Tourism development is the fastest and cheapest way out of Nigeria’s recession


Mimidoo Osewe Mou, the Managing Director, Lovebet Hotels, Abuja, is a tourism development expert. Her passion for the development of the tourism sector in Nigeria is infectious. Some have even nicknamed her: “Madam Tourism Development”!

Even her Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) degree thesis, which she did at the Department of Public Administration, Faculty of Management Sciences, Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, Edo State, Nigeria, was on the subject of Tourism, entitled: “Tourism Development, Wealth Creation, Poverty Eradication and Inclusive Growth in Nigeria”. She also has a forthcoming book on the same subject, with the same title. Mou spoke with Monday Evawomaha on how the tourism potentials of Nigeria can be more easily and quickly harnessed to bring Nigeria out of the current recession. She believes that the development of the tourism sector offers the fastest and cheapest way out of Nigeria’s present recession.

You talk about tourism development in Nigeria with so much passion. Where did all these deep knowledge and concerns come from?
I have understudied and worked in the tourism and hospitality sectors for over 15 years now. I am currently the Managing Director of Lovebet Hotels at Abuja. In the last five years, I have even been serving as a consultant to a number of organizations, both in the private and public sectors, including state governments, ministries, companies and even development associations.

As a matter of fact, my master of Public Administration degree thesis, which I did in the Department of Public Administration, Faculty of Management Sciences, Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, Edo State of Nigeria, was on the subject of Tourism, entitled: “Tourism Development, Wealth Creation, Poverty Eradication and Inclusive Growth in Nigeria”. I also have a forthcoming book on the same subject, with the same title. This is in addition to the several articles and seminar papers, I have already published and presented on this very subject over the years. I think from all these, I have gathered enough experience and insights into the Tourism Sector to develop great interest and concern for it. Some of my friends who know this about me have even nicknamed me: “Madam Tourism Development”!

Why do you have so much faith in tourism development as the fastest and cheapest means to get Nigeria out of the current recession?
Tourism sector, in most countries in Africa and even overseas, has risen to become the fastest and cheapest sector for wealth creation, revenue generation, job creation and poverty eradication. This naturally leads to inclusive growth wherever it occurs. This can be done right here in Nigeria as well. It is not by accident that the World Tourism Organisation based in Madrid, Spain, in their two recent publications, titled: ‘Tourism and Poverty Alleviation’ and ‘Guide for Local Authorities on Developing Sustainable Tourism: Supplementary Volume on Sub-Saharan Africa’, has also concluded and I quote, “that Tourism Development is the best feasible and cheapest way for the poor countries to approach rapid development, industrialization and prosperity.”

Contrary to the commonsensical belief and public opinion, especially in Nigeria, the tourism sector is and will even be more lucrative and easier to develop and harness to bring Nigeria out of her current deep recession than the Agricultural Sector. It is also the easiest way for Nigeria to diversity from Petroleum. This is because it costs far less to develop the sector compared with agriculture, mining, industry and other sectors. Yet, it employs comparatively more people and brings faster revenues than any of these other sectors. The World Tourism Organisation reports I just mentioned, have all concluded, for instance, that tourism development brings and will bring even for Nigeria, more money than petroleum and gas combined. It is also not a wasting asset as these others.

Many believe that it is the agricultural sector that will get Nigeria out of the present recession and diversify her economy from over dependence on Petroleum. Could you elaborate further on what makes you think the tourism sector will do it cheaper and faster than agriculture?
I do not deny the fact that both sectors can help to diversify the Nigerian economy. They can also all lead to wealth creation, generate a lot of employment, reduce poverty and earn foreign exchange for the country.

However, when a country is in a total recession, it means such a country is having cash-flow problems and lacks funds for heavy and long term investments. The same scenario arises for poorer countries, recession or no recession. Therefore, the cost of making investments in different Sectors and the gestation periods for returns on those investments, become the critical issues to be considered carefully. It is in this regard that the sector has a comparative advantage over all the others, including agriculture, mining and the industrial sectors, for instance. This is because they are far more capital intensive and take longer to start yielding revenues than the tourism sector.

For example, agricultural ventures, such as farms, plantations, agro-processing industries, etc. are far higher in establishment cost than the cost of establishing tourist sites. Tourist sites, such as grazing reserves, hunting parks, cultural festivals, traditional dances, etc. cost far less in comparative terms.

