If Nigeria is committed tapping into the gains of tourism sector, there is need for strong policy framework, aggressive marketing of the sector as well as collaboration between the public and private sectors, writes Ugo Aliogo
The Nigeria tourism industry has been described by the world largest travel guide Lonely Planet (LP), as a pulsating power house with deep and layered cultures and environment.
Tourism experts have described the industry as an economic cash cow with a strong potential of contributing to the countryâ€™s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
LP in a report, estimated that the total contribution of the industry to the global economy was over $7.6 trillion in 2016, which is about 10 per cent of the global GDP of $75.6 trillion.
In Nigeria, the contribution of the tourism industry had been estimated at around $1.5 billion, which demonstrates the gulf between the present reality and the potential of the sector.
To this end, analysts have stressed the need for increased public-private partnership to ensure that the sector attracts Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), enhance job creation, improve the state of infrastructure in the country, among others.
But to ensure that this is realised, the Federation of Tourism Association of Nigeria (FTAN) has been working to ensure that the right policies and laws which would drive the growth of the industry are put in place.
The body is at the forefront of the revitalisation of the industry to expand its competitiveness internationally. Furthermore, one of the goals of the body is to ensure that investors are able to tap into the enormous potential of the industry such as transportation, wildlife conservation, medical, leisure and recreation, and others.
Speaking in an interview with THISDAY, the Vice-President, South-east, Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), Mrs. Ngozi Ngoka, stated that tourism marketing should start with a plan which would serve as the countryâ€™s roadmap.
Ngoka explained that stakeholders in the sector need to focus on creating awareness about the positive aspects of the country by branding Nigeria as an attractive destination through marketing, saying â€œwhen Nigeria becomes trendy, it would create a positive cycle that can then be supported by tourism marketing and sales. Then everything would fall in place.â€
Role of Technology
Technology has a major role to play in driving the growth of the industry. In advanced economies such as United Arab Emirates (UAE), technology has played a major role in structuring their tourism potential with facilities such as the Dubai Fountain, Burj Khalifa, Ski Dubai, Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, Burj Al Arab and others.
Ngoka explained that stakeholders can use technology to actively develop and change a destinationâ€™s image, especially through social media.
She argued that social media makes it possible to meet and interact with people, adding that though social media is a cheap, but it is an effective tool to tell and sell the story of any destination.
She said: â€œA destination must be very active on social media and handlers must find ways to continually attract and engage audiences.
â€œEffects of technology are however much more significant at individual tourism business level. For instance, it is very easy for hotels, airlines and other tourism services to market and sell their services online, using innovative technology.
â€œThere are applications being developed to determine what type of experiences customers would like and direct them accordingly and some that offer digitally guided city tours. 360 degrees Virtual Reality Videos (VRV) is also being introduced for use in destination marketing, so I think for the future, technology is key.â€
However, in order for the industry to achieve its full potential, Ngoka stressed that public/private partnership remains key.
She explained that this would allow stakeholders to participate in the development of tourism strategy, communicate, achieve their various goals and interests, and successfully implement tourism programmes, and collaborate to achieve a common goal.
â€œWe just have to keep the tourism discuss alive and ensure that it is a talking point for the next general elections in Nigeria. â€œIndividuals going into politics must be asked questions about how they plan to develop tourism in their areas of influence. â€œTourism and agriculture are key in developing rural communities and curbing urban migration. We have to all work together to advocate for a concise approach to the development and sustenance of tourism in Nigeria,â€ she explained.
On his part, a Senior Lecturer, Department of Hospitality and Management, Imo State University, Professor, Innocent Okolie, noted the need for public-private partnership to grow the sector.
He added that the role of the public sector in creating the enabling business environment, regulations and policy implementation was key.
On the other hand, he pointed out that the private sector is expected to provide the funding and expertise to drive the initiative, adding that government has no business to be directly involved in tourism infrastructure.
Okolie added: â€œGovernment should focus on providing the infrastructure and ensure that the policies are implemented. The private sector on its part should focus on providing funding and expertise for the industry. Tourism is big business, therefore, the prospects for the sector is very high.
