Stakeholders and practitioners in the hospitality and tourism industry recently spoke with one voice to condemn the latest sacrilege against its apex body, the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation in the “National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) Bill 2016.“ The bill seeks to effectively extend the control of the institute in industry practice. With the calibre of stakeholders and umpire in the person of the Chairman, Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism, Mathew Urhoghide, a temporary truce was found. OMOLOLA ITAYEMI examines the need for a well-defined NIHOTOUR bill that sticks to its original founding mission

Folorunsho Folarin-Coker, helmsman at the apex tourism parastatal, NTDC, is not known for theatrics. His works speak for him. If and when he speaks, as he did at the June 15 public hearing of Tourism and Hospitality Institute Bill sponsored by the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR), there is the need to listen to him. The National Association of Nigerian Travel Agents NANTA, the Nigerian Association for Tour Operators NATOP; the Association of Tourism Practitioners of Nigeria, ATPN, and many other associations lined up to oppose the bill on.

An impressed Senator Mathew Urhoghide couldn’t help but applaud such a large and highly passionate crowd of stakeholders and practitioners, such crowd he reiterated could only be seen during times of budget defense. The Bill seeks for an Act to provide for the Establishment of the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) for Training of Personnel and Regulation of Professional Personnel Practices and Services of Hospitality and Tourism Activities in Nigeria and other related matters.

 Sadly, Chika Balogun, DG of NIHOTOUR failed to show up at the hearing sending two officials of her agency to represent her.

The NIHOTOUR bill, which intends to assume powers to regulate, discipline players and operators, empower the Minister to appoint members of the governing council of the school, as captured on parts III, VI, VII, VIII, are fraught with vexatious interpretations and consequences. Unfortunately, NIHOTOUR is not a child of happenstance as some think, it was a well-thought out plan. In the quest to make tourism become an important sector that has an impact on development of the country’s economy, NIHOTOUR was established in 1987 through a tripartite agreement between the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), International Labor Organization (ILO), and the federal government and saw the commencement of training activities in 1988. In the beginning, though, where there was critical man-power shortage, the institute was made a department and the training wing of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation before it gained autonomy in 1998.

The main benefits of tourism are income creation and generation of jobs which is one place NIHOTOUR serves to make an impact by training workers, constantly certifying and recertifying industry players and disciplining offending institutes. Many believe that Balogun with NIHOTOUR has a very large level playing field without infringing on the right of other sister-agencies. Rhet say it is better for Balogun to channels her energy towards making NIHOTOUR one of the top colleges of tourism in West Africa like Utalli College in Kenya instead of trying to become a trainer, a court and a regulator at the same.

There are many complaints about the quality of courses offered in the institute and accreditation issues that should be addressed. Stakeholders said NIHOTOUR should stick to functions such as registering hospitality and tourism practitioners for the purpose of training and stop being ambiguous and unduly broad giving room for invasion of NTDC responsibility. Also, disciplining offenders should not extend beyond personnel.

They argued that regulation of and punishment of hospitality and tourism establishments should be outside of the purview of the institute, because where this happens, it strips the corporation of its regulatory powers in that respect creating a direct conflict with the power of the corporation’s inspector under section 15 of the act.

The ability of the national economy to benefit from tourism depends on the availability of investment and laws put in place to develop the necessary infrastructure and conducive environment for tourism to thrive. But how can NTDC thrive if it is stripped of its functions. Remember, it has the 2013 Supreme Court judgment in favour of Lagos state to contend with.

In the Hospitality and Tourism Establishment (Registration, Grading, and Classification) regulation bye-law enacted by the Federal Government in 1997, Section 1, Sub-Section 3 of that bye-law provides that no person shall operate a hospitality or Tourism establishment ‘unless he has obtained and in possession of a current certificate of registration from the Corporation,’ which by implication confers on the NTDC the duty of a regulator. It was the view of the Supreme Court that the NTDC Act went beyond its powers as stated in the Exclusive Legislative List of the Constitution which is to regulate “tourist traffic”. 

This effectively challenged the constitutionality of the NTDC’s powers to unilaterally regulate and control hotels and tourism in Nigeria. The court therefore validated the respective laws of Lagos State. And this is another area NIHOTOUR bill seeks to act on.

So one can understand where Coker and the rest of the industry are coming from. 

There is the need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water as noted by Urhoghide. He explained that the Bill was not meant to override any parastatal, but to put them in their proper perspectives and define their roles. 

“We are not against the bill, we are only asking for amendment of some sections in the Bill which create conflict and clash of operations, especially on the legal and structural framework of the agency so as to make way for improved operations,” he pointed out.

Senate Commends Ojo-Lanre

The Senate Committee on Tourism has commended the National President, Nigerian Guild of Tourism Editors and Nigerian Tribune Newspapers’ Tourism Editor, Wale Ojo-Lanre, for underscoring the need for the establishment of a separate Ministry of Tourism.

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Tourism, Mathew Urhoghide, who gave the commendation during the public hearing of the bill sent to the senate, said, “The Tribune Tourism Editor, Wale Ojo-Lanre, made one of the best submissions thus far.”

Ojo-Lanre submitted that to ensure a speedy and pragmatic development of the tourism industry in the country, there should be a separate Ministry of Tourism.

He said, “It’s good for NIHOTOUR to be legally established as a proper training centre, the contentious section in the bill should also be expunged.”

 He added out that serious tourism-conscious countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Ghana, Gambia, South Africa, and others, have separate Ministry for the tourism industry.