Defining New Paradigms in Nigeria’s Tourism Development

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CAPTION: Iconic Lekki Ikoyi bridge… Lagos needs to convert its many business visitors to leisure tourists to generate more revenue

B Sufuyan Ojeifo

Nigeria’s economic outlook is gloomy. Her overdependence on crude oil as the only veritable source of foreign exchange earnings has become an albatross due to vandalisation of crude oil pipelines by militants in the Niger Delta region. This has made it impossible for the nation to meet its projected 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil production, thereby losing big money.

While immediate remedial actions have been launched, including Niger Delta region stakeholders’ consultations, to put an end to pipeline destruction and restore the nation’s production output to the 2.2 million bpd of crude, there is a national consensus that the federal government should urgently work towards diversifying the nation’s economic base in order to create multiple streams of earnings.

This position is unassailable. Various options and propositions are receiving consideration from government. Some of the propositions that are primed to benefit from the diversification enterprise are agriculture, solid minerals, and culture and tourism development. It is, however, baffling that government has not done the needful, over the years, to bolster investments in these sectors.

While it is more surprising that government has not maximally explored the agriculture and solid minerals sectors, given the tangible yields derivable from them, with humongous potential to build the nation’s economy, it is understandable why the culture and tourism sector has been largely under-developed: lack of deliberate investments and structured development in the sector has been fingered; whereas, if properly harnessed, it can boost the nation’s foreign exchange earnings.

The sector, especially the tourism component, has been adjudged, globally, as a money spinner. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), an agency of the United Nations, which is mandated to promote access to tourism, not too long ago, published figures that showed that in the last six decades or thereabouts, there has been consistent global expansion of the tourism industry.

According to the UNWTO, “international tourist arrivals increased from 25 million in 1950 to 1.13 billion in 2014 while earnings moved from $2 billion to $12.45 billion in 2014.” Arrivals worldwide, at the time the statistics were published in 2015, were expected to hit 1.8 billion in another decade or thereabouts.

Significantly, emerging economies, which capture Nigeria, are expected to get 57% of this market share. This should interest Nigeria’s federal government. Appropriate ministry and agencies of government, especially the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) should be concerned about how much percentage the nation can slice out of this 57 percent market share.

The issue becomes more pertinent considering the fact that there is competition among African countries to position themselves for the immense economic benefits inherent in exploration of latent tourism potential within their domains. Nigeria, presently, does not rank among the first ten most tourism-ready economies in Africa.

The World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2015 ranking showed the following realities: South Africa was 48 in global ranking; Seychelles (54), Mauritius (56), Namibia (70), Kenya (78), Cape Verde (86), Botswana (88), Tanzania (93), Rwanda (98) and Zambia (107). Where was Nigeria?

Since the countries were ranked on the basis of factors and policies that were emplaced to enable the sustainable development of the sector, as well as to help countries adapt their policies towards achieving their travel and tourism potential, Nigeria has the task to rejig her tourism policies and retool the administrative infrastructure that will drive the development process through the sector.

Retooling the administrative infrastructure entails putting an end to inconsistency and undue political influence in the appointment of outsiders or politicians to head an agency that should strictly benefit from the know-how of technocrats working within the sector to ensure consistency and organisational discipline.

The acting Director General of NTDC, Mrs Mariel Rae-Omoh, a thoroughbred tourism sector professional, who has been a strategic player in the Corporation for more than two decades, is an asset and a round peg in a round hole to redirect focus in the sector that has incredible potential to generate growth, create jobs and spin mega bucks in foreign exchange into the nation’s coffers.

The ball is, therefore, in Rae-Omoh’s court to come up with new paradigms that will help transform the tourism sector potential into practical realities. She must define the scope of the paradigms that her leadership has packaged to make Nigeria a preferred tourism destination.

Reports from the grapevine said her leadership is committed to reclaiming the lost glory of the NTDC as a formidable rallying point for coordination, direction and implementation of tourism policies. Many moribund and still initiatives are expected to come alive. The 2006 Tourism Master Plan, whose objective was to launch the sector as a viable economic alternative, is one of such initiatives. The “Tourism House”, that has purportedly gulped millions of naira in funds mobilisation and yet has remained in the realm of imagination, is yet another.

The new leadership of NTDC has what it takes to generate funds for the nation from tourism sector development, considering the fact that the Corporation no longer enjoys the free rains of funds that President Olusegun Obasanjo made possible through the setting up of a Presidential Council on Tourism under the superintendence of a previous leadership at the Corporation.

Sadly, there are no legacies of sustainable revenue earning initiatives in the tourism sector that can, arguably, be attributed to the previous leaderships of the Corporation. They were outsiders who benefitted from appointments to the headship of the NTDC on the altar of political considerations. Therefore, decisions were taken to suit political interests at the expense of professional and institutional interest.

Consider, for instance, the matter of internally generated revenue (IGR) from regulation, classification and grading of hotels. Under a previous leadership, the NTDC, working with Lagos along those lines, was said to be generating more than seventy percent of its IGR from the state. The NTDC and Lagos State Government purportedly agreed to share the IGR 50 percent apiece. The NTDC, for three years, allegedly reneged. Lagos instituted a court case against NTDC on the issue up to the Supreme Court and won. The Corporation consequently lost a critical source of IGR.

As it is now, the Corporation is solely dependent on budgetary provisions. And this is one issue the new leadership, according to feelers, has decided to address by planning to go into Public Private Partnership (PPP) to develop potential tourism sites across the country to generate revenue. Besides, Rae-Omoh was recently reported to have set up a seven-member committee to work with the Institute for Tourism Practitioners (ITP) to facilitate the Corporation’s access to the United Nations’ Tourism Intervention Funds to ensure sustainable tourism development in Nigeria.

Rae-Omoh, going by the report, said that the Corporation needed the intervention fund to facilitate adequate development and promotion of the tourism assets in the country, as according to her, “we cannot depend on the budget alone to do the needful in the industry. That is why we must maximally explore Private Public Partnership (PPP) and other international funds and grants.”

There are also feelers that the new leadership, which has promised to be transparent in the administration of the Corporation, is at the moment stepping up a number of things including working in synergy with the National Assembly for necessary legislative support; organising tourism fairs at weekends on the premises of the Corporation, and promoting youth and student tourism, among others.

All hands seem to be on deck; there seems to be leadership focus, commitment and sincere disposition to transparent administration. Is the tourism sector in for a new lease of life? The answer is in the womb of time.

-Mr Ojeifo, journalist and publisher, sent in this piece via ojwonderngr@yahoo.com