The emphasis that tourism can give the Nigerian economy the paradigm shift from absolute dependence on a dwindling oil sector to a vibrant and sustainable multi-sector has never been more imminent. But how ready is the sector considering the lackadaisical attitude some of the past stakeholders have shown towards developing the industry? Omolola Itayemi talks to tourism enthusiast, Andy Osa Ehanire about the unending fumbling with Nigeria’s tourism policies

There has always been a glaring need to fathom some deep seated syndromes that have for long stagnated the charting of a clear, viable and sustainable policy direction for Nigeria’s tourism development. Do you agree?

How else can one explain our long exposure to various tourism models and having the privilege of huge financial resources, with no shortage of those professing the know-how, yet being consigned to perpetual lamentation of the dismal performance of such a critical sector of our economy over many decades. The recent convening of a summit of tourism stakeholders was necessitated by the combined circumstances of a new political regime inheriting a faltering oil-driven economy and the urgent need for diversification through tourism development. However the circumstance, it is the embarrassing debacles or whatever has been done wrongly – possibly reaching a vicious circle, are what should first be identified, analysed and decoded, even as we seek fresh ideas and solutions on the way forward.

It should be realised that the process for distilling policies and plans for a complex sector as tourism is not what should start from what is akin to a public forum, as such would remain as clouded as the tourism stakeholders are nebulous. To draw analogy from Carl Jung, the famous psychoanalyst, the effectiveness of a “committee” is inversely proportional to its size; positing that “a committee of a hundred professors is akin to a mob, while a thousand would have the collective intelligence of an alligator”. It could also be recalled that the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) President had once called for a retreat for the Association’s General Assembly in Calabar. In opposing the idea, it was reasoned that a retreat usually has meaning when a select few are sequestered to think for the whole, not a convention type scenario that is only ideal for sensitization.

Therefore, for such a forum of stakeholders as recently convened, it is after the technical issues have been distilled by a core group of experts that the pre-digested policy options and plans, based on the synthesis of original ideas, are then proffered to such a broad based forum as this Summit, amongst whom are the usual hustlers and loafers. The skills for in-depth policy issues as in a roadmap for tourism are not necessarily found amongst tourism administrators, whose roles have derogatively been described as file pushers. Like the contractors who are engaged for construction projects in other sectors through technical bidding-experts who can think out of the box should be engaged from stages of conceptualization, design, engineering (even cultural) and production, while the administrators are there for communication, facilitation, coordination, monitoring and evaluation. Beyond calling up stakeholders to share “free” ideas with tourism administrators, there seems to be the recourse to patronizing those whom circumstances have positioned as “oracles” in a non-performing tourism sector – those who, incidentally too, have nothing serious to prove or show for their long involvement in the sector. With so many professions in the tourism sector, a point easily confused is that while the vast majority of its stakeholders are professionals in their respective fields, they hardly qualify to be termed tourism professionals or experts.

Where there is need to engage tourism experts, the litmus test is in designing a transformational template for our community tourism development – such a project that can sync with the intent of the New Partnership for Africa Development  (NEPAD) Tourism Action Plan for community based enterprises. Do you think this will help?

We must bear in mind the serious integrity deficits in our ecological and cultural heritage, along with the need for their regeneration and packaging by those with a flair for heritage design and socio-cultural engineering. Reminds one of an editorial in Conservation Biology Journal, wherein there was a radical departure from their usual choice of professionals in the physical sciences. It was a paradigm shift for them to discover the need for sociologists and allied disciplines in understanding conservation challenges amongst diverse communities, not to speak of a multidisciplinary sector as tourism.

The relevance of practical sociology has been a huge oversight in such a highly creative and service oriented field as Tourism, in which culture plays a leading role.To properly erect national tourism architecture, there is also need to inaugurate the Local Government Tourism Committees through a staggered and sustained seminal process that syncs with community tourism development.

It should be realised that the process for distilling policies and plans for a complex sector as tourism is not what should start from what is akin to a public forum, as such would remain as clouded as the tourism stakeholders are nebulous.