Federal Government Has To Drive Tourism Growth To Increase GDP, NATOP PRESIDENT
President of Nigeria Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), Nkereuwem Onung spoke with travel journalists after a tour of Lagos organised recently by the association for tour operators and buyers from South Africa and travel journalists. The tour was facilitated to expose stakeholders in South African tourism to places of attraction in Lagos. AJIBOLA AMZAT was present.
WHAT is the relevance of this tour? I think it is just a collaboration between South Africa and Nigeria, their arm of tourism is engaging us and I think because they have not had a lot from our governmental institutions.
So we decided to take it upon ourselves as an association, which also has the duty of promoting tourism to collaboration with them. We have been privileged to engage them over time and then we have had few trips out of Lagos to South Africa.
We have a lot to learn from South Africa Tourism and that doesn’t mean that we don’t have tourism here, we do. But I think it is about priority of government and we also need to make our government to realise that there is also much in tourism that we can look forward to. Yes, we talk about oil and oil is exhaustible but tourism is something that will last and South Africa is ding that much.
They have discovered that Nigeria is their biggest market in Africa and that is why despite their challenges as a country they still attempts to strategically to market by diminishing whatever is their areas and weak and market their areas of strength.
It is on that note that we also think that as Nigerians we should let them also understand that we may not be as organised and focused as they are but we also have a lot to show them and most of them been coming to Nigeria.
And that is why we have to take them on a city tour today. We have to take them to the Mainland, most of them stay in VI and just go back and I am sure that they may have been amazed today by the tour of Lagos that we have given them.
That is to show that we have a lot and that all we need to do is just get organise as a country and begin to prioritise tourism and we can make a whole lot out of it.
That is our approach to it and our country needs to begin to look at another source of revenue, which tourism is very readily available and that is why we need to tell the government of the day that it is time to also appoint people who are stakeholders who understand what tourism is all about when they want to appoint people into the tourism ministry.
Most of them have never left the Island in their years of coming to Lagos and they are very excited and it is something that is be cherished and we are looking at doing more with them in terms of collaboration.
I am sure that you saw the branding that took place during the workshop and that is something that we also need as a country. In our country we need to begin by talking about branding the facilities and which we also believe that as an association it can be done if we have the necessary agencies of government supporting it.
What is your thought on Lagos State’s plan to grow hospitality and hotels business in the state? From what we have done today we have seen that beyond hospitality and hotels that we also have a lot of other facilities and attractions.
We have just returned from Nike Art Gallery and we are currently at Terra Kulture and you can see what it is, which means that in Nigeria we have so much to show to the people.
And I think for Lagos State government they should have a priority. In fact, every state will need to identify what they have and what they are able to do. But we are talking about national tourism.
We know that tourism is a national government issue and it is not about any state. Yes, Lagos is keeping their state clean, their trying to promote tourism, they are making emphasis indifferent areas.
So are other states, just like Cross River State who has also done that in the past. So most states are also identifying their strength and they are emphasising on it.
For us (NATOP), the tourism institutions at the federal government level need to be strengthened for us to be able to say this is what we have. When this kind of collaboration is taking place, people will need to push it because there are some areas in which you need political will, government will need to empower the institutions.
South African Tourism is an arm of the government and we are doing this as an association because our members are drivers of tourism and we believed that we should really, really be positioned to do business with them.
How do we engage the governments at every level so as to make them respond positively to developing tourism and issues surrounding it? The first thing to do in terms of appointing people to offices is to appoint stakeholders, people who are knowledgeable in the industry, people who can also move the industry forward.
Then number two, strengthen the institutions and once these two things are done then there are going to be a lot of inputs. We have seen SA Tourism and they doing their best despite their own problem and sometimes we talk about insurgence but Nigeria is a safe country. We are tour guides and we know where to take you to.
So what we are saying is this that as far as we, tour operators, are concerned, our country is safe for tourism and there are tour operators who know where to take tourists to.
So for me, two things strengthen the institutions and appoint people who are knowledgeable about the industry and then allow the content to be provided by the practitioners and I think that before no time you can have a change.
How has NATOP been handling challenges thrown up by seeming government indifference to tourism sector? For us as NATOP, the first thing is creating value.
There is certain infrastructure to be in place for NATOP to operate. Number one – tour guides, these are not things that you can just do on your own.
So there have to be drivers of tourism and those things are engineered by the political will of the government. South Africa took the world cup to their country and I am sure you know what it has done to them.
They are taking polo to their country and they are taking other events to their country. So it is the drivers of tourism that will make tourism work and those things are done by the national government and they are things that must happen and apart from that there has to been leadership, people who are knowledgeable to drive it.
They just came back from Accra, Ghana, the SA TOURISM team, the entire government, the tourism board, they were with us, the private sector. And for me that is what it takes.
That has been our issue in the past and if we can correct those things, I think that tourism is going to take firm root. Do you think that tourism can’t be led by the private sector? Why not? It is just like you are talking about going to World Travel Market (WTM) in London, and you go there; you see countries.
You go to the South Africa stand, you see the government take a stand and tour operators and others are lined up. There is what is called international marketing that has to be done by the government.
So, the private sector is a partner to government aspiration in tourism. Would you say “Fascinating Nigeria” is a failure? It only has to been empowered.
It is a slogan needs to have content. It is just like talking about Carnival Calabar. They are interpreted and people begin to market it. It has to be marketed.
What is the content? What are we saying to Nigerians? What does it mean? You dissect it. What is the structure of that slogan? What does it mean? And that is the first thing; you have to first define the slogan.
You heard the South Africa Tourism woman talking about the fact that for the first time, their Custom officers were welcoming to visitors. Those are the things done by some arms of government, which is part of institutional strengthening.
It is not just by bringing a slogan but you have to interpret it and tell people what it means. Translate it to actionable issues. It is just like waking up in a hotel and they embarrass you with how was your night? They are taught to do that to create a welcoming environment.
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