Revamping culture, tourism for national growth

A cultural display at the Lagos Black Heritage Festival

A cultural display at the Lagos Black Heritage Festival

As Stakeholders Brainstorm Month End
When the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announced on Tuesday, April 5, that the Federal Government would hold a three-day National Summit on Culture and Tourism later this month in furtherance of the administration’s economic diversification agenda, many had expressed surprise that government is holding such an important summit within a short notice. However, those who have followed the minister’s sectoral meetings with stakeholders in the last few weeks would agree it was necessary, considering government’s ‘loud silence’ on National Theatre sale, the destruction of Artistes’ Village, the National Endowment Fund for the Arts and the National Policy on Culture.

The minister, while declaring open a working session between the Ministry of Information and Culture and the British Council on the planned collaboration between the two, said, “a major plank of this administration’s policy is the diversification of the economy away from oil. To further this agenda, we in the Ministry of Information and Culture have been putting in place measures to fast track the diversification agenda in the culture and tourism sectors.”

He added, “one of such measures is to critically assess veritable avenues of using culture to drive tourism in order to achieve a significant boost in the vast tourism potentials of the country. In view of this, we are happy to announce that the Ministry will host a three-day National Summit on Culture and Tourism from April 27 to 29.’’

Mohammed said that the Summit, which has as theme, Repositioning Culture and Tourism in a Diversified Economy, would attract stakeholders in the culture and tourism sectors.

The country has quite a rich and diverse cultural heritage that has received the desired attention. There are beautiful world heritage sites in Nigeria, which include the Osun Osogbo groove, the Evil Forest in Taraba, and major events that are becoming popular in the country’s culture calendar such as Lagos Carnival, Abuja Carnival, Carnival Calabar, Osun Osogbo Festival, Argungu Fishing Festival, Nwoyo Fishing Festival, Ofala Festival, Obanta Festival, Twins Festivals, Olojo and many other tourist attractions that people don’t know about.

Over the years, experts have noted that the reason the country has not been able to exploit its tourism potential is because there is no harmony between the two sectors. Both have worked at cross-purposes. Even while still in their own ministry, the non-synchronisation of programmes was noticeable. Yet a well-harmonised culture and tourism sector is a sure bet to boost the country’s revenue.

Tourism Master Plan and Cultural Policy are the two pivotal instruments by which this harmonisation could be built, but the documents are waiting for implementation.

Culture and tourism workers say Nigeria stands a great chance of surviving the current economic depression ravaging the entire globe if it could focus more on cultural tourism, adding that the country’s diverse cultures are capable of engaging the youths in productive endeavours. This realisation has continued to turn the world’s attention to issues of conservation of cultures, increasing preservation and rehabilitation of monuments, archaeological sites and museums.

To achieve the objective of making culture/tourism centre of economic activity, Federal Government has to work hard to put in place a better and enabling environment for all players in the tourism and culture sectors through the review of policies and support structures — Government needs to commission studies to evaluate the direct and indirect impacts of the cultural fiestas and carnival on the economy as well as providing data for planners. It equally needs to use the event to market itself nationally and internationally as a tourist and business friendly location for meetings and conventions.

While a few states had gone far in translating their tourism potentials into viable economic tools, the Federal Government was yet to wake up to this economic reality.

There is no doubt that culture and tourism have remained a source of economic and huge revenue derivation in some countries of the world, especially within the African continent with South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Egypt, Ethiopia to mention a few taking the lead.

Tourism is a foreign exchange earner for many countries, and that it was time Nigeria too joined them with the rich cultural heritage at her disposal, which has lain largely untapped.

Many want to know why after a decade, the Calabar Carnival, which got its inspiration from the worlds biggest carnival, Rio de Janeiro, also known as “CARNAVAL”, is still lagging behind in terms of revenue generation.

The summit should be able to give a direction to the carnival in terms of revenue generation. The Rio Carnival, which yearly attracts a million visitors, generated a whooping $3.2 billion in tourism revenues in 2012, and contributed a 7 per cent growth in the economy, why would the Calabar Carnival not be able to generate as much.

