Since the commencement of the 8th Senate under the leadership of Senator Bukola Saraki, tourism in Nigerian has received some attention. The most recent legislative intervention in tourism was the public hearing on the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (Repeal and Amendment) Act held last week in Abuja. Omolola Itayemi reportsT

ourism industry stakeholders understand the need to have a smooth ground for business to thrive, that’s why it took little or no prodding from the members of the Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism for a full house appearance in Abuja last week. This is in fulfillment of the constitutional process of passing the Nigeria Tourism Development Authority, (NTDA) ACT CAP N137LFN, 2004 9 Repeal and Enactment) Bill , 2017 (SB.429).

This Committee has distinguished itself as having a rare interest in the development of tourism by ensuring the planting and entrenching of the fundamental legislations necessary for the sector to blossom and for seamless exploration and enhancement of tourism potentialities by the nation and its citizens. It is on the record that barely eight weeks ago, the same committee under the leadership of Senator Matthew Urhoghide gathered stakeholders at the same venue for imputation of their views, contribution and input into NIHOTOUR Bill 2017 which was successfully conducted and applauded  by the stakeholders.

Senator Urhoghide said: “It is needless to mention that the act which established some of these agencies under our purview made them mere agencies while other exist without any law to back their existence. All we are doing is to provide for those that do not have and amend those acts which do not allow such agencies to operate to meet with set objectives and to generate revenue to do so.

 “The NTDC was established through an Act in 1992. The act since its enactment has not gone through any form of review or amendment despite the country having passed through several years of socio-political and economic changes. The Act like most laws made under the military regime is characterised with so many inadequacies and shortcomings. We will be doing the country evil if we do not review, amend and enact a new set of laws which are in consonance with global trend.”

 “The only law existing in Nigeria prior to this Bill is the NTDC Act of 1992, which this Bill seeks to repeal and enact. In addition, the subject matter of the Bill is under the legislative purview of the National Assembly. Hence, the Bill does not violate any existing law in Nigeria,” Urhoghide said.

Opening the deliberation, the Senate President and other senators took great objection to the absence of the Minister of Information, and Culture, who “failed to send any representation after he was appropriately informed, invited and acknowledged about this Bill which is for a major parastatal under his ministry”. Although a Deputy Director who claimed to be representing the Minister, had no paper or message delivered than “my Minister has sent me here to apologise for his inability to be here”. This action according to Na’llah, reiterated the need for a separation which is imperative to enable the tourism sector enjoy autonomy for rapid development.

“Our ministries have never been helpful in anything developmental. So, the long and short of the story is that the Senate wants to give freedom to the parastatals, particularly the culture and tourism sector,” Na’llah said.

Folorunso Folarin Coker, Director General NTDC, commenced the discussion over the Bill after Urhoghide had set the rules and educated stakeholders on the essence of the Bill. Coker with rich history in the hospitality industry understands the times and what is expected of the agency. Speaking from the heart, in a no-holds barred speech, he appealed to the economic sensibilities and patriotism of the stakeholders: “We are in times of great changes, the economic order of the past is gradually  becoming invalid, slow in operation,  passive and skewed against the tide of ultra-fast, hi-net, e-net  financial and economic globalisation templates. We cannot continue to toe the old path of doing tourism business via the old order.

“The old order is fastened and aided by old statutes, order, laws which bear no relevance, and of obsolete, antiquated, mis-matched with the dictate of modern technology. Though, the new order respects the ancient and traditional immeasurable heritage sites, museums, wonderful falls, eco- caves, wonders of the worlds, beaches, geographical but needs to entwine and align with the refreshing breath of modern templates of doing business.”

“Let us collectively shun our present situations and personal posturing by embracing an altruistic perspective of advocating the best for the tourism sector. It is not about me as the Director–General of NTDC today, it is not about the Senate or members of the Senate Committee with definitive tenure, but it is about the economy of this country. It is about the image of this country. It is about making the sector decent, neat, alluring, and attractive for investors and investment and for you the stakeholders and practitioners. It is all about having a tourism sector which all of us can be proud of and happy to sell. It is about the practitioners and the market getting the best of each other. It is about the present economy and the future prosperity.  It is about you, me, the nation and our future. I enjoin you to support the Bill.”

Flowing from the recent comments of the NTDC, DG, Mr. Folarin Coker, the tourism sphere is set to be opened up to both international and domestic tour operators. To ensure that there is a credible precedent, the bill seeks the establishment of a Tour Operating Company which will be run commercially. This replaces the National Travel Bureau which was a feature of the old 1992 act.

Going into joint-venture partnerships with states and other stakeholders to drive tourism is another new feature in the proposed act.

The proposed act also seeks to accredit all hospitality and tourism establishments in all states of the federation. This signposts a new NTDC which is now evolving into a regulator/administrator in line with global best practice.

A carry-over from the extant Act is the establishment of the Hotel Inspectorate Division to monitor the accreditation, classification and grading of hospitality outfits as well as collect fees and impose sanctions imposed on defaulters.  

Dropped totally in the proposed act is mention of State Tourism Boards or Local Government Tourism Committees. This may be in line with the new democratic dispensation which allows the states to operate tourism in their jurisdictions. Instead, NTDC intends going into joint-venture partnerships with states and other stakeholders to drive tourism, another new feature in the proposed act.

The bill seeks the establishment of a Tourism Development Fund which will fund tourism development and tourism-related projects and programmes. The fund is also expected to be applied to the marketing and promotion of tourism within and outside Nigeria. 

Furthermore, it will be applied to capacity building, market research and development of tourism infrastructure as well as the development and promotion of other tourism-related entrepreneurial activities. Tourism export trade-oriented activities of institutions and tourism and training will be financed by the Fund.

A Tourism Development Levy provision on the other hand regularises an already existing charge on international airline tickets and visa fees. This prescribes a tourism visa fee for inbound travellers. The establishment of the levy also means a tourism departure levy for outbound travellers.

Bankole Bernard, President National Association of Travel Agencies (NANTA) and CEO Finchglow travels gave such brilliant summations in support of the bill. 

He had no objection to the Bill and commended the Senate particularly the Senate Committee of Culture and Tourism for its stride at moving the sector forward. A poster-child for Tourism and Travel in the social-media age, Bernard pointed out significant areas the legislators need to work on in helping NTDC achieve its aim of enhancing inclusive economic growth and development of our economy.   

Four major parts of the Bill were spotted, Regulation, Membership of the Board of Governing Board, and Sources of Funding of the Authority and Operation of Tour Company.

All these were clinically examined, sieved and peer comparison were made to and agreed that the Bill was not out of the tune in some of these areas of controversies going by countries which are today raking in fortunes out of tourism.

The public hearing  came to an end with the stakeholders calling on the Federal Government to remove Tourism from the Ministry of Information and make it a full Ministry like in other countries and at best a  Department under the Presidency.