Eye on West Africa

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Nigeria and the UK have long had many things in common, and this year there’s a new one – shock election results. The pollsters in both countries got it wrong, predicting close results, but in the U.K. David Cameron’s Conservatives trounced the opposition parties to retain power, and in Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress won in a landslide over the incumbent People’s Democratic Party, the first time the opposition has won in an election here.

The new government comes into power this month. It is unknown except for its dedication to change a country which has failed to exploit its many opportunities. And that includes its undoubted potential in the tourism industry.

The trouble is, I can’t find anything in the APC manifesto which shows that they have given a thought to tourism as a way of creating jobs, and raising people out of poverty. Well, there is one mention, in the transportation section, where the new government pledges to “encourage maritime cruises and pleasure boats for recreation and tourism” on the inland waterways. They say every journey starts with a single step, but this is a very, very small step indeed!

I found a little more in a campaign speech made by Akinwunmi Ambode, the Governor of Lagos State – “I am going to integrate tourism, hospitality, entertainment and sports together to create more jobs for all our youths”. We are waiting for further detail.

Mr President, Mr Governor, and all those now in power – please, take Nigeria’s tourism industry seriously. Ambode is right, it is all about jobs. Our demographic dividend is going to be a demographic time bomb if you don’t create jobs. And tourism creates jobs, for the youths, the skilled as well as the unskilled, for women, and in parts of the country where other economic activities are just not viable.

Have a look at how tourism is promoted on the country’s website. Admittedly, it does a tremendous job of profiling the photogenic DG of the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation, but click on “Investment” and it goes nowhere. The promotion of the country’s tourism is woeful.

It is difficult to determine what the Ministry and the NTDC actually do to benefit tourism in our country, which is effectively a local activity. I believe that whilst the centre has a role to play in creating the policy framework, and creating an enabling environment, it is the States that should take the lead on promoting their tourism attractions, the destinations that they have created, and supporting the private sector. A private sector which really wants to develop Nigeria’s tourism industry, but which receives virtually no assistance from the government, and which is being taxed to the hilt.

Mr President, overhaul the activities at the centre, make the Ministry and the NTDC relevant, and empower them to work with and support the States in their activities. Many States recognise that tourism is a viable economic activity, that it creates the jobs the country needs, but few understand how to go about realising their potential. Every State has something that will attract visitors, who then spend their money on hotels and other tourism services.

The target market for your country’s tourism sector is the domestic traveller. Sorry if it sounds harsh, but we are just not ready to receive international tourists, who will turn around and flee back to their homes as soon as they arrive at MMIA in Lagos. We have hundreds and thousands of Nigerians who travel abroad several times a year for their vacations, because of a lack of tourism products here. Let’s focus on the security issues, the roads, the funding – often quite small amounts – required to improve the tourism product. It’s called import substitution, getting Nigerians to spend at home instead of abroad.

A Tourism Master Plan was prepared for Nigeria in 2005. It is difficult to see that any of the several recommendations therein have been implemented. Although 10 years old, and some of the provisions have been overtaken by political events, the Plan as a whole is fundamentally sound It needs to be dusted off, refreshed and implemented, with support from the highest level in government. That’s you, Mr President. We once had a Presidential Tourism Council, chaired by the President, which we were hopeful would produce results – it certainly meant that the President was involved.

I know it would be politically naïve of me to expect an immediate turn round, Mr President, but one small step, followed by another, and another…….

Trevor Ward
CEO: W Hospitallity