Economy - Why Buhari Should Add Tourism to His Bucket List of Ideas

Unbeknownst to many Nigerians, tourism holds huge potentials for reversing the critical issue of unemployment which daily threatens the stability of the country. In 2013, here are the statistics from the World Travel and Tourism Council for direct tourism jobs created in the following African countries - Egypt (1.2 million); South Africa (645,500); Tanzania (402,500); Kenya (226,300); Madagascar (224,900); and Zimbabwe (43,600). I believe that Nigeria could quadruple these figures if tourism is adopted as a change agent under the new administration.

I am deeply aware that President Muhammadu Buhari is a farmer at heart. And indeed. Therefore, it will not surprise me if he prioritises agriculture as one of the sectors with which he plans to gain comparative advantage in the task of revamping the badly battered Nigerian economy. This is as is it should be.

In the meantime, as he is primed to soon assign portfolios to the newly-minted ministers in his cabinet, I am compelled to remind Mr. President that the neglect of one of the potential GDP producers - tourism - over time has not only robbed the country of tonnes of revenue but has also denied Nigeria of one of the most cost-effective ways to market herself to the rest of the world. And that is why I submit that tourism deserves a full-time minister.

The primary and most chronic problem with tourism in Nigeria, however is that very few truly understand the concept - its workings and how to make it work for Nigerians. To many a Nigerian, tourism is yet another name for cavorting and revelry. And with the access to easy money that crude oil afforded the less than five percent of Nigerians in the last 20 years or so, tourism, agriculture and mining suffered major setbacks in the scheme of things. And with them were the loss of jobs they could have been provided in the hospitality industry.

Gone are the days of the groundnut pyramids in the northern part of the country, and the flourishing cocoa and palm oil and kernel enterprises of the south. And today, not many of us can remember any of the many tourism assets of old which became part of the relics of British colonialism, and all we have with us now are the rot and decay to which such tourism infrastructure as the National Theatre and our rich museums were made to suffer.

Over the years, ignorance of what this industry truly stands for and what it could do for our economy, such as it has handsomely done for Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Senegal, Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Uganda in Africa; Jamaica, Bahamas, Trinidad & Tobago and such others in the Caribbean or Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and so on in Latin America has led to the unconscionable abandonment of that sector.

Consequently, I can authoritatively state that all those who ever occupied the position of Tourism Minister in Nigeria have been nothing but square pegs in round holes. Many of them, I believe had no clue as to what their briefs entailed. And that needs to change under this change dispensation.

In 2007, I had the opportunity of meeting Nigeria's immediate past tourism minister, High Chief Edem Duke in Calabar in 2007 as a private citizen. I was part of the US delegation to the yearly Africa Travel Association (ATA) Congress while he was part of a private sector group of hoteliers in the then modestly tourism-friendly state of Cross River. And when he was appointed the minister in charge of Nigeria's tourism, I was one of those who held high hopes for the future of that vital sector because of his pedigree. I believed then as I do now that tourism has the potential to serve as one of the most virile alternative to Nigeria's near total dependence on oil.

To those who might counter the idea of tourism as an agent for development and growth with the tepid argument that Nigeria is too unstable to sustain tourism, it will be interesting to point out that in the year 2012, Algeria had the fifth highest tourism arrivals with 2.63 million tourism tourists. In 2013, Zimbabwe received 1.83 million tourists, even with its pariah status; Egypt enjoyed 9.17 million visitors in 2013 at the height of its political crisis. And in the same year, South Africa with its escalating urban crime rate still had a 9.51 million tourists visit its shores.

However, Edem Duke's tenure turned out a huge disappointment. A bust. And like his other colleagues in the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Chief Duke will today be hard put to give a sensible account of his stewardship.

Back to my point. I want state that President Buhari will be better advised to take a careful look at the development of tourism as a major revenue earner.

The President need not be reminded that Nigerians are eager for results. They will therefore be more wont to judge the current government harshly come election time because of the high expectations that his second coming holds for them.

