Tourism Master Plan, UNWTO and Lai Mohammed’s Aspiration

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Demola Ojo

Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture will want to be remembered for making tourism a major contributor to Nigeria’s economy. To achieve this onerous task, he has enlisted the United Nations World Tourism Organisation for help, writes Demola Ojo

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it is worth repeating that Nigeria – considering its natural wonders and cultural diversity – is just a few good decisions away from earning significant revenue and creating tens of thousands of jobs through tourism.

Those within the industry have held this belief for years in spite of the cynicism and pessimism from both government and a section of the general populace. It has always been easier to talk about the challenges.

Weak infrastructure and porous security (which is more of a perception issue when one considers that some countries with worse security problems than Nigeria still attract millions of tourists) are two reasons usually seen as stumbling blocks.

Recently however, tourism has been mentioned in government circles as an avenue to help limit the effects of an economic recession brought about an overdependence on crude oil exports.

But the decision by the Federal Government to scrap the stand-alone tourism ministry and merge it with information – an action that has been emulated by many of the states – is at variance with the rhetoric.

It is certainly heart-warming then, that the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, is increasingly paying attention to tourism, and has gone as far as saying he would like to be remembered as the minister that transformed Nigeria from a country with tourism potential to a tourism economy.

Last week, on Tuesday to be precise, Alhaji Mohammed received the International Tourism Adviser of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, Mr. Jim Flannery, in Abuja. Flannery is in Nigeria to assist in the review of the country’s Tourism Master Plan.

The Minister waxed lyrical about his plans and minced no words regarding the legacy he wants to leave. “I want to leave a legacy as the Minister that came and transformed the creative industry to a creative economy,” he said, continuing that he believes Nigeria has all it takes to make it work.

‘’I am tired of Nigerians saying we have tourism potentials. I want us to start realizing those tourism potentials. I am tired of saying that tourism can create thousands of jobs in Nigeria; I want us to start creating those jobs,” Mohammed said.

He explained that the present administration has the political will to drive the process, particularly by removing all the bottlenecks hindering the active participation of the private sector in the tourism industry.

He also spoke about relaxing the rigid visa regime that discourages tourists from coming into the country and went further to state the vision of government.

“Our role really as government is more of regulatory and providing guidelines and protection, but the real jobs are within three groups of people; the states, the local community and the private sector,” he said.

According to Mohammed, Flannery’s visit has kick-started the process of actualizing the six-point agreement reached between Nigeria and the UNWTO during his visit to its headquarters in Madrid, Spain, in July.

“Today is the first concrete evidence that all that I said we were able to achieve at our July meeting with UNWTO is true and that’s why I am particularly glad that Mr. Flannery is here today and his presence here is the first step in actualizing one of the six promises and commitments that were made to us by the UNWTO,” he said.

Revived Master Plan

Flannery was one of those that helped to draft the Master Plan ten years ago, a fact Alhaji Mohammed acknowledged.

A few industry insiders raised eyebrows over his return, since he was one of those “that formulated the unworkable master plan in 2006”. If it did not fly then, they opined, why will it now?

According to the Minister, Flannery is in Nigeria to assist the Technical Committee set up to review the document and identify those areas that can be implemented within the shortest possible time.

Flannery shed more light. According to him, the Master Plan could not be implemented ten years ago because of the sheer volume of activities previous governments wanted to undertake at once. In the new approach however, salient areas can be identified for immediate implementation.

Speaking further, he explained that there is currently a renewed interest in tourism among the world’s leading economies due to its vitality and inexhaustible nature.

“Tourism worldwide is becoming recognized more and more as one of the great economic activities that is of major benefit to countries. …You don’t need major structured investment for tourism to be successful,” he said.

More Experts, Less Civil Servants Please

Stakeholders in the industry have commended Alhaji Mohammed in his drive to review the Master Plan. However, they insist on the inclusion of tourism experts and the media in the Review Committee.

The Review Committee for the Master Plan is made up azof government officials, some tourism association heads and experts from UNWTO.

However, the National President of Nigerian Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), Mr. Nkereuwem Onung, himself a member of the Review Committee, made a call for the inclusion of local tourism experts and the tourism media to be part of the Committee.

“I have attended the meeting and I’m impressed with the documents presented, but I feel we should involve our local experts and tourism media in this review. These experts criticized the Master Plan and they were proved right with the failure of the plan so putting together another plan without them is a sure path to failure.

“I want to see our known experts get involved. We should not be afraid to involve them.”

The NATOP President also believes members of the Tourism Committee of the Vision 202020 that had earlier reviewed the document should be included for continuity. “Civil servants alone cannot review the Master plan,” he opined.

Leaving a Legacy

Not so long ago, Ahlaji Mohammed was known as the mouthpiece of a Nigerian opposition party that successfully ousted the ruling party from power. He is certainly skilled at convincing a multitude.

In his current position as Minister of Information and Culture (and TOURISM) he is spreading optimism that tourism will rejuvenate Nigeria’s economy and empower the country’s poor.

“Tourism is so unique. It’s the only industry in the world that is pro poor. It’s the only industry in the world that is pro the rural area and it’s the only industry in the world where you do not need highly specialized skills or knowledge because nature in its mercy and bountifulness has created tourism sites.

“The Zuma Rock, the Owu Waterfall were put there by God. The Cross River Wild Park was not man-made. So it is one industry that if we harness properly, we can bring development right to the rural areas, create jobs and harmony,” he said.

These are words and ideas that previous Ministers and heads of tourism parastatals have stated in one form or the other in the past.

Alhaji Mohammed has shown a desire to go further and deliver on the promise. If he succeeds in his stated objective, his place in history will be assured, devoid of political affiliations.