In fact, much of the attractions that bring more money in tourism are referred to as nature-based tourism resources. These include, rivers, water-falls, hills, fishing lakes and so on, which are already provided by mother-nature. Even the culture-based tourism attractions are quite cheap to establish. Our cultures and cultural artifacts in Nigeria are diverse and rich by all standards. They are just waiting to be harnessed for purposeful commercial tourism ventures. Thus, comparing to Agriculture, the establishment of tourism sites, costs much less than setting up agro-processing facilities, for instance.

Can you give a few examples of countries that have focused attention on tourism and how it is benefiting them?
Examples abound, both within Africa and beyond, of countries that have realised these basic truths about the benefits of Tourism and are reaping from it. Tanzania, for instance, is one of the poorest countries in Africa in terms of mineral endowments. Yet, she is progressing by taping into tourism development. In 2015, the sector contributed 12.7 per cent of Tanzania’s Gross Domestic Product and employed 11.0 per cent of the country’s labour force. The good thing with the nature of jobs created in the sector is that, just as the agricultural ones, they are both for illiterates, semi-skilled and skilled persons. While Nigeria is currently in a recession, recording negative 2.0 per cent annual growth figures, Tanzania, is experiencing a high growth rate of 7.8% per annum, stimulated mainly by tourism.

Kenya also taps a lot from Tourism for wealth creation, revenue generation, job creation and poverty eradication. In 2016, the growth rate in Kenya, based mainly on tourism was 6.5%. Compare this with Nigeria, an oil producing country, which ended 2016 with a depression induced negative growth rate of 2.0 per cent. In fact, in Kenya, tourism had become the leading source of foreign exchange since 1997, when it overtook coffee, and the trend has continued till date.

Our West African neighbour, Ghana, is also using tourism to generate revenue, create jobs and alleviate poverty. In 2012, the sector raked-in $1.7 billion from 993,600 international tourists, providing employment for 359,999 people. By last year (2016), the figure had jumped to $4.5 billion from over 2.6 million international tourists, providing jobs for 1.25 million Ghanaian citizens in the sector.

As a matter of fact, it is not just the developing countries that are making it from tourism. As the case of the USA shows, advanced countries are doing the same. The Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2016), reveals that, and I quote, “Tourism in the United States is a large industry that is either the first, second or third largest employer in 29 States, employing 9.3 million and contributing $25.43 trillion to the USA national income last year”.

What recommendations would you like to make to the Nigerian government to promote tourism development as a way of getting the country out of the recession and providing the numerous other benefits other countries are already deriving from it?
There is no question that, as I have stated before, the sector, in most countries in Africa and beyond, has risen to become one of the main Sectors for generating revenue, wealth creation, job creation and poverty eradication. It is very possible that this can also be done and should indeed be done in Nigeria, especially now that we are in a recession. The recession is fast making worse our mass poverty, growing insecurity, and unemployment situation as well.

But it takes executive commitment and passion from the government to develop the sector to perform the triple purposes of money spinning, job creation and poverty eradication anywhere it has succeeded. This naturally also leads to inclusive growth wherever it occurs. Since the existence of any government, especially under a democracy, is the improvement in the welfare of her citizens, this should not be a problem to get the Federal Government of Nigeria and even the states and local councils in the country, committed to tourism development.

To help accomplish this task, I itemize briefly some critical actions that need to be taken immediately for the effective development and exploitation of the tourism potentials of Nigeria. This will enable the sector to become the main revenue-yielding and job creator, as we have shown to be the case with the several examples of other countries or case studies, we discussed earlier during this interview. These policy recommendations for the way forward include:

First, funding and availability of credit Facilities. There is need for government to increase funding of the sector .Though, comparatively, it is the cheapest sector to develop, it still requires initial funding to take off and become more sustainable. However, given the dwindling revenue at the disposal of the Federal and State governments in Nigeria because of declining allocations arising from the falling oil and gas prices in the world, government needs to involve the private sector in the funding and development of tourism in the country. Businessmen and women should be called upon to propose Public-Private-Partnership Projects on tourism development urgently as a way to move the country forward. Government should set up a National Tourism Development Endowment Fund (NTDEF). The state governments, private companies, corporative bodies, organizations, international donor agencies, private individuals, in and outside the country, could be called upon to contribute to this NTDEF.

