of opinion posits is the cheapest form of tourism Africa has been gifted with in the sense that developing it requires minimal financial resources in relation to other aspects of tourism like the Meetings Incentive Conferences and Exhibition (MICE), sports, health, leisure tourisms.

It is believed that Nigeria alone with its strong potentials in the areas of religious, slum and cultural tourism can dominate the global market if only the various stakeholders play their parts effectively.

Citing as an example, leveraging on the fame and legacy of late Afrobeat originator Fela Anikulapo-Kuti as a tool for cultural tourism in Nigeria portends revenue for the government considering that several musical and talkshow events like the annual Felabration attract hordes of foreign and local visitors.

As Dr. Albert Oikelome, of the Creative Arts Department of the University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos, and Chief Tony Okoroji the Copyright Society of Nigeria Chairman, both pointed out at the 2011 World Music Day lecture organized by the National Troupe of Nigeria, this month, Nigeria is yet to tap into the economic windfall represented by the image and legacy of fela.

One country that has realised the immense potentials hidden in culture as a viable of tourism exploration is South Africa which is exploiting the platform provided by the annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CTIJF) as a perfect tool of culture as a viable and high earning revenue source for its governments both at the local and national levels.

The music festival in question has also grown to become the defining music event on the continent. And with an audience now 33, 500 strong, the festival’s impact goes way beyond the performance arenas. With a consistent offering of stellar global acts over the past 12 years, it is no surprise that audience loyalty has followed suit.

According to Paul Mashatile, Minister at the Department of Arts and Culture, ‘’the Cape Town International Jazz Festival makes a significant contribution to the economy of the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape in general. The Festival is one of our country’s major tourist attractions and contributes to job creation. It is because of such reasons that as the Department of Arts and Culture we continue to make the point that; the cultural and creative industries, of which festivals are an important part, is a major driver of economic growth and job creation.’’

According to the latest research results from the Institute for Tourism and Leisure Studies (North West University) the Western Cape economy enjoyed benefit to the value of R498.6 million (N10bn) in 2011. This amount is up by 4.9 percent from last year’s figure. Nationally, as a result of CTIJF, South Africa’s GDP saw benefit to the tune of R761 million-representing (N15bn) an increase of 7 per cent from 2010.

Grant Pascoe from the City of Cape Town’s Mayoral committee for Social Development said, “The festival has become an integral part of the Cape Town events calendar and brings thousands of tourists to our city. Through supporting our local tourism industry in this way it sustains jobs, and ultimately puts bread on the tables of families who might have had to go without otherwise. That’s why we’d like to see the strong growth that the festival has experienced over the past several years continue”

With 9 radio stations, 11 TV channels and 139 accredited journalists from 14 countries covering the festival, awareness of CTIJF is global. The event attracts audience members from 19 countries around the world – excluding SA. And, with the massive investment in marketing and publicity from espAfrika and its numerous partners, media recovery has increased to R406 million (N8bn) in 2011.

Also of the view of the view that culture portends tremendous revenue opportunities for the country if properly harnessed, is Director General of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), Prof Tunde Babawale on the occasion of the 2010 edition of the Black History Month (BHM) and the official opening of BHM exhibition which held in February at the Trenchard Hall of the University of Ibadan, Oyo state.

According to Prof. Babawale, Africa’s arts and heritage materials have the capability and potential of growing the economies of individual countries on the continent if properly harnessed, adding that the immense natural resources represented by a rich arts and heritage store also had the potential of changing the economic fortunes of each African country if they were to be adequately explored and utilized.

“While many African countries may not have mineral resources that are fabulous income earners, no country on the continent can claim that it does not have arts and heritage materials that can attract economic attention. Perhaps the situation we have is that the required attention has not been given to the exploration of the arts and heritage materials that are peculiar and unique,” said Prof Babawale.

In the opinion the University of Lagos lecturer, Africa’s arts and heritage materials are capable of providing direct economic benefits to many African countries if explored and the gains properly used.

“They can help in creating jobs, attracting investments, generating improved tax revenues and stimulating the growth of local economies through tourism and consumer purchases,” the CBAAC director posited.

When therefore hosting a delegation of the Federation of Tourism Associations in his office recently, Duke had pointed out to the tourism practitioners and stakeholders in the country that the country was still lagging behind in global trends in the tourism industry and that the country was yet to fully exploit on the sector’s potentials for economic growth, the minister was only expressing the reality, which is to his credit considering that his successors have shied away from that fact.

“The tourism world has left Nigeria behind because the country cannot aggregate tourism and culture sectors contributions to the national economy as I discovered at the last presidential retreat held recently,” Duke had said.

The saying that a problem shared is a problem solved may play out well for Nigeria if only after having admitted that there indeed is a problem which professionals including Duke himself, already knew, the federal government can begin the process of implementation of the laudable plans it has for the sub-sector.

The mission and desire for domestic tourism to grow in Nigeria remains incontestable hence the need for parties involved to collectively fashion out an agreeable path that this needed development should follow.

“Transformation of tourism, culture is now. Time for bickering should belong to the past. Our purpose must be to grow together and be mindful of those who are envious of us because we belong to this wonderful federation,” Duke said.

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