Tourism - The Journey So Far [opinion]
(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) As the country celebrates yet another independence annivesary, Omolol Itayemi highlights the nation's tourism journey so far.
The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) estimates that tourism accounts for up to 10 per cent of global gross domestic product, making it the worlds biggest and fastest developing industry. From natural to artificial tourist sites/hubs, countries are developing, restoring or priming these sites to attract tourists and the multiplying effect cannot be ignored.
More than contributing to the gross domestic product, tourism's potential to contribute significantly to poverty alleviation is more than considerable. And nowhere is this most evident than the WTO's report on Tourism and Poverty Alleviation published for the World Summit on Sustainable development in Johannesburg in 2002, which drew substantially on the work of the pro-Poor Tourism Partnership. Interestingly, there are now varieties of initiatives taking place on pro-poor tourism.
2002 might be eleven years ago, but the problems stalking developing countries and their tourism drive might not be far from over. A few like The Gambia, Ghana, Rwanda (despite the genocide stigma), have managed to scale through these hurdles, but Nigeria with its natural tourist sites, huge population, concept and ideas is still grappling with tourism as a major GDP earner.
History Ever since post-independence period, Nigeria's preference for out-bound tourism has been on the rise. Leaving in-bound tourism at the mercy of a small percentage, and as the adage says, what you don't care about, you don't treasure. Could this be the dilemma of tourism in Nigeria? Maybe this could also account for the dismal state of these tourist sites depreciating with each passing day, well except for some recently refurbished by states or professional bodies.
A potent economic activity that mobilises wealth and fund, empowers the people and generates employment than the other precious mineral resources, tourism should not be relegated to the back burner. And this was the mindset and the posture of the leaders who dominated the political and administrative sphere of Nigeria at the independence period. The search for political stability based on the economic blueprint of the post-colonial Nigeria was uppermost in the minds of the leaders more than giving special attention to the development of tourism as a serious economic activity.
Tourism comes of age Surprisingly, some Nigerians who were able to see beyond the political independence and who because of their exposure having lived and worked in the western world, realised what tourism was doing to the economy of these countries, and coming home realising the tourism potentialities of Nigeria formed the first ever tourism association called Nigeria Tourism Association (NTA) in 1962, under late Ignatius Atigbi.
It was the first public sector tourism association in the whole of Africa with the objective of sensitising the government on the import of tourism and spreading its gospel among Nigerian populace. Though, a private sector initiative, late Atigbi turned the association into a veritable organ of calling the world's attention to Nigerian tourism.
The association made waves globally and Nigeria was recognised as early as 1963 as a "country with immense tourism potentialities waiting for crystallisation'. Atigbi showcased Nigerian tourism capacity so well that UNWTO ranked the country as one, which would become a vibrant tourists' destination in so near a time, hence it accorded tourism great honour and respect. In fact, it was the activities of Nigeria Tourism Association and the vibrancy of late Atigbi, which led to the consecration of September 27 as the World Tourism Day, annually.
It was late Atigbi, as chairman, Nigeria Tourism Association, that stood up at a UNTWO conference and called the attention to the economic potency of tourism and proposed that such a sector should be accorded recognition worldwide by consecrating a day in the world calendar of events to remind the people of its importance. Thus, the world organisation selected September 27 as the World Tourism Day.
This international honour brought by the activities of a non- governmental organisation impressed the military government so well that it not only recognised the association, but also partnered with it for many years. This partnership blossomed and latter led to the metamorphosis of Nigeria Tourism Association into Nigeria Tourists Board, transiting from a public association to a government institution.
Military Government and tourism - unsettling relationship The military government, which ruled Nigeria, set the tone for the shape of tourism by inaugurating the Nigerian Tourist Board in 1976, with a Decree to back it up under Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo as the Head of State. Years later, bureaucracy and office politics crept into the running of Nigeria Tourists Board leading to the exit of the brains behind Nigerian Tourism Association from the board and the civil servants took over.
This seemed to be the undoing of a once proactive and internationally respected association, which had earned it honour and respect. Thus, the once internationally proactive association became complacent, redundant and went into a coma. The accession of Obasanjo to the leadership of the country once again rekindled the action in the Nigeria Tourists Board as his government supported the board in its activities and even, at the tail end of his tenure, Obasanjo gave out one million naira to each state governor with the specific instruction to "go and develop a tourism site in your state."
Under the Generals Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar, the Nigerian Tourism Board was changed to the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), with a larger scope of not only promoting, but also developing tourism sites in Nigeria. Also, some tourism friendly activities were injected into the system such as the formation of the National Tourism policy, which stipulates that each state must create Ministry of Tourism and Culture. Several moves and processes were initiated to ensure that the nation has its own Tourism Master Plan, a policy implementation document necessary for a nation that genuinely desired the best in tourism.