The practicality of the situation facing Nigeria today calls for a focus on areas that will yield short-and-medium-term results for the citizens. And with the hindsight of all the available data and indices from various international organisations, the growing of the tourism sector remains one of the sure fire ways of realising that goal. Statistics gleaned and obtained from the Africa Development Bank (AFDB), New York University, Africa Consult Group, the Think-Tank of The African Times-USA speak for themselves. According the records of these groups, Nigeria stands to generate $4 billion USD yearly. However, till date, that sector of our economy has been under-utilised thus contributing a meager 0.5 percent to its GDP.

According to experts in the international tourism community, Nigeria has the prerogative to become a major overseas foreign tourist destination for Europe, North America as well as the rest of the world. To jump-start the sector, Nigeria will need to foray into the leisure tourism market with the primary motivation of attracting travellers who take a vacation from everyday life - stay in nice hotels or resorts, relax on beaches and go on guided tours while experiencing local tourist attractions.

Meanwhile, Nigeria has the tourism assets, together with a fairly well developed tourism infrastructure to accomplish this in the near term. The new Nigerian middle class with the propensity for holiday travel can be an important development ingredient for international tourism business. They are able to sustain the up and down periods of international incoming tourism. Same should be considered and supported within the Nigerian Diaspora markets of the US, UK and other parts of Europe.

... the appointment of a cabinet-rank minister for tourism will not only send a definite and clear message to the rest of the world that Nigeria is now truly ready to compete for those tourism dollars but that she is finally ready for business.

Today, it is almost embarrassing that the Nigerian middle class form a major block of support for the tourism growth of Dubai, South Africa and India (for medical tourism) whereas subsequent governments have encouraged a habit whereby hard currency is squandered by government officials who are known to schedule business meetings in all these places on very flimsy excuses. Add that to the fad among Nigerian elite who have found it fanciful to celebrate weddings, birthdays and naming ceremonies in Dubai, Durban, Cape town and the UK!

To stem this tide, I advise that the governing hierarchy of Nigerian tourism needs a revamp. Recent events show the embarrassment that the somewhat entrenched officialdom has caused Nigeria on the international business sector - the one that provide tourism flourish to Nigeria.

To those who might counter the idea of tourism as an agent for development and growth with the tepid argument that Nigeria is too unstable to sustain tourism, it will be interesting to point out that in the year 2012, Algeria had the fifth highest tourism arrivals with 2.63 million tourism tourists. In 2013, Zimbabwe received 1.83 million tourists, even with its pariah status; Egypt enjoyed 9.17 million visitors in 2013 at the height of its political crisis. And in the same year, South Africa with its escalating urban crime rate still had a 9.51 million tourists visit its shores.

Unbeknownst to many Nigerians, tourism holds huge potentials for reversing the critical issue of unemployment which daily threatens the stability of the country. In 2013, here are the statistics from the World Travel and Tourism Council for direct tourism jobs created in the following African countries - Egypt (1.2 million); South Africa (645,500); Tanzania (402,500); Kenya (226,300); Madagascar (224,900); and Zimbabwe (43,600). I believe that Nigeria could quadruple these figures if tourism is adopted as a change agent under the new administration.

Meanwhile, major hotel chains - Marriott, Hilton Worldwide, Carlson Rezidor, Starwood, Best Western, Kempinski, Accor, etc., with eyes now firmly trained on Africa, there could be no better time for Nigeria to tap into this industry than now. And with the goodwill that the new government in Abuja enjoys worldwide, I believe that there is trough to be mined in the tourism and hospitality business in Nigeria.

And the appointment of a cabinet-rank minister for tourism will not only send a definite and clear message to the rest of the world that Nigeria is now truly ready to compete for those tourism dollars but that she is finally ready for business.

Source: Premium Times

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By 9jatravel / Administrator, bbp_keymaster

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on Nov 13, 2015

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