I would like to define clearly that tourism is a business, It’s not arts, it’s not culture. 

The Nigerian tourism sphere is set to expand if all goes well with the new initiatives about to be unbundled by the NTDC. Some of the new initiatives would ensure the inclusion of more stakeholders in tourism operations. In a no-holds barred interview with NTDC, DG, Folorunsho Folarin-Coker, he reiterated the need to redefine the tourism sector in Nigeria. OMOLOLA ITAYEMI writes
Expantiate on why the need to redefine the tourism sector?
We need to start within our domain, focusing on consumption of our assets, promotion and development of domestic tourism, which will have multiple effects on job creation and poverty alleviation while strengthening GDP and our currency. These initiatives are contained in a new Tourism Development Road Map with short, medium and long-term objectives about to be made known to the public.
Tourism is responsible for 10 per cent of the global GDP; It is about eight trillion dollars in value; It is responsible for one in eleven jobs, that is more than the oil industry; it is the largest employer of labour in the world, about 292 million people. And strategically, it employs predominantly women and the youth. It is responsible for about 1.4 trillion in foreign exchange; it is responsible for 10 per cent of world trade, and responsible for 30 per cent of service export. Now you can see how important the industry is. And for it to make this huge contribution to any economy, it has to be treated as a serious business. It has to be invested in for you to reap the huge values out of it. So, tourism must be treated as business not as leisure or past time activity that it has always been classified as.
What are the necessary first steps then?
Really, one has to look at critical success and failure factors by evaluating the strength of the NTDC which is its workforce. They must rededicate themselves to the charter of their employment and the crop of them should be salaried appropriately. After which, we must appraise the weakness of the sector, have a product or marketable products to sell. Then, we must review the opportunities that exist which are many, varied and multifarious; look at the low hanging fruits without their enhancements and finally we must clinically dissect the threats, chief of which is the dearth of a competent legal framework for the sector to blossom.
What is the Road-map all about?
This road map contains a five-point strategic action plan to create innovation and improve service-delivery in the tourism sector.
The plan which goes by the acronym – CHIEF – embodies Corporate Governance & Regulations, Human Capital Development, Infrastructural Development,
Events & Marketing and Finance & Investment. These represent the key components of travel which are travel, accommodation and entertainment/hospitality.
Who are the stakeholders driving this initiative?
The stakeholders to operate under this new initiative include airlines, hotels, car hire services, tour operators, and other interested businesses that can generate affordable packaged tours to encourage Nigerians to tour Nigeria.
To make this all work together, it is expected that stakeholders in the value chain at Federal, State, and Local Government levels as well as in the private sector would work together to drive the market with the Tour Nigeria brand. Everyone in the value chain of tourism must work together and be ready to drive the market with a new brand Tour Nigeria.
So basically, it’s about Tour Nigeria?
The Tour Nigeria project ties in with the injection of the new thinking at NTDC. I would like to define clearly that tourism is a business. It’s not arts, it’s not culture. It consumes the products of culture that throw up a unique art. It’s business. There’s a general misunderstanding, especially in government, where tourism is deemed arts and culture. No. By default, the people have a culture. The culture throws up a unique art.
Tourism is the business of transportation and hospitality that consumes those things that culture throws up. I’m honestly not looking at the millions of dollar-earning foreigners charging into Nigeria and spending the same kind of money they spend in Rio or Ibiza. The only way we are going to grow that international market is if we have a strong domestic market. In America in winter, they move from New York to Miami. In the UK, they move from London to Brighton. Those domestic industries are shock resistant because it’s dependent on the people there. Nigeria has immense power with a population of close to 200 million with 76 per cent mobile penetration. You have three billion impressions a day, people who spend three hours daily on their mobile devices. That is soft power. Some of you using social media to drive your businesses, that is the power you are unleashing. In keeping with global best practices, tourism along the lines of country comparative advantage, we have music which pretty much dominates Africa and is heard all over the world. We have film; Nollywood is number two in the world, at least by numbers. And you can’t tell me you don’t see the influence of Nigeria’s fashion on world trends. When you take music, film, fashion; this is lifestyle. Lifestyle is simply our new ways of cultural expression. So instead of the Atilogu dancers all the time, you can have Wizkid and Davido.
So what is the new direction for heritage tourism?
I would like to look at the financing using the titles of some of our traditional destinations. These titles could be used to raise funds for the site development. Clusters are also need to be developed around these sites to stimulate productivity and commerce, generating revenue in the process.
The new NTDC bill when passed would serve as a fillip for the new direction of Nigerian tourism?
Looking at the regulatory framework, the NTDC was set up in 1992. Looking at 1992 and today, so much has changed. Before, everything was advertised in the newspaper, now it’s online. How much was a dollar in 1992, how much is a dollar today? What is the demand for tourism today? What is our population? So many things have changed. But the legal framework that governs the tourism industry is still from 1992. Thankfully, the senate has looked into this issue and hopefully, new laws would be passed to help vitalise and reinvigorate the tourism industry in Nigeria. By having a well fettered legal framework, duly passed and assented to by the legislature and the executive we can have a viable, vibrant, productive, progressive and economically rewarding tourism sector. But we need to consider that the absence of a legal framework in the constitution and statutes has slowed down the advancement of the tourism sector.  Hence, we have initiated the NTDA, Act N137 LFN, 2004 (Repeal and Enactment) Bill 2017 (SB 429).