Under the military, there was another lull as the military officers in power then paid lip service to tourism. However sign of good thing to come started rolling out when Chief Alabi Aiyegboyin, assumed the leadership of NTDC. Though a civil servant to the core and a permanent secretary then at the Planning Commission before his deployment to NTDC, Aiyegboyin stooped low, learnt from members of the private sector and for the first time, piloted the corporation in co-hosting of the first Nigeria Trade and Tourism Fair that took place in Kaduna.
The retirement of Aiyegboyin also led to the retirement of the sparks of success being recorded at the tourism front in the country. This was so because, the NTDC is a pivot of tourism in Nigeria and the pace at which it speeds depends on the vision and clout of whoever tends the corporation. So for many years the Nigeria tourism progress de-accelerated.
However, the second coming of Obasanjo as a civilian president turned a light of hope into the tourism sector's tunnel. The first thing he did was the creation of a new full-fledged Ministry of Culture and Tourism with about eleven parastatals. These parastatal are supposed to helm in and enhance the various units of tourism in the country and align it with the national vision.
Also, Obasanjo inaugurated the Presidential Council on Tourism, a body formed with the intention of servicing the need of the tourism sector with presidential dispatch .The Council was made up of ministers of Finance and others ministers whose ministries are directly linked and essential to tourism, some state governors whose states are paragon of tourism assets and who are interested in developing these as well as the representatives of the tourism private sector associations.
Tourism plan debuts The Tourism Master Plan was drawn and presented to the president, while many policies aimed at encouraging tourism and investment to Nigeria were inaugurated such as the 48 hours visa for intending tourists to Nigeria, cancellation of police check points on Nigerian roads and so many others. Under Obasanjo, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, (NTDC), which is chief tourism marketing body was strengthening as appointed Director Generals, Mrs. Omotayo Omotosho and the present occupants of the post help Nigerians to appreciate tourism as an economic activity better.
During the tenure of Mrs. Omotosho, she used the emergence of a Nigerian lady, Miss Agbani Darego as Miss World to tell the world that beautiful things can come out of Nigeria. Chief Olusegun Runsewe who took over from her employed the use of well-packaged products, promotion of the culture and marketing at international fairs as his tourism drive. His proactive and pragmatic sensitisation of tourism issues, products and appreciation of local programmes also helped shore up Nigeria's image and ensured that Nigeria is recognised and accorded its respect at the comity of tourism countries in the world.
The new helmsman at NTDC, Mrs. Sally Mbanefo, who assumed duty in June and with the active partnership of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation organised the NTDC, Stakeholders Forum in Lagos on September 9. This forum afforded Mbanefo the opportunity to unfold plans and strategies she would pursue to rebuild the apex tourism body and grow the tourism value chain for revenue generation and job creation in the country.
Speaking on the theme, 'Rebuilding the NTDC and Growing the Tourism Value Chain for Revenue Generation and Job Creation," Mrs. Mbanefo restated her resolve to take the industry to the next level. For a start, she confirmed that NTDC had entered into a number of deals, partnerships, MOU's, cooperation arrangements and was collaborating with relevant agencies, governments, private and public sector investors, policy makers and industries n her determination to use domestic tourism as a template to drive the sector amongst others.
Fascinating Nigeria: National pride and possitive earnings The Nigerian development in the tourism sector since independence is replete with stories of rising and falling in decade's interval, which has, not really bring the country any appreciable benefit. One would have expected that a country, which started tasking the world on tourism issues since 1962, just two years after independence should by now be a frontbencher in the comity of tourism nations. But regrettably this is not so.
Hopefully with the present administrations drive on re-energising Nigeria's Tourism Brand Campaign - Fascinating Nigeria! -as a strategic policy thrust to diversify the economy away from oil earnings and create a rubost economic growth and through tourism we can achieve an impressive stride in this direction. "The nation could generate $4 billion (N623 billion) annually from domestic tourism due to its high revenue and job creation potential. "If 20 million out of the 160 million Nigerians travel locally for business, leisure, culture, religion or sports, NTDC expects to generate $4 billion annually through the domestic tourism market," Mbanefo said at the Stakeholders meeting this month.
And for the country to achieve any impressive stride so as to explore fully the benefits of tourism, the leadership must first of all show and exercise political clout, especially in areas of security and national pride. Tourism development and enhancing is not done haphazardly particularly by a country that prides itself in looking for multi - economic revenue sources, plans and activities towards realising this must be well articulated and executed and there should be continuity.
Copyright This Day. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
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