Tourism as a way of diversifying economy
At a workshop in Abuja, organised by the Department of Domestic and Eco-Tourism Promotion of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, themed: “Mainstreaming Tourism into the Economic Agenda of Government”, issues and challenges affecting the economy due to the country’s dependency on oil was examined.
As noted in the Manila Declaration on World Tourism in 1980, Tourism is an activity that is essential to the life of nations because of its direct and indirect effects on the social, cultural, educational and economic sectors of a nation.
The uniqueness of tourism as an important sector is also evident in its ability to employ skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled manpower, and despite wars, political conflicts, natural disasters, medical scares, terrorist attacks, and economic and energy crises in various parts of the world, international trade in tourism revenue has grown in geometric progression since the 1980s.
According to United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the direct economic contribution of travel and tourism worldwide amounted to approximately 2.16 trillion U.S. dollars in 2013.
The Minister of Culture and Tourism, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said there is urgent need to build a resilient and dynamic economy that is well placed to harness the country’s abundant resource endowment.
The minister described Nigeria’s experiences in the past three decades as clearly highlighting the shortcomings of a development strategy that placed a premium on foreign exchange earnings from non-renewable natural resources, especially oil and natural resources.
He said the economic and social challenges, which the country has been experiencing from the 1970s, is connected to the fall of the international oil prices.
“Our experiences in the recent past also clearly demonstrate that oil and mineral resources are non-renewable and have very limited potential for addressing the development challenges that face the country today and over the medium and long term period.
“These include providing gainful employment for the masses of school leavers and various categories of under-employed workers, addressing the challenge of poverty and tackling the environmental challenges all arising from the high rate of incidental and situational urban migration, desertification, floods and other natural disasters”. This reality makes diversification into tourism a rational consideration.
Nigeria, however, is not the only country aspiring to take advantage of the potentials offered by the tourism sector. According to UNWTO, developed countries such as Spain, France, China, Germany, Italy, Turkey, the United States, and the United Kingdom are among the world’s top earners on tourism receipts. According to Mohammed, for the tourism sector to meet the country’s development expectations, the government is determined to provide a more conducive environment for investors and potential tourists. In spite of all these, the minister believes there is room for development and improvement, which requires the collaboration of both public and private sectors.
The areas of need include development and improvement of infrastructure, strengthening security to enhance investor’s confidence (especially against terrorism and kidnapping), establishment of Tourism Development Fund (TDF) to serve as a pool of funds for the private sector for tourism development, and the general lack of awareness of the importance of the socio-economic importance of tourism, etcetera.
Other areas in need of the development and improvement are: Environmental development in the areas of forestations, mitigation of desert encroachment, flood disasters and development of national parks, sustainable institutional framework for public-private partnership to provide the required confidence for prospective private investors, functional collaboration among the relevant MDAs in tourism and the establishment of a national carrier. The minister consequently admitted that the government is statutorily expected to provide unique opportunities and the enabling environment for the development of a consistent long-term framework on which private investors could base business decisions.
However, it goes without saying that a prevailing atmosphere of political stability coupled with the policy of economic liberalization, diversification and the strengthening of institutional bottlenecks will give cause for optimism. In 1989, a national conference on tourism was organised in Maiduguri with the objective of appraising the state of tourism in Nigeria vis-a-vis the performance of the Nigerian Tourist Board. The recommendations from the Board led to the establishment of a department of tourism in the Federal Ministry of Trade and the promulgation of Decree 81 of 1992.
This Decree established the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and the replacement of the Nigerian Tourist Board. The main focus of the NTDC was to promote and market Nigeria as a tourist attraction and destination, encourage Nigerians to take holidays in their country whilst attracting foreign visitors to visit and enjoy the ambiance of Nigeria.
The Nigeria Tourism Policy hinges on the principles of National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS).
The policy thrust is to make Nigeria a leading tourism destination in Africa thereby generating foreign exchange earnings, creating job opportunities and promoting rural based tourism enterprises and foster cultural understanding among others.
In 1996, Nigeria produced a Tourism Development Master plan which articulates the tourism resources of the country ranging from natural endowments, cultural and historical resources into five tourism clusters for the purpose of development and making Nigeria a tourism destination in Africa. The clusters and their values include Tropical Rain Forest, Atlantic Gateway which included states like Lagos, Bayelsa, Rivers etc., Sahara Gateway which includes states in the north like Kaduna, Yobe, Jigawa, etc., Conference Capital including Kogi, Nassarawa, FCT, etc., and Scenic Nature.
Ashamu Sewanu Fadipe, President, Institute of Tourism and Hospitality Services of Nigeria and former Permanent Secretary of Lagos State Ministry of Tourism, criticised the tourism policy as though being a good document, but lacks synergy among the players. Ashamu listed what he considered as challenges of tourism development namely lack of political will and enduring policy, lack of basic amenities at tourist sites (road, water and electricity), high hotel tariffs especially in Lagos and Abuja, negative image of Nigeria as perceived by the international community and inadequate power to drive the industry.
The UNWTO and UNEP set out 12 aims for all nations particularly developing nations like Nigeria for achieving sustainable development in tourism.
According to the UN, the aims, which are set to reduce poverty in the world, bears the overall objective of identifying specific policy areas for policy formulation, which will deliberate on actions towards achieving sustainable development and success of Nigeria’s Tourism Master Plan.
They are economic viability, local prosperity, employment quality, social equity, visitors’ fulfillment, local control, community well being, cultural richness, physical integrity, biological diversity, resource efficiency and environmental purity.
Ashamu maintained that these aims must be mainstreamed into a sustainable tourism agenda for economic development in Nigeria and an operational policy must be established in line with these aims. Also, Ashamu made further recommendations to the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture including a recommendation for developing Operational Framework to drive the implementation of the tourism policy and the tourism master plan. He also advised that the Ministry should “Organize a National Tourism Conference with the involvement of public and private sectors, tourism organizations and selected tourism active communities.” He explained that the conference is to create tourism awareness and strengthen the Public-Private partnership.
The activities of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR), he also recommended, should be reviewed with the aim of strengthening the two bodies for better efficiency and service delivery. The development of a National Code of Practice for tourism practitioners such as tour operators, hospitality establishments, transporters and owners of heritage sites and the re-establishment of a National Carrier were also highlighted while the re-establishment of the National Carrier was identified as important to block leakages from air travel.