Before now, there was great hoopla over the contents of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) Amendment Bill to the extent that it would seem that all that mattered for tourism to happen in Nigeria was the passing or the rejection of the NTDC Bill. To be true, a lot of outcomes depend on the implementation of the law when it becomes an act, but the areas covered by the bill pale when compared to the expectations of the Nigerian tourism sector, especially its contributions to the Nigerian economy. One thing we cannot take away from all of these is the freedom this law gives to individuals as NTDC morphs into  NTDA. Omolola Itayemi  writes 

So, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) Amendment Bill has been passed by the Senate. When eventually signed into law, NTDC will cease to be a corporation and will now become an authority, Nigerian Tourism Development Authority, NTDA. As its new name implies, the ‘Authoriry’ will ensure the birth of a new dawn for the prarastatal in order to position Nigeria as a tourism hub in Africa. 

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) in its 2017 report projected that tourism contribution to GDP would rise by 1.1% in 2017, and a further rise by 3.6% pa, from 2017-2027, to NGN2,680.7bn (USD10.6bn), 1.6% of total GDP in 2027 up from the direct contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP of NGN1,861.4bn (USD7.4bn), 1.7% of total GDP in 2016. Before now, travel and tourism performance of both Nigeria and South Africa had been declining. International tourism receipts for June 2017 for both countries show declines by 8.9% and 5.1% respectively.

Nigeria’s declining fortunes in international tourism receipts were quickly recognised by the Director General, NTDC, Mr. Folorunsho Folarin-Coker, who on assumption of office, said that Nigeria had suffered a lot of negative perception.

“How could you sell Nigeria at a time when we were suffering from very negative news? Have you considered the amount of terror attacks going on at that particular period? That was what dominated global media about Nigeria. Then you come to say ‘Fascinating Nigeria’. Are you believable?”

He said that the way forward was “to reverse the negative narratives on Nigerian tourism; promote our diverse heritage; create new tourism channels, while shaping the positive perception of its citizens.”

The NTDC went on to launch the ‘Tour Nigeria’ brand. Tour Nigeria is a domestic tourism-driven vehicle on which essential tourism initiatives are being pushed. It is a no-brainer as to why this is the main foray of the new NTDC thrust. According to 2017 Jumia Hospitality report, domestic tourism accounted for 97% of tourism contribution to GDP in 2016. Then, 2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism which focuses on domestic tourism. UNWTO aims to promote tourism in areas such as inclusive and sustainable economic growth, social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction, resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change, Cultural values, diversity and heritage and mutual understanding, peace and security

With the passing of the new NTDC Bill, domestic tourism is expected to be vigorously pursued through the provision of infrastructure and the promotion of activities in the areas of tourist attractions and festivals of food, fashion and culture, entertainment, water tourism, historic sites, museums, parks, game reserves, beaches, natural beauty spots, holiday resorts, and souvenir industries.

Interestingly, major changes such as Nigerian Travel Bureau becoming the Tour Operating Company and the Tourism Development Levy being recognised by law will happen. Added to that would be a Tourism Development Fund, which will help the NTDC do the business of tourism development, aside from its statutory funding from the Nigerian federation account. 

Domestic tourism is normally expedited through tour ventures. A ready-made tour operation is the Tour Operating Company, which is established by the proposed NTDC law. This company is expected to serve as a flagship tour operating company in Nigeria. It is expected that it will lead in devising creative tour programmes which will stimulate tourists’ interests both locally and internationally.

The proposed NTDC law provides for the creation of an alliance of tourism enterprises in all the States of the Federation, which will be accredited for the purposes of standardisation, quality assurance, consumer protection and public health and safety. As there are no penalties for non-accreditation, this can best be seen as a persuasive alliance which has its benefits. It would seem then that this provision has been grossly misunderstood. Joining such an alliance seems to mean extra benefits such as international status and recognition by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) of which the Corporation is a country member thereof, eligibility for specific fiscal relief categories and tax exemptions, eligibility for Custom duty exemptions by the Ministry of Finance to encourage infrastructural improvements and development of tourism facilities.

Other benefits are eligibility for financial incentives, subsidy grants and concessionary interest loans from the Tourism Development Fund and promotion of member establishments by the Corporation. The ‘penalty’ for not being part of the alliance may just then be the exclusion from all these.

What may be contentious may be provisions for the setting up of the Hotel inspectorate Division. Without a doubt, the Supreme Court judgement of 2013 which empowers states to license hotels subsists. But the definitions of the words, ‘inspect’, ‘license’, and ‘regulate’ would need to be put in context in order that there would be no blurred lines between NTDC and the states on the administration and control of hotel practice.

The seeming controversies over hotel practice jurisdiction, nevertheless, the just passed NTDC Bill signposts the beginning of a new travel and tourism regime. Already, the DG, NTDC has outlined the cardinal points of his administration in the acronym, CHIEF – Corporate Governance & Regulations, Human Capital Development, Infrastructural Development, Events & Marketing, and Finance & Investment. He had previously spoken about being limited by the lack of proper legislation in the implementation of his programmes.

Much more than all these, Coker reiterates the freedom this law gives to individuals.

“The key to this law is the freedom it gives to the individual. It allows choice. It is based on alliances not enforcement. What is good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the gander. If we are to build a solid domestic platform on which international tourism will rise, we must operate to internationally accredited and recognised standards to which countries not states have access. Thirty six or even 10 different hotel gradings across the nation cannot work. Remember Nitel. 090…. This is the 2001 time in Tourism. A time to invest and do what GSM did to analogue telecommunications. Did Nitel believe in the new telecoms? No. Did they not frustrate it with connectivity issues for the new telcos? Yes. Look at the Nigerian telecoms industry today. Look at the values it represents across Africa. The future is our people. Tourism is the business of Transportation Hospitality and Entertainment. It’s a people business. Invest now for our people or discount the collective future of unborn generations,” he said.

As the administration forges full steam ahead with its plans, it would be a delight to see the extensions of tourism beyond the present platitudes of heritage and cultural tourism to a new medium of cultural expression that has come to dominate in the world. Our music is world-renowned with our musicians winning and competing favourably on the international scene. Our fashion is very strong and our food is currently going through a cosmopolitan metamorphosis that will change its fortunes. Our film is number two in the world. Film production is a big business globally. The film festival is a business on its own and that is where tourism again needs to look at. The Zuma Film Festival in Abuja needs to be like the largest film festival in Africa since the largest business in Africa resides in Nigeria. Something is seriously wrong in terms of how we define our tourism assets and how we use them for business. If you look at sports, we are a sports-loving nation, particularly football. We need to key into that. Of course, there abound a whole lot more to explore and savour in Nigeria because we are hopeful that while we battle the international perception of the lack of peace and stability as a country, as individuals we can take the advantage the new regime offers to begin to exploit and enjoy our country through hospitality and tourism. Viva, NTDA!