Nigeria Tourism @ 53: Still articulating potential

Posted: October 14, 2013 in travel & tourism

fascinating nigeriaAs an activity, tourism in Nigeria is traceable to the pre-colonial era, with some opinions attempting to pin 1472 when the very first Portuguese merchant landed in Lagos on a mercantile mission-Trade Tourism.

However, tourism as an organized industry could be said to have taken root in the country in 1962 when a group of business-minded professionals with interest in and commitment to the promotion of tourism set up a body then known as Nigerian Tourism Association (NTA).

The NTA received some grant-in-aid from the government of the day and earned membership of the now-defunct International Union of Official Travel Organization (IUOTO) in 1964. That IUOTO has since metamorphosed into the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

In any case, that entrance into the then IUOTO was not synonymous with the take-off of tourism as a business, not even as an effective national past time. As a result, the euphoria soon died down.

However, in 1971, the then military government appointed the African Development Bank (ADB) to conduct a feasibility study on the potentials and the viability of Tourism in Nigeria. The report of that study showed that Nigeria possessed great potentials for the development of tourism as a viable economic sector.

That report also resulted in the government’s replacement of the NTA-a private voluntary association of interested Nigerians, with a Government public board established by Decree No. 54 of 1976 and which is known as the Nigerian Tourism Board (NTB). The decree No.54 however did not come into effect until 1978.

This Decree of 1976 empowered the NTB to: Encourage people living in Nigeria to take their holidays therein and people from abroad to visit Nigeria; Encourage the provision and improvement of tourist amenities and facilities in Nigeria, including ancillary; facilities; Provide advisory and information services; Promote and undertake research in the field of tourism; and Grade or classify hotels in such a manner as may be prescribed.

The NTB had a chequered history, and consequently failed to create any meaningful impact on the country’s tourism industry. This trend was reversed from 1989 when the Federal Government of Nigeria began to regard tourism as an industry to be developed given the administration of its cultural, social, recreational, economic, holistic, domestic and international relevance.

In furtherance of this goal, several conferences were organized. At the seventh National Conference on Tourism which took place on March 15, 1989 in Maiduguri, Bornu State various factors militating against the development of tourism in the country were discussed. It was agreed at the conference that for tourism to be given a boost in the country, the operational capability of the Nigerian Tourist Board needed to be enhanced through the reconstitution of the Governing Council of the NTB, and through the commercialization of the operation of the Board.

Following the government’s approval in the year 1989, the Ministry of Trade was reconstituted as the Ministry of Trade and Tourism, and as a result, the department of Tourism was created in the Ministry. A subsequently amended Decree 81 of 1992 thereafter set up the present Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), which also moved the agency to the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation.

Decades after, Nigerian tourism is still largely driven by the public sector despite perceived attempts by successive governments to improve the sector by way creating that much sought-after enabling environment for the private sector to thrive and drive the industry.

With a seeming thriving outbound tourism industry driven by a high capita income of more than a third of the populace, the condition of the inbound tourism or even the domestic tourism industry per se has been bedevilled by challenges ranging from infrastructure, security to a simple disinterest for leisure on the part of most Nigerians.

Remarkably, the potential identified by the defunct 1971 military government appointed the African Development Bank (ADB) report that informed the setting up of the NTB, is still cited by present-day reports and studies commissioned by both public and private organizations.

Recall that the positive effect of Nollywood, as Nigeria’s booming film industry was recently detailed at last year’ s  World Travel Market (WTM) 2012 Industry Report and WTM Global Trends Report.

The report states that the popularity of Nollywood all over the continent (it names Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Gabon, Kenya, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo and The Gambia) means ‘Nollywood films attracts domestic and regional African tourists to Nigeria, visiting film locations’.

The report went on to predict a 3 per cent rise in tourism to Nigeria in the next four years – claiming that in addition to leisure tourism drawn by the industry, the growing revenue generated by Nollywood will attract business travel. The report also discusses the hotel boom in Nigeria’s capital city Lagos.

Again, the STR Global, leading provider of data on the hotel industry, revealed in its June 2013 report that despite high levels of inflation and political uncertainty, Nigeria showed the highest RevPAR growth YTD June this year with a more than 15 per cent increase ahead of all other destinations in Africa.

According to that report, Nigeria showed the highest RevPAR growth YTD June 2013 (15.2 percent) and the highest average daily rate (ADR) among the African countries at US$273.80.

In addition, Nigeria leads in terms of hotel pipeline construction and actual openings between 2012 and 2013 for the West African sub-region and second for actual openings in sub-Saharan Africa by international hotel chains. These openings are however, largely driven by the booming oil sector that has by extension positively affected the travel industry with more arrivals recorded at the international gateways by airlines.

With more flights and frequencies and application for licenses by international airlines, the tourism industry in Nigeria, with particular reference to the business travel market, in addition to the hospitality sub-sector appear to be the biggest beneficiaries of this boom in the tourism industry, even in the face of seemingly disturbing challenges encountered by other practitioners in the sector.

Indeed, Nigeria tourism is gifted with potential. However, tapping and exploiting those potential, and aggregating the rewards across all sub-sectors with over five decades after political independence of the country has remained paperwork.

An attempt at providing a framework for the active participation of all sectors of the economy so as to effectively reposition the industry and the fortunes of the operators was the launch of the National Tourism Masterplan, however, even that document with all its good intentions has been at the receiving end of bitter criticisms from operators in the industry.

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.

For Mr. Andy Osa Ehanire, operator of the Ogba Zoo and Wildlife Park, in Benin City, the Edo State capital, 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,” Enahire stressed.

