The past few weeks bear evidence that the call for Nigerians to embrace travel within their country is being heeded. Advocates for domestic tourism believe there is no better time to explore Nigeriaâ€™s natural beauties and promote its cultural heritage.
Prominent among these advocates are the tour operators through the Nigeria Association of Tour Operators (NATOP). Obviously, they get to benefit immensely from a vibrant and thriving tourism industry in Nigeria.
The umbrella body for tour operators marked World Tourism Day (September 27) by reenergizing old members while also absorbing a new breed of technological-driventravel entrepreneurs into its fold. The medium was an eye-opening and therapeutic cruise of the Lagos Lagoon and the Five Cowrie Creek.
The cruise took in views of Victoria Island, Ikoyi, Banana Island and Lekki, with the iconic Lekki-Ikoyilink bridge one of many picture-worthy moments.
Iddo, Idumota, the Lagos Marina and the Apapa port were other locations participants got to see from a different perspective on their way to an island strip where they paid a courtesy call on a traditional ruler before experiencing a couple of beach resorts.
NATOP President NkeweremOnung addressed the scores who took part in the tour at the Inagbe Beach Resort. He expressed delight at the fusion of new and experienced tour operators and exuded optimism about the future of tourism in Nigeria.
â€œIf the tourism sector is well exploited, it can generate billions of naira for the economy. The sector is full of enormous potential that can be used for national development,â€ Onung affirmed.
World Tourism Day is worth celebrating he said, as the tourism sector had contributed immensely to the development of many countriesâ€™ economy. South Africa, Morocco, Egypt and other North African countries, Kenya and other East African countries are all beneficiaries of the positive impact of tourism on national economies.
According to him however, West African countries with Nigeria at the forefront, need to step up and make their impact felt as the region contributes only 10 per cent to tourism arrivals on the continent.
â€œWe have thousands of beautiful tourist sites and destinations across the 36 states of Nigeria and Abuja, which a lot of people donâ€™t know let alone have the privilege to visit, so it is our responsibility to explore, build content around them and package them for domestic tourists to buy, and in extension attract foreign exchange and visitors,â€ he continued.
To achieve this though, government would need to take an active interest in supporting the business of tour operators, especially the young ones. Their businesses are driven solely by passion, with little economic benefit. If this continues, the passion is bound to die.
To this end, he called on the relevant government agencies to support emerging tour operators, specifically requesting for 20 tour buses to help drive their tours.
Addressing them directly, Onung said, â€œI commend you guys because you are the future of the tourism industry and from your commitment and dedication, I am optimistic we will get to the promised land of tourism, where all the untapped rich potential of the industry will be given the desired attention by the government.â€
A few days after the NATOP tour on World Tourism Day, many of the travel entrepreneurs present led tours to different locations outside Lagos. Despite the challenges (with decaying infrastructure top of the list), tours were packaged to celebrate the commemoration of Nigeriaâ€™s Independence Day.
An interesting hallmark of the tours was the focus on the countryâ€™s natural wonders, especially hills and waterfalls. From IdanreHills to Olumo Rock, from Erin Ijesha waterfalls to Owu waterfalls, the last few weeks hint at a revived interest in Nigeriaâ€™s tourism sites.