Minister of Culture and Tourism, Edem Duke
Nigeria records about seven million inbound passengers annually. This number is largely made up of Nigerians who return from overseas for business, conferences and others. But Chinedu Eze writes that development of numerous tourism sites has the capacity to boost air traffic in the country.
Oil and gas sector attracts most of the foreigners who travel into Nigeria. Others are those who come to establish businesses or work in technical areas in the country, which have the largest market in Africa.
Compared to Nigeria’s population, the number of foreigners who travel into the country are relatively very small when you consider the business and tourist potential, so the largest air market in Nigeria are Nigerians.
Nigerians travel overseas to do business in foreign currency. Besides revenue from oil and gas, little foreign exchange comes into the country from other sectors. This explains why there is always high demand for the dollar locally. Nigerians travel out a lot without corresponding number of expatriates who come in to bring in foreign currency, so the value of the Naira is always stretched.
In other African countries like South Africa, Egypt and Kenya foreigners constitute over 60 per cent of inbound passengers. Many of them visit these countries as tourists.
Nigeria’s inability to develop its tourism may have been responsible for its failure to develop strong, dominant national or flag carriers, which could be counted in Africa before the coming of Arik Air; even the defunct Nigeria Airways was not as dominant as Ethiopian Airlines before its demise.
Countries with huge tourism market usually have well developed airlines and as more people begin to travel to tourist sites these airlines enjoy good domestic market.
In Nigeria, people travel overseas to enjoy less of what they have. And that is because these tourist sites in the country are not developed, and because they are not developed they cannot attract foreigners who could come and spend their money on transport, lodging and feeding.
This could double the foreign exchange Nigeria earns today. It would also developed Nigeria’s airline market as it would double domestic and international passenger movement. Tourism could have also helped Nigeria to develop first class hotels of international repute, stirred competition and knocked down cost of hotel services.
The Federal Government takes a large chunk of the blame for not being able to develop the many tourist sites in the country; educate the citizenry about these sites and encourage foreigners who visit on diplomatic mission to go to the sites.
Besides the invaluable contributions of the former governor of Cross River state, Donald Duke to develop tourism in his state, neither the Federal Government nor the other governors have made similar impact to develop other tourist sites in the country.
The Chairman of Remlords Travels and Tours, Nkereuwem Onung, once told THISDAY that the inability of government to sensitise Nigerians and others to tourist attraction sites that are numerous in Nigeria was what undermined the full utilization of these sites. So the private sector had to take up that responsibility.
“As a growing tour operator we have always thought that we should educate ourselves. The first thing is this: we believe in our country; we believe in Africa; we also believe that the inbound thing is what generates money for us, so we also need to educate people to come to our country in as much as we are also going out,” Unung said.
Two years ago, the CEO of Akwaaba African Travel Market, Ikechi Uko, started the Seven Wonders of Nigeria, which was to identify seven tourist sites at different parts of the country that could constitute a huge attraction to Nigerians and foreigners.
This year, the committee was constituted to select these sites finished its work and located seven best sites in Nigeria in addition to locating other good sites that could equally be a good attraction to the world.
Now, it is the private sector that has come to the rescue. Unung spoke about how those in the travel industry have been making efforts to market Nigeria to the rest of the world.
“You are going there to go and sell your own country, and at most times that is what we also need to activate, that is why I am also deeply involved and very, very concerned about Seven Wonders of Nigeria. That is why I am a principal partner to that project, because I believe that once that project is put in place, Nigerians will have seven sites, seven things that you will have to see. So that when we are going to WTM (World Travel Market) or any travel market, we are going to say these are what we have. People are going to ask, ‘What do you have in Nigeria?’ I think that we need to begin to promote ourselves.”
In 2011 Nigeria’s total passenger movement was well over 12 million, but that is small considering the nation’s population. There is no record that many foreigners who visited the country came as tourists, yet the country has the potential to be attracting at least four million tourists every year, how that would boost the revenue of Nigerian airlines!
The Seven Wonders of Nigeria include the Obudu Mountains Resort, Cross River state, the Sukur Kingdom in Admawa state, the Osun Groove, Osogbo, Osun state and the Kano Walls, Kano state.
There are also Oke Indanre Hills, Ondo state, the Benin Moat, Edo state and the National War Museum, Umuahia, Abia state.
