Charles Ajunwa
The organiser of the Akwaaba Africa Travel Market, Mr. Ikechi Uko, has called for the constitution of a Presidential Committee on Tourism to rescue the country’s tourism sector, which he said was facing many challenges.

He made the call at the 2016 annual general meeting of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agents (NANTA) which took place at the Premier Hotel Ibadan, Oyo State.

Uko, who was the keynote speaker at the three-day AGM, said there was urgent need for the federal government to re-engineer a tourism master-plan with complementary sustainable tourism policy, adding  that there some peculiar challenges with the coordination and driving of Nigerian tourism as all the various arms are scattered in six different ministries.

“Tourism is scattered in many ministries namely: Immigration is in Internal Affairs; Aviation is under Transport; National Park is in Environment; Waterways is in Transport; Culture is under Information, while the River Basin Authorities is under Water Resources.

“PCT is to bring all together for inter dependency meetings. UNWTO says culture can survive without tourism but tourism cannot survive without tourism. In my discussion with Alabbar of Emaar, he said downtown Dubai has no soul so he has to add culture to it. So culture is key to the sustenance of tourism, but tourism is businesses.”

Uko, who is a revered tourism expert, said in the Africa Tourism Monitor, Nigeria was not in the top three destinations in 2014 with the highest number of tourists in Africa.

“Two North African countries top the list of most-visited countries in Africa. Egypt experienced the strongest growth in the sector in 2014, with 454,000 more international arrivals than in 2013, an increase of five per cent in just one year. Second on the list is Morocco, which once again recorded more than 10 million incoming international tourists in 2014, an increase of 236,000 when compared with the previous year. In third place is Cote d’Ivoire, in West Africa. The country is experiencing a strong economic recovery.”

According to him, the UK’s World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the international tourism sector now accounts for 8.1 per cent of Africa’s total Gross Domestic Product.

He explained that tourism employs over 20 million people in Africa, raking 7.1 per cent of all jobs on the continent; but that the economic impact of tourism is more than job creation.

Uko, while analysing the various frameworks several governments in Nigeria adopted in their various effort to transform tourism, their policies and the success and failures of some, said Obasanjo’s government was the best in all the efforts it made to transform tourism in Nigeria.

He said former President Obasanjo’s government took a major step to improve the sector including placing the sector as one of the centre-piece for economic development. “This is in line with global trend where most countries have turned to culture and tourism as part of their development agenda. It is in realisation of this that that government took steps to review existing policy documents. That included the review of the existing culture policy document of 1988 and the introduction of a National Tourism Policy.

“The policy sought the establishment of the Presidential Council on Tourism (PCT) which was chaired by the President; establishment of National Committee on Oral and Intangible Culture Heritage, chaired by the Honourable Minister of Culture and Tourism, and the introduction of stakeholders’ forum on National Council on Culture and Tourism.

“The creation of that Council resulted in the introduction and hosting of the Abuja Carnival which started in 2005, formulation of a National Policy on Tourism, production of the Tourism Development Master Plan, formulation of a National Tourism Satellite Account (TSA), a review of the 1988 Culture Policy for Nigeria, the enlistment of Sukur World Heritage site at Adamawa and Osun Osogbo Sacred Groove into the World Heritage List (WHL), and the sustained efforts of some states in using tourism for wealth creation.

“Tourism became the flagship for development and poverty reduction in Cross River, Kebbi, Osun and Kano which led to increased revenue generation and employment opportunity in those states.

“The National Tourism Development Master-plan has poverty alleviation as its primary focus. The main objective of the Abuja Carnival is centered on promoting and marketing the rich and robust cultural heritage of Nigeria and her artistic expressions. The carnival is held annually to serve as essential tourism product.

“In addition to those, that government went on to strengthen the nation’s foothold on the ecotourism sub-sector, resulting in the enactment of the laws for Endangered Species Act Cap 108LFN 1990; National Park Services Act 46 of 1999; Federal Environmental Protection Agency Act Cap 131LFN1990, and the ratification of the 1999 global code of ethics and similar culture and tourism related convention by government.”