Rabo Saleh: FTAN is Aiming to Grow Domestic Tourism Market  

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Last month in Abuja, Nigeria’s foremost tourism association, the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) at its 20th AGM & Election, showed the world its desire to revamp the industry by installing new executives with Malam Rabo Saleh emerging as the president. Despite Saleh and a good number of the executives emerging unopposed through voice vote, his antecedent in the sector cannot be overlooked. He took Munzali Dantata’s All States Travels out of the woods and made it profitable again. Intelligent and urbane, Saleh is one of Abuja, top travel managers. In this interview with OMOLOLA ITAYEMI he speaks on his plans for the sector

What is the relevance of FTAN to tourism development in Nigeria?

FTAN is the umbrella body of all tourism and hospitality associations in Nigeria. FTAN is a legal entity; duly incorporated in Nigeria, hence is represents the organised private sector in Nigeria’s hospitality and tourism industry. Our membership includes different associations of hoteliers, travel agencies, tour operators, tourism academia, travel journalists, national dance groups, cultural artisans and several other allied practitioners. Hence, FTAN by default, is the pressure group for the development of tourism as an economic asset base in Nigeria. At presently, we constitute the largest investors in the Nigerian tourism industry. In addition to contributing to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Products, our members employ thousands of Nigerian across the country. In the same vein, our members form the bulk of tourism intellectuals, including tourism lectures, travel journalists and the general academia at Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.

The objective of FTAN is to be the sounding board that government uses to formulate tourism related policies. We are the most risk-exposed tourism stakeholders that partner with government organs to guide strategic tourism development decisions.

What are your plans for the associations?

We campaigned on repositioning FTAN with bankable action plans that include decentralising FTAN executive powers to the geopolitical zones, active support of state governments in domestic tourism services, as well as, proactively marketing Nigeria at identified tourist source markets, such as the Americas.

Our plans are not only for FTAN, but more about, unleashing FTAN member associations’ capacity to jump-start domestic and inbound tourism industry in Nigeria. It is public knowledge that Nigeria gets less than 3% of tourist receipts in Africa. In fact, available data reveals that annually we export far more tourists than we receive!

Beware that funding of FTAN activities is a challenge. To resolve our internal financial insufficiency, we plan to engage financial advisers to guide our choice of investment projects. It is high time FTAN invests in financial vehicles that would generate revenue for the federation on a monthly basis. More so, we would reach out to government ministries, particularly Ministries of Aviation and Transport, to facilitate the repatriation of relevant taxes for tourism development.

What is your vision for tourism development in Nigeria?

The newly elected FTAN Executive members would have a retreat between August 4 and 5 to roll out Implementation plans and Milestones to immediately get tourism entrepreneurship on track, especially at the tourist host communities, with standardised tourist services delivered by our members operating at every destination in Nigeria.

Presently, there is dearth of data about tourism consumption and market patterns, inter and intra Nigeria. Hence, our government has been driving-blind with regards to their actions and inactions about tourism. It is heartbreaking to see the nomenclature of the former Ministry of Culture and Tourism changed to Information and Culture! Personally, I feel that the nomenclature decision was made because the government had no access to incontrovertible data that evidently shows the impact of tourism receipts on Nigeria’s economy.

So, in partnership with multinational organizations and Nigeria Bureau of Statistics, we would immediately set up structures to collate tourist data at all leading tourist destinations in Nigeria, as well as, from our international tourist source markets. So that, going forward, we would knowledgably engage and partner with relevant governments based on available and verifiable data. Let me just say, we are very focused on what we want to achieve and very ambitious too.

Explain the type of support and synergy you expect from MDAs?

Well, ab itinio, we are going to sell win-win programmes to MDAs. FTAN member associations are arguably the most risk-exposed tourism stakeholders in Nigeria, but the government, at states and national levels, are constitutionally the arbiters to our industry growth. The government literally pulls the puppet strings. And we know what government wants, such as improved tax revenue from tourism operators and employment generation for the youth, women and rural dwellers.