People want to know why, in spite of its potentials, the yearly Osun Osogbo Festival has not been able to rescue the State of Osun from its debt. There is need for the summit to provide better management strategies for Governor Rauf Aregbesola so that the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove no longer suffer from adverse impacts of tourism during the festival. The Grove serves as a model of African heritage that preserves the tangible and intangible values of the Osogbo people in particular, and the entire Yoruba people.

The summit is needed for strategic thinking to evaluate the economic benefits of hosting events in the country with poor capacity to generate return in terms of every naira spent.

At the 2015 World Tourism Day event held in Enugu State, Director General, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Mrs. Sally Mbanefo, underscored the role of tourism sector as a valuable and sustainable source of livelihood for millions of people.

She described tourism as the greatest employer of labour, adding, “Nigeria has a better advantage over so many other countries to benefit from tourism. We have the advantage of population. Tourism contributes 10 per cent to the global GDP but as at now, Nigeria is not fully benefiting from tourism like other countries. For instance, 4,333,000 tourists visited Nigeria in 2013, which contributed about 4 per cent to our GDP, while tourism contributes 17.7 per cent to the GDP of Gambia; 13 per cent to Egypt; 12 per cent to Kenya; 11.9 per cent to Mexico; 9 per cent to South Africa, and 6 per cent to Cuba. We need to know that Nigeria should focus more on tourism as the best alternative to oil, with domestic tourism as the catalyst.”

There are so many contending issues in the tourism sector, paramount of which is the tourism master plan.When the tourism master plan was inaugurated, in 2008, by the former minister of tourism, culture and national orientation, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, the aim was to launch the sector as a viable economic alternative to oil as well as market Nigeria’s tourism assets both at the local and international level.

Eight years down the line, it appears that achieving this project has become a herculean task with scanty activities thriving in the sector.

A cultural display

A cultural display

Only recently, a tourism expert, Mr. Ikechi Ukoh, called on government to revisit the nation’s tourism master plan, with the view of transforming the economy. He disclosed this in Ibadan during the 40th yearly general meeting of National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA).

Ukoh blamed government of not showing enough commitment to the sector in the past. “Many successive governments in the country had paid lip service to the development of tourism, except the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo,’’ he said.

While saying that the nation needed to revisit the master plan to address the clusters and assumptions to yearly growth of tourism, Ukoh listed some of the basic things to be addressed as the VISA regime, national carrier and the national calendar of events.

His words: “Government must join the African Union’s (AU) VISA policy, which allows African nationals to obtain VISA’s on arrival in any African country of destination.

“Any country that will record growth in its tourism sector must have a national carrier. So also, we must have a national calendar of festivals to promote tourism,’’ he said.

Ukoh added that the nation needed to have a Tourism Satellite Account (TSA) to monitor the statistics of tourists in the country.

He said that the African Development Bank (ADB) had rated Nigeria as the third largest country in Africa behind Kenya and Ethiopia, where tourism was the largest employer of labour.

He said that domestic tourism was embraced only in Nigeria, adding that tourism was seen as leisure than business in the country.

Experts have pointed at the need to develop domestic tourism, as it has the potential of improving the tourism value chain, which include job creation, poverty alleviation and revenue generation.

Nigerians should be able to pass a message that tourism is a very serious business in the country — that there are many things quite good and tangible happening here that needed to be talked about, paramount of which is that Nigerians are warm and positive people.

The burgeoning middle class in emerging markets, including African countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Nigeria and Kenya, presents huge opportunities for the local leisure and business tourism industries.

The collaboration between the private and public sector and the marketing council’s continued work in forging mutually beneficial relationships with other national departments, to ensure that the interests of tourism, its growth and contribution to the GDP remain a key focus on the national agenda.

The NTDC should do more in the area of business tourism — that is tourism generated as a result of meetings, incentive trips, conferences and exhibitions.

Globally, this sector generates in excess of 36 million trips. Now is the time to collaborate with International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) to increase the number of events, conferences and meetings held in the destinations, whether city, state or country.

It should, in league with different state tourism boards and private sector, also seek out modalities to appropriately market Nigeria’s tourism facilities.

Apart from historical events that could be marketed, there are various festivals that the outside would need to know. And the best way is not by taking a pavilion at some trade/travel show or markets or taking a few journalists from the country and numerous staff of NTDC to such events.

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