The present image of the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR), the nation’s tourism training school, cannot be compared with the image it had few years ago when the institute was comatose. The Director General of NIHOTOUR, Mrs. Chika Balogun, tells Justina Uzo about her commitment to reposition the institute for efficient service delivery

Critics used to refer to NIHOTOUR as a ‘sleeping institute’, what has really changed?

It is true that a lot has changed in the administration and activities at the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR).  Organisations like societies are dynamic and change is a constant, especially if a culture of excellence must be built and maintained. This attitudinal change accompanied by academic and administrative changes is what has elicited the positive and energetic vibe that is being observed in NIHOTOUR today. We started by boosting staff morale and orientation on commitment to their jobs so as to have the desired input in terms of carrying out both administrative and academic activities, geared towards meeting the objectives of the Institute. We are constantly working on improving the work environment to make it conducive for staff to work more efficiently. A series of train the trainer programmmes are also being actively pursued.

As an institute, whose functions are hinged on manpower training, capacity building, personnel/service regulation and research in hospitality, travel and tourism, we need to make sure that our programmes are of real value to the student (trained personnel), investor and end user, who are the customers.

To this end, the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), approved our application to be a training centre for the National Vocational Qualification Framework (NVQF) levels 1 – 6. We were also appointed the Sector Skills Council for the Hospitality and Tourism (HOTOUR) sector in Nigeria. The Council is made up of major stakeholders represented at the highest level, so that we understand the appropriate skills needed by industry per time and match same through appropriately tailored training. The recent validation of the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Hospitality, Travels and Tourism Trades levels 1 – 3 (these will become the minimum standards for training in Nigeria within the sector) by the Council is a major milestone and,  though it happened relatively unsung, Nigeria will feel the impact in a couple of years when the industry begins to bear fruits of well trained professionals across all levels of this hugely service- driven sector. We have also entered agreements with International Training Organisations to further expand the quality and scope of our training. The ABE (Association of Business Executives) is one such body. This partnership is through the WINIGROUP, with whom we have a training consultancy MoU. We are also in ongoing talks with a few National Universities to deliver training through their platform.

We are also partnering with a Tourism Club to deliver sensitisation training to young children in primary and tertiary schools to create an understanding of the business of tourism and expose them to the benefits of a career in Hospitality and Tourism and the culture of excellence in service very early on.

I am glad to note that we have extended our collaboration with members of the organised private sector who are the real operators of the industry, and they have been very cooperative in the efforts to sanitise the sector and raise the quality of service delivery in line with global standards.

NIHOTOUR Alumni association has also recently been formed. This will further help our graduates tap into the huge resource available within this network.

 The tourism industry will be a major factor in the process of diversifying the nation’s economy, how does NIHOTOUR fit into this strategy?

The diversification of the economy is no longer a dream but now active work in progress. The recognition of tourism as one of the sectors for diversification is warmly applauded. Globally, tourism is acknowledged to be one of the first three contributors to the GDP of many countries. Our government has recognised the importance of this sector and is working hard to improve the business of tourism and its entire value chain, which cuts across so many other sectors. Getting a synergy across the entire value chain is critical to success and growth because if one member of that value chain drops the baton then it affects the end result regardless of the excellent services some other members of the chain have provided. So, a cohesive and project-based approach, with a well mapped out 5 – 10 year plan will go a long way in building a solid foundation for this very important sector of our economy. Progressively attaining milestones set in the plan will then help boost consumer, practitioner and investor confidence in the viability and sustainability of the sector.

Tourism is one of the world’s largest economic sectors in terms of wealth creation and job opportunities for a large number of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour. Tourism is a major global business and therefore must be developed with a vision set on sustainable growth, job and wealth creation.

Tourism is largely experiential and the customer usually goes home with only memories of a good or bad series of services and possibly some arts and crafts. This largely experiential nature of tourism is why the quality of services provided is critical to success and sustainable growth.

The Tourism industry is basically a service industry run and powered by people. To, therefore, deliver quality services, operators in the industry must be well trained in the requisite skills that will enable them offer excellent services across the different sub-sectors of the industry. This is where the vital role of NIHOTOUR comes in. The major objective of NIHOTOUR is to provide training and capacity development, including research for operators and practitioners in the industry and to regulate the professional conduct of personnel and the quality of service delivered by the businesses. This is key to the growth and development of the industry as it is the foundation to the economic pillar that Nigerian Tourism must become.