Invariably, we would partner government to guarantee expanded revenue generation from tourism. And in turn, demand improved statutory services from government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). Very importantly, we would quickly align with the Ease of Doing Business drive of the present government, so as to include templates that facilitate inbound Nigeria tourism.

What are your propositions to work with state governments on tourism development?

Tourism is community based; hence most tourist attractions are naturally domiciled at rural host communities. States in Nigeria are therefore custodians of culture heritage and natural landmarks. In that context, we consider it pertinent to work as a team with the custodians of Nigeria’s tourism assets. Accordingly, FTAN would work with States to midwife tourism destination management programmes to market their destinations and also improve the quality of tourist services in host communities.   Eventually, we would liaise with State governments and the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) to formulate Local Government Tourism Committees for easy tourism administration at the local level, where theattractions are based, in line with the tourism master plan.

What strategies do you have for domestic tourism market growth across Nigeria?

It would be presumptuous to let the cat of the bag now. Like I earlier said, we have an impending FTAN Executive Members retreat in August, where we would harmonize our propositions and come out with a working template for catalyzing tourism development across Nigeria. Nevertheless, I would give you a peek into some of my personal thoughts regarding ‘strategy for domestic tourism market growth’.

First, and foremost, I think we must conduct basic Nigerian tourism market research to ascertain the needs and buying patterns of Nigeria’s domestic tourism markets across the travel seasons. So that, based on the research findings, we would embark on massive but surgical marketing and promotion of individual destinations suiting the markets demography.

Have in mind that we are in the business of selling sweet memorable experiences to tourists. World over tourism is a major service industry, so we must emphasize on giving tourists exactly the experience we promised them when marketing our destinations.

How do you plan to involve tourism destinations and host communities for better tourist experience?

Our strategy is to systematically involve local host communities in day to day handling of tourists. In this regard, the best practice from global leading tourism destinations is that, host communities supervise the tourism activities in their locality such as being the primary food chain suppliers, tour guides, security vigilante, souvenirs and handcraft sales, traditional entertainment, and many other direct tourist services.

Consequently, the State governments would have to deploy their internal revenue generation structures at such host communities to collect tourist taxes and other levies which in turn must be shared with members of tourist host communities. You see, it is not enough for the host communities to simply earn direct income from tourists based on the services they provide.

The best practice here is for the tourist host communities to participate as stakeholders in the state government’s tourism ventures. And the most effective way to get the communities’ total buy-in is when state governments give some percentage of the revenue generated at the tourist host communities back to them. And the communities need to know the fact of such arrangements before-hand, that way they see the success of their community as a tourist destination pivotal eradicating poverty and improving their collective livelihood.

Does FTAN have plans to bring foreign tourists into Nigeria for inbound tourism?

Most certainly, but we must get it right with the domestic tourism market before expecting foreign tourists to come in droves. Nevertheless, we would resort to the findings from the research we would commission to identify Nigeria’s tourist source markets abroad.

So before we start marketing Nigeria abroad, we must be very sure, based on verifiable facts, in what continent and countries are there large concentration tourists that find Nigeria’s tourism product appealing. It may interest you to know that every tourism country has a comparative advantage with which to effectively compete with other international destinations. For us in Nigeria, our main tourist attraction is the diversity of our cultural heritage. So, in marketing Nigeria we would ascertain what countries are interested in African, that is, Nigerian culture and simply execute targeted marketing and promotions at those countries. This would include roadshows, exhibition, mass advertisements and, very importantly, social media marketing campaigns.

Where do you see Nigeria’s tourism industry by the end of your tenure?

Interesting, our determined goal is to richly grow the domestic tourism market in Nigeria. Specifically we want to see significant improvement in our hospitality services, enrich our destination tourist facilities, increase the number of recorded tourist arrivals at tourist sites, ensure significant increase in the contribution of tourism to Nigeria’s GDP and other internal generated revenue for States in Nigeria.

We are very confident that we shall achieve and exceed these targets in the next three to four years, God willing.