Admittedly, 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 who spoke at the Information and Sensitization workshop on Sustainable Tourism Policy, Strategy and Hospitality Development in the Implementation of the Nigerian Tourism Development Masterplan, in Abuja, opined that 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”.

According to Duke, 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 was expected to have been completed in the fourth (4th) quarter of 2012, with the guidance and assistance of experts from UNWTO.

 

That document is still not ready for official launch let alone implementation.

 

For immediate past president and Chief Executive Officer of global hotel chain, Rezidor Hotels Group, Mr. Kurt Ritter, who was in the country 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.

“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.

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.

Consider also the fact that even before the advent of the present terrorism challenges, Nigeria has always been a hard sell to any pleasure seeking international  tourist or even the domestic one, what with the infrastructure problems that not only drive up cost of services in the hospitality industry especially.

On a positive note, however, with the rethinking on tourism credited to the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo who sensed the need to diversify the government’s revenue base and correct the structural deficiencies of the economy, the condition of the industry appeared to get executive attention.

Obasanjo’s realization that tourism portends a strong alternative to crude oil as a revenue earner, in view of declining global oil prices, informed his selection of the industry as one of six priority areas central to the revival of the economy. Tourism became a cardinal stone for achieving Nigeria’s 7-point agenda and its Vision 20:2020 programme and also attracting foreign direct investment. The downstream economic impacts from the “export” revenues of international tourist spending was estimated to generate additional gross revenue of N29 billion.

The incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan has followed up with the identification of tourism as one of the key elements and fulcrums in the Transformation Agenda of his administration. This re-thinking has seen the appointment of a banker and private sector trained Mrs Sally Mbanefo to replace Otunba Segun Runsewe as director general in July.

On her part, Mbanefo has started on a strong footing by triangulating her priorities on domestic tourism as driver of her re-energizing programme of repositioning Nigeria tourism in the short and medium term as well as and narrowing them down to three strategies.

At an event last month in Lagos, Mbanefo unveiled a three-pronged strategy geared towards repositioning and growing the Nigeria tourism and aligning the sector so as to play a key role in federal government’s plans of diversifying its revenue generation base.

Explaining that the move to re-strategize was informed largely by varied expectations from the various government agencies and private organizations who form the stakeholders’ core of Nigerian tourism, the NTDC chief said her three-pronged approach as strategic imperative for moving forward include; rebuilding the NTDC, growing the tourism value chain and then re-inventing the Nigeria tourism industry.

“Against the backdrop of the desired objectives of the federal government to make the tourism industry, in general and the NTDC in particular, a revenue source and job hub, we cannot afford to continue treating these issues and expectations in a piecemeal manner,” Mbanefo explained.

In stressing her corporation’s choice of domestic tourism as fulcrum for driving Nigeria tourism, Mbanefo said this was informed by the huge potential and wealth that can the industry portends for national economy.

“The domestic market has very high revenue and job creation potential. If we assume that a low estimate of 20 million out of 160 million Nigerians travel locally for business, leisure, culture, religion or sports annually and they spend only 10 per cent of Nigeria’s per capita income of USD 2, 000 annually, we will have a USD 4 billion domestic tourism market and hence our focus at the NTDC on developing domestic tourism as the foundation for attracting international tourists.” she said.

Recall that the re-strategizing plans for Nigeria Tourism is coming barely a month after the official launch of the Fascinating Nigeria, tourism brand identity campaign in which the Tourism minister revealed decision by the ministry to enter into a strategic partnership with a Dubai-based destination marketing company to ‘domesticate best practices from their experience in our plans at accelerating the flow of international tourists.’

Assessing five decades of tourism in Nigeria, therefore, many practitioners believe that for once, the government at the centre may have finally come to terms with the huge financial losses incurred by the country on account of allowing neighbouring countries to reap from the wealth of Nigerians and may have seriously commenced actual pans to diversify the economy by exploiting its tourism potential.

“We are convinced that the Nigeria tourism provides a veritable platform for a more inclusive economic growth that will boost the revenue profile of local councils and provide local jobs that are sustainable,” Duke stressed.

“We have our work well cut out for us. I say this because we are now going to play catch-up with countries who are clearly ahead of us in the industry and as if that is not enough, they already have a well-developed infrastructure base to back and support the industry. So that’s why I said we have our work cut out for us. But the good thing is that there appears to be some level of seriousness on the part of government to do the right thing,” said Mr. Tony Akande, a Lagos-based restaurateur.

“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.

“The federal government remains committed to diversifying the economy from the volatility of the crude oil earnings to more sustainable sources of revenues and community based jobs which Nigeria’s tourism potential across all the 36 states of the federation,” Duke had said.

Also, voicing opinions on the way forward, President of La Campagne Tropicana Group and initiator of Motherland Beckons, Otunba Wanle Akinboboye and Director General of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), Prof Tunde Babawale, posit that 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.

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.

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

“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.

“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.

For Akinboboye, tourism is capable of surpassing oil in terms of revenue generation for the Nigeria if well harnessed using the platform provided by cultural tourism.

“There are so many Nigerians in Diaspora yearning to come home to the motherland, but a whole lot of them opt for Ghana and Gambia because we do not have the facilities to handle that aspect of our tourism. Many foreigners have traced their roots to Africa, with even more seeking pilgrimages to the continent, Nigeria can exploit this. Tourism can benefit everybody, every state, every sector, it is self-sustaining too. At our age, we should be proud of harnessing this aspect of tourism at the very least,” Akinboboye stressed.

Additional information courtesy: BGL Research

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