The project director, Ikechi Uko said that although the project was not completed in time as planned due to factors including security issues but it was nonetheless completed and gave kudos to the hard working team that carried out the project.
Uko said that part of the objectives of the project was to market the 36 states to tourists both outside and in Nigeria by identifying edifying things in each state that could be developed as tourist attraction. So while the team searched for Seven Wonders of Nigeria, it also enlisted other sites, including the Seven Natural Wonders, which include the Ogbunike Cave, Ikogosi Spring, Yankari Reserves, Mambilla Plateau, Owu Falls, Farin Ruwa Falls and Confluence ay Lokoja.
There were also seven modern architectural wonders, seven aquatic wonders, seven heritage sites, seven symbolic wonders, highlands and seven must see events.
On the whole there were top 55 sites, which if well marketed could be attracting foreigners to Nigeria. That is what other countries in the world had done. In Africa, a small country like Gambia has become a tourist attraction as it took advantage of building resorts on Atlantic beaches and liberalising its immigration process.
Nigeria loses potentially four million tourists every year because it did not develop its tourism sector.
Ikechi Uko noted that while the members of the tem traversed the whole country searching and voting for the sites none faced any security issues.
“Throughout the time we started till today we have not had any mishap. There were no accidents; there were no sad stories; everyone who is a member of the committee is still here today to see the result. We hear that Nigeria is not safe, but we didn’t hear that any of the committee members involved in any kind of problem. That tells me from the tourism point of view that Nigeria is quite safe.”
The Federal Government has decided to give support to the project and it would host the team that voted for the tourist sites because it was impressed with the work of the committee. It would also offer the committee members awards and host a presidential dinner for them.
Now, government will anchor its tourism campaigns on these Seven Wonders of Nigeria to encourage foreigners to visit the country as tourists. Earning foreign exchange from tourism will definitely boost the country’s economy, develop the tourism industry and increase passenger movement.
This will also improve the image of the Nigeria and create opportunities for business interaction and foreign investment.
Uko said that the Seven Wonders of Nigeria has been used to build clusters of tourism sites, which are found in every state and which when developed and well marketed would be attracting local and foreign tourists.
“We have done clusters. For each of the Seven Wonders we have added a waterfall a national park and a festival. This makes it possible for other places to benefit from whatever that is going to happen. We have also added Lagos and Abuja as entry points. There is no state or big town that is not close to one of the wonders, at most 200 kilometers. They are almost equidistant to major towns in Nigeria,” Uko said.
The Federal Government has decided to work with project to do joint marketing, joint development and joint promotion for the sites.
There are also foreigners who are interested in marketing these voted tourist sites and who would want less involvement of government, but Uko observed that government must be involved so long as Nigeria is concerned.
On how to boost foreign and international patronage of the number one item in the Seven Wonders of Nigeria, which is the Obudu Mountain Resort, Thamary Reppoh, regional sales manager, West Africa, African Sun Limited, which is managing the resort said that the place needs effective marketing.
“To market the product both in and outside Nigeria to make people aware; you will be surprised that if you ask many Nigerians whether they had gone to Obudu you will find out that many of them have not been there. This means that individuals within and outside are not even aware of what Nigeria has. I think the key thing is marketing and also to work closely with travel agencies and stakeholders in the industry. So it is for us to be working closely with them, come up with strategies, bring down cost so that it can be affordable to average Nigerians; so that we don’t have comparisons with costs which they say that going to Obudu is costlier than going to Europe.”
On flights to the resort, Reppoh said that Bebi airstrip to the place has become operational as it was commissioned recently and there were talks with certain airlines which could be flying in with small body aircraft.
With the identification of these sites and their subsequent development, it is believed that Nigeria will progressively begin to develop its tourism sector and the aviation industry will greatly benefit as it would expand to meet the demands of influx of foreign tourists in the next 15 years.
Yvonne Bassey, a television presenter said, “The task of choosing the seven top wonders of Nigeria was one that I found almost impossible, seeing that virtually every state in the country possesses various kinds of priceless jewels…some of which are not even known or rightfully acknowledged by the owners themselves.”
Before the Arab Spring Egypt was recording over 10 million tourists every year; tourism is the pivot of its airline, Egypt Air and major source of its foreign exchange.
Nigeria has over 24 airports which are located at each major town in the country, so every tourism site must be close to one airport or another. A boost in tourism can make many of these airports viable.