Â In this interview with Ugo Aliogo, the Vice-President, Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria, South-east zone, Mrs. Ngozi Ngoka, discusses the challenges facing the tourism sector and how to move the sector forward. Excerpts:
May we meet you
My name is Ngozi Ngoka, Vice President, Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) South-East, Zone with oversight functions for Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States, South East Nigeria
What is the focus of this trip and what is the key for you?
Our focus is primarily to walk journalists and tour operators through the amazing historical and cultural sites in South east, using well researched sample itineraries that will appeal to both local and international tourists, with the hope that the exposure will drive tourism traffic to the zone and help generate income for the communities, where these tourism sites are located, plus ultimately boost the businesses of our federating members.
Our federating members have businesses that cover the whole spectra of the tourism chain from transportation, accommodation/feeding to site seeing/entertainment. In other words: how to get to the South east and how to move around; where to stay; what/where to eat and what to do, while you are in South east, Nigeria. It is our hope that our invited guests will help tell our story and highlight where government and private investors can come in and help provide standard access roads and other infrastructure around the sites we have identified.
What are other tourism activities lined for the year?
Late this year, in the last quarter precisely, we have concluded plans to stage the first Food and Fashion Fare fair where attendees would have the opportunity to sample food and fashion from the South east. The three day event will also include trainings for the exhibitors on presentation and packaging. We will have lawyers come talk to them about business start-ups and intellectual property and bankers and insurance companies will be there to market loan and insurance.
FTAN South East will also showcase the tourism investment opportunities we have identified and collated during panel discussions with the governments of the five states of the region as well as with potential investors that will participate in the panel discussions. We will use the fair to emphasise our tourism selling points, properly package them for local and international markets; and increase/improve on the customer experience of visitors to the zone. We also hope to introduce discussions about drawing up a tourism development master plan for the region. Due to its geographical configuration, common culture, the fact the we currently have three airports servicing the region and the relatively short distance between the major cities and tourism sites scattered all over the region, it is imperative that the five states of the region harness their strategic tourism development plans. I make this case in my discussions with the various state governments.
- You have studied tourism development and have been a key player in the sector since 1999. Can you explain in detail the South East tourism sector especially the performance of the sector in this region and how the potentials of the sector can be harnessed to yield growth?
South East Nigeria is a tourism haven for so many reasons. The area is naturally endowed with many historical and cultural sites, local and renowned Artists, enterprising and hospitable people, good delicacies and of course everyone knows that the transportation business was made and perfected by the people of the region.
Also, the fact that the zone has common cultural practices for tourists to contend with makes tour planning and guiding easy and the experience stress free. So if I were to assign themes for tourism development for the zone, I would say; rural tourism; community-based tourism; ecotourism; food tourism; fashion tourism; shopping tourism; arts and cultural tourism (including music) and of course, historical tourism. This is the current, unharnessed and unplanned tourism scenario in the region, a situation that worries me greatly as I go around because what happens with lack of planning is that some initiatives are not able to withstand the periodic (sometimes daily) changes that occur in unplanned business operating environment.
Now think of what would happen if the state governments began to make optimal use of these already existing environmental resources in their general economic planning and include tourism development with direct and strategic focus on improved road networks, standardization of accommodation options, maintenance of existing tourism sites, institutional framework and proper legislation that would attract and protect investors in the tourism sector. These are the key areas that the government should pay attention to for tourism to thrive.
Where have we not gotten it right in terms of developing our tourism potential in Nigeria especially when you consider countries such as United Arab Emirates (Dubai), US, South Africa, and others who are making huge returns on investment from tourism and what is needed to be done in improving sectorial performance?
I think that generally, our country has failed to embrace the idea of Tourism as an alternative tool for economic development. Therefore, the private sector, through FTAN is taking the bull by the horn with the hope that we can positively influence the tourism discourse by showcasing how it can be used as a tool for poverty alleviation and strategic development of rural communities for economic empowerment.
What policies and framework are needed to be put in place in building a national tourism framework which would help us find our footing?
Successful tourism development is predicated on sustained attention to clearly mapped out tourism development objectives and integration of these objectives into the national economic planning for the country; involvement and control by local communities where tourism initiatives are sited; regional co-operation and integration of common policies by state governments and government facilitation of tourism entrepreneurship through tax reduction and subsidies for tourism startups.
How can the tourism potential of the South-east be shaped to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to the region?
I believe that the entire advocacy that FTAN is currently engaged in is a bold step towards achieving this objective. Investors usually research online so we have started working on our website:Â www.visitsoutheastnigeria.org. When the site is ready, visitors will be able to upload Downloadable eBooks and journals about South East Tourism and Investor Follow Up Systems. We want to know who is browsing for information about our region so we can target them in our social media marketing campaigns. We are regularly uploading videos, photos and Podcasts to attract and educate potential investors about tourism in South East Nigeria. We also publish on portals like YouTube, Vimeo and ITunes and run promotions on social networks like Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Digg, Delicious, Pinterest and Instagram. We have included a â€œSouth East Tourism Investment Opportunity seminarâ€ in the programme for the Food and fashion Fair coming up later in the year and we also plan to launch a book about South East Tourism written by Mr. JohnPaul Ezeani. We will keep advocating at seminars and speaking engagements with business associations and embassies.
What is the awareness level of the tourism potentials in the South-East and how prepared are the people especially the state to support and develop it?
It could be better, but weâ€™re working really hard to improve on the current situation.
You are passionate about the tourism potentials in the South-east and you are committed to using the media to give it the needed publicity. Why are you committed to championing this cause?
It is just my way of giving back to the society. I believe strongly that the only way to effect change in the tourism sector is to actively get involved. If we all sit down and remain elegiac about our situation, nothing will get done. Our efforts will surely influence change in the sector for the better.
What is the level of support you have received from the state governments in the South-east in your drive to promote tourism?
So far, we have received a lot of support from our member associations and some individuals and we are currently working on getting the state governments to key into the programmes we are planning for October, 2018Â and beyond.