 Our training ensures that the quality of workers in the industry are of high standards and are able to provide high quality services to their customers in a measurable and standardised manner in line with global best practices.

 We are also an approved National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) training centre for Hospitality and Tourism under the National Vocational Qualifications Framework as set out by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE).

 NIHOTOUR has also been appointed the Sector Skills Council for Hospitality and Tourism. This is a very critical role as it bridges the skills gap between training programmes and the actual requirements of sector practitioners. The Council, which is populated by the heads of sector associations and some relevant government agencies, is already working hard and recently validated the National Occupational

Standards (NOS) for Hospitality, Travels and Tourism Trades (Levels 1 – 3). The validated NOS becomes the minimum standard for training in the industry.

 Recently, I was elected the Chairman for the National Mirror Committee on Tourism under the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON). This opportunity will go a long way in radically raising the bar for service delivery standards, as Nigeria will now actively work towards benchmarking requirement standards for the industry and getting the ISO’s needed to boost investor and consumer confidence in the sector. As part of our internal quality control, we are also undergoing a series of re-training for our lecturers as well, so as to make sure that they deliver current and qualitative training to industry practitioners. We have also forged training relationships with other global trainers to improve on our training offerings across board.

 How is NIHOTOUR helping Nigeria?

The Tourism industry is one of the greatest providers of job opportunities in the world because of its multi-faceted and multi-sectoral nature and dynamics. Therefore, in the discharge of our statutory functions of providing training and capacity building, we are empowering Nigerians to acquire knowledge and skills that make them valued members of society contributing to the socio-economic growth and development of the country. Also, our role as regulator of personnel and quality of  service delivered in the industry will help to set and enforce global standards and by so doing sanitise the industry, stimulating growth and sustainable development through increased and enhanced economic activities in the industry.

How is the school performing?

I will say our schools are performing well. We operate a multi-campus system spread across the six geo-political zones of the country and in some tourism-friendly states that have invited NIHOTOUR to establish training campuses in their states. We have nine locations currently, Lagos, Kano, Bauchi, Kaduna, Abuja, Benin, Enugu, Oshogbo and Makurdi (opening in July).

The Institute won the best International Air Transport Association (IATA) Training Centre in Africa, as well as producing the best IATA student in Africa.

NIHOTOUR has continued to produce skilled manpower in the Hospitality, Travel and Tourism industry of the country that are operating and rendering quality services in the various hospitality and tourism service-providing companies, organisations and agencies across Nigeria and beyond. Some of our Alumni are managers of major hospitality outfits across Nigeria and many more are doing well as entrepreneurs in the industry.

In view of the importance of training to the development of the tourism industry, more state governments are having discussions with us on opening training campuses in their respective states in view of their plans to diversify their IGR by growing their Tourism industry.

What are the challenges facing NIHOTOUR at the moment?

NIHOTOUR is faced with challenges but none that is insurmountable. Our desire and commitment to the growth of this sector gives us the winning edge always. A long list of challenges can be drawn up but making that list only points us to the fact that we have to challenge ourselves even more to find solutions that help us deliver on our mandate and constantly improve on that delivery. We are blessed by our relationships with our stakeholders, who are doing everything to support us in building a culture of excellence through qualitative and mandatory training and re-training within the industry.

A lot of work has been done in changing attitudinal mindsets within NIHOTOUR and amongst our stakeholders. Both parties have now embraced each other and are working in concert to produce a skilled workforce that forms the foundation for sustainable development in the hugely profitable business of tourism.

We still require a lot of collaboration and assistance. To this end, we have re-engaged our founding partner the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and are working hard to forge other mutually beneficial partnerships with other parties towards the very important job of building sustainable manpower capacity for the sector that is also mindful of environmental issues.

Corporate entities should also consider partnering with us and contributing some of their corporate social responsibility funds to help us train youths across the country towards creating young entrepreneurs and jobs. The CBN and BOI, amongst others have startup grants/loans that can help create many entrepreneurs but they will require skills acquired through certified training in most cases to qualify for these grants and loans.

NIHOTOUR is the regulatory body for professional practices (personnel) and quality of service delivery in the Hospitality, Travel and Tourism industry of the country. Therefore, it is with a sense of urgency that we have to build a training sub-sector and mandatory training regime that is benchmarked and standardised. Only then can we begin to sanction defaulters of these standards and award service stars of excellence to those who stand out.

May I invite parties with proven capacity in any area of training to join us in our quest to professionalise the sector and build the business of tourism to become the number one contributor to our nation’s GDP.