Folarin-Coker Returns as NTDC Boss

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One minute, Folorunsho Folarin-Coker was steering the ship of Lagos State tourism, wowing us with the ‘One Lagos’ brand with so much dynamism and savoir faire, the next he was out in a cabinet reshuffle. He returns as the new DG, Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) 24 hours after being named Director-General of the National Film and Video Censors Board. Is Coker the messiah NTDC needs now or just a cat with nine lives. Omolola Itayemi  reports

It’s been one hell of a battle as tourism gladiators battled for the most prestigious job in the sector – Director General of NTDC but only one winner emerged at the end of the day, Folorunsho Folarin-Coker, former Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Lagos State and hospitality top shot who some say wasn’t even one of those seriously contending for the position.

 For outsiders, it looked like not much was happening, well except for the controversial three acting director generals in the last 5 months since Sally Uwechue-Mbanefo left. Don’t be deceived, a lot of lobbying was on-going and the CV’s of candidates dropped at the presidency was more than 50, THISDAY Travel and Lesiure learnt. 

Now that the dust has settled and we can move on, we need to remind Coker of how much trust has been placed on him. In the absence of a tourism ministry, he has become the de facto minister with a lot of influence and power in the industry. But, unlike previous years, stakeholders comprising private sector and media are very concerned about happenings in the industry and every action taken will be closely scrutinised.

Now that the ministry is gone, the federal government must build the capacity of NTDC, increase funding, and early release of allocation, and most importantly, it must be allowed/enabled it to generate revenue because mere marketing and promotion responsibilities as it stands, cannot grow local or international patronage.

The NTDC is an agency under the Ministry of Information and Culture and the apex tourism agency in Nigeria. Established in 1992 with the promulgation of Decree 81, which is now an act of the National Assembly, the corporation is charged with marketing and promoting Nigeria’s tourism assets with a view to making Nigeria the foremost tourist destination in Africa. Part of its mandate is to make tourism a major pillar of the economy and help reduce dependence on oil as a source of foreign exchange earnings.

An advocate of domestic tourism, going by his antecedents in Lagos State, he will definitely enjoy good support from the president and members of the Presidential Committee On Tourism (PCT) who share the passion of boosting domestic tourism. Secondly, his predecessor, Uwechue-Mbanefo who is also a strong advocate of domestic tourism has done a lot of groundwork in that area to enable him a good start.

But certain things must be put in place to help make Nigeria a destination such as fostering a smooth relationship between the private sector and the government. We need to let go of the subtle warfare between both which hasn’t achieved much in the past and won’t do now. With the recent agitations from stakeholders comprising private sector and the media, and admission by the government to make tourism one of the pillars of the economy, running NTDC will not be a walk in the park but I know it’s something he can do well.

To grow the sector in Nigeria, our arrivals has to improve and Coker did well in this regard in Lagos State. This is one expertise he will have to deploy now because without figures you cannot plan. In 2014, over 4 million people came into the country via our airports, regrettably, most of these visitors are Nigerians returning home that does not fit the description and definition of tourists. The National Bureau of Statistics with other related bodies will have to step up their game. Some of the practitioners have in the past accused NBS of undermining the contribution of the sector to the Gross Domestic Product which is one of the reasons that ultimately led to the scrapping of the ministry. The Nigerian Immigration Service is also indicted here; we should be able to get figures from them. NBS inability to use modern and internationally prescribed standards for measuring Nigeria’s travel and tourism contribution to GDP which has failed the sector over the years for limiting its tracking to mere accommodation and Food Services/ Arts, Entertainment and Recreation. The Bureau’s approach fails to capture International Conventions and Agreements of the United Nations Statistical Commission approved in 2000 neither has it used the Tourism Satellite Account conceptual framework as a new international standard for measuring the sector’s contribution to the GDP.

The TSA takes the form of a basic system of concepts, classifications, definitions, tables and aggregates linked to the standard tables of 1993 System of National Accounts from a functional perspective. Without a doubt, the estimation of the expenditure associated with the different forms of tourism (inbound, domestic and outbound) is the main priority. Finally, estimation of total visitor consumption takes into account the number of trips (estimated by the arrivals/ departures of visitors) and the average daily expenditure by visitors.

With an annual departure of almost 4 million passengers, the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) generated (N197, 599,911,988.00) about 80% of all international airlines ticket sales in Nigeria between January 2013 and January 2014. This was not captured as tourism earnings. Same goes for land and water transportation.

We don’t even know how many hotels we have. If we don’t have figures, how can we allocate resources to help the sector? Though there are no accurate figures on hotels and accommodation providers in Nigeria, practitioners are of the opinion that there are close to 15,000 or more hotels of various categories.

No one is more important in tourism than your front desk officers, the first point of contact on arrival in any country. From immigration to Nigeria Customs to Port Health, their comportment towards visitors and tourists can be better. Nigerian Citizens have constantly complained of not being treated right. If we are serious about tourism, these officers need to be trained to be more tourism-savvy. Also, we need to think about introducing tourism police like in other climes.

Never has it been most pertinent for the various associations in the industry play a strong role in growing the industry. NATOP and NANTA have witnessed a surge in agitation for a better industry with their respective heads of recent. Asides these agitations, the roles of these associations in growing the industry are huge especially in a country where the government pays lip service to tourism. NURTW with its huge impact on tourism, being one of the main means of movement especially with domestic tourism is non-existent in tourism industry circles. Very sad because it’s role here is also as important as NANTA.

Never has it been more pertinent than now for NTDC to have a DG who understands tourism in these times, one who has a full grasp of tourism in the age of the new media and one who understands what it takes to define, curate and maintain a destination like Nigeria. It is time to get the ball rolling, bring out the tourism potentials of every state and let’s roll it into one big pie that brings in the dough. As Bankole Bernard, NANTA president said, tourism is the low hanging fruit that can get us out of this recession.