â€œIf government is able to address the issue of insecurity, environmental sanitation, political will and the attitude of the people towards tourism should also change. â€œPeople should stop seeing it as something that cannot yield money. Some see it as social welfare programme, not as a big business. We should see it as money spinner and an article of trade.â€
Transport sector is very crucial for the promotion of tourism in the country. But the potential of the sector has been under-utilised despite the efforts of most private transport companies.
Nevertheless, there have been some encouraging signs from some companies such as ABC Transport.
The founder of ABC Transport, Mr. Frank Nneji noted that to promote tourism, the government has to bring onboard people who understand the sector through engagement, adding that tourism development has to be prepared for and combined with other ingredients such as hotels to drive hospitality.
According to Nneji, â€œHaving hotel is one thing, the other thing is having things that will make it attractive to people and encourage them to visit the city.
â€œFor government to promote tourism, it needs to setup a clear cut blueprint on what it wants to achieve. Another challenge is that Nigerians needs to appreciate the importance of tourism.
â€œIn Ghana, when the government decided that they wanted to develop their tourism sector, everybody was carried along.
â€œThere is need to encourage people and invite them to be part of tourism development in the country, by creating things that will make them come. Many countries are thriving best on tourism.
He added: â€œOn our part as a company, what we can do is advocacy. There are different regulations and rules which only government can do.
â€œIf there is a site, there should be a government who can take ownership of that site, develop it and engage the community. For instance, we have a blue lake known as the Oguta Lake.
â€œIt used to be a beautiful lake, but you realise that it has been neglected. Government has to put money into infrastructure. There should be a travel bureau with a team of experts plan on how to better position the sector.
â€œWhen the standards of these hotels are upgraded, people tend to be attracted. So you find out that if you have a tourism bureau to take care of these things,an investor can make a calendar that will make people come to your city, and build facilities that can hold large conferences. Here in Owerri, we have an airport and also it is as if we are in a confluence. In terms of positioning, we are well positioned. Talking about what we do to promote tourism, we have the least to do.â€
Hoteling is a striving business which private investors have tapped into to drive tourism in many economies especially Nigeria.
In the South-east region, hospitality business has been well positioned to drive the potential of the region. In Owerri, the numbers of hotels have been estimated to above 300 with some still under construction.
In an interview with THISDAY, the Chief Executive Officer, Maranatha Hotel, Dr. Etofolam Osuji, said hoteliers in the state have pleaded with the Imo state Government to reduce the arbitrary amount of taxes charged on them, but those pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
Osuji is displeased that despite efforts to create value and drive the economy of the state, government has not been able to create the enabling environment for business to strive as expected especially through the provision of steady electricity, and removal of high levies.
He said: â€œGovernment should provide us with the enabling environment to do business by giving us steady electricity. Government should remove taskforce from us, we pay our taxes.
â€œThe levies they place on hoteliers are too much. But these monies should come in a structured manner. I want a situation where I will partner with the government in developing the state in such a way that everyone will benefit.â€
But Okolie stressed the need to continue to create awareness for the sector.
â€œNo matter how beautiful or well defined a tourism destination is designed, if people are not aware of such destination, the country may not make any headway in driving tourism.
â€œThe purpose of marketing is to create awareness of such tourism products and to pursue investors to patronise such products,â€ he noted.
He expressed dismay that the countryâ€™s tourism products and potential were not made known to the international community, stating that there is a problem of patronage, therefore he called for aggressive marketing approach especially in terms of packaging, branding, and promotion some of the tourist sites such as Obudu cattle ranch, Ikogosi, Yankari forest reserves and others.
â€œWe have a lot of challenges such as security, environmental hygiene, but the main problem facing the industry is tourism marketing and packaging.
â€œThere is no political will. This is another challenge facing the sector. Since petroleum was discovered in large quantity every other economic activity has taken the back seat. Tourism is tied to agriculture. Nigeria has nine ecological zones and this has high tourism potential in terms of ecology.
â€œThe problem of Nigeria is not lack of resources. The challenge is to factor tourism in the national economic strategy. We used to have Ministry of Tourism, but it has now been subsumed into the Ministry of Economic Planning and Culture. When stakeholders complained government said it was an oversight.
â€œFor over three years, this oversight has not been fixed. Government should give the industry its rightful pride of place, the political will has to do there, and there should be awareness creation,â€ he added.