In addition, Federal Government of Nigeria could also solicit for Long Term Development Loans (LTDL) from the World Bank, African Development Bank and similar other sources, local and international, of 15 to 20 years maturity dates. These LTDL and aid could be used to develop Tourism in Nigeria. Since tourism, as we have shown during this interview, is a money springing venture, it is relatively very easy to pay off these long term loans from the revenues to be generated from the operations.

Second, Improvement in Infrastructures Associated with the tourist attractions: There are funds already in the Federal Government yearly Budgets that are allocated to rural infrastructural developments, such as road networks, rural water projects (e.g. sinking of boreholes) etc., that can be tied to the development of Tourism. What I mean here is that these access roads, water projects etc., should, as much as possible, be done in places and sites of tourist attractions as a priority. As we have seen, all over the country, Nigeria’s tourism attractions and potential attractions are numerous.

However, there is great problem of access roads to them.

Therefore, there is the need for the roads leading to these tourism attractions to be upgraded, as the current state in which they are cannot encourage local and international visitors to visit them. There must also be boreholes provided at each and every site. Toilet facilities and recreational facilities must also be developed there. The Government can attract private individuals and companies to develop these recreational facilities by giving them incentives, such as free allocations of plots of land at the sites (with the Certificates of Occupation to be quickly issued to them), tax holidays or credits for upwards of five to ten years, etc. In this way, it will not take long for restaurants, hotels, gift shops, etc. to quickly spring up at these sites all over Nigeria. This will greatly attract visitors to these tourism attractions and provide jobs for the citizens.

Third, Addressing the Security Challenges at State levels in Nigeria: We must all note that no tourist is on a suicide mission! They will never visit States in Nigeria or the Tourism attractions in the country, if they are not sure that their lives are safe. They want to be able to enjoy the facilities and go back safe and alive! The issue of Fulani Herdsmen invaders and Splinter Groups of Boko Haram Islamist Militants that are now fighting over vast lands in rural areas all over Nigeria, especially in the North Central, must be resisted, carefully resolved and stopped. Governors who had already promised to do something about this during their campaigns must all be assisted by the Federal Government to act. Now that God has given them the Governorships, let them please do it! All we want is peace. States in Nigeria, cannot witness development of any kind, especially Tourism, without law and order that brings peace to our communities and towns.

There is also the increasing growth of crime in most States of Nigeria, including even kidnapping, stemming from the large pool of youth unemployment and high levels of poverty. Such crimes as kidnappings, armed robbery, rape, car snatching etc., will always repel tourists away. These must be tackled diligently!

Fourth, Empowerment and Incentives for Start-ups of Tourism Ventures: Governments, especially democratic ones, are about empowerment of their citizens. Empowering people generally, as I have said before, means giving poor people and the unemployed the means to escape poverty on their own. Tourism offers a lot of such opportunities.

Fifth, Information and Publicity of Tourism Attractions in the Nation: The advances in information technology have already made very easy the dissemination globally of information on and publicity of Tourism attractions in Nigeria. Websites can easily be set-up. Traditional media sources of Radio, Television, Bill Boards, etc. could all be used as well. The National Tourism Development Corporation and the State Tourism Boards must be made to wake-up from slumber and do their work diligently and effectively.

Sixth, Training of Manpower for Tourism Development: One of the hindrances to the quick development of tourism attractions in Nigeria, is the inadequacy of trained manpower. The Federal Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism must impress on Tourism-related Parastatals under it, to link up with the higher institutions at home and abroad and Tourism Development Consultants, to rapidly train and develop the tourism manpower needed in the country.

Seventh, Lack of States Tourism Boards or Agencies in Some States in Nigeria: We must appreciate the fact that tourists world-wide, prefer dealing with Tourism Boards or Agencies rather than the Ministries of Governments because of their fear of bureaucracy, legalism, corruption and red-tapism, that are associated with Government Ministries proper, especially in Africa. There is therefore, the need to quickly create, where they do not exist at the moment, States Tourism Boards or Agencies. These Boards or Agencies will be parastatals under the Ministries of Tourism and Culture of States in Nigeria. Tourism is a money spinner. The Boards or Agencies will never be drain pipes on State Governments in Nigeria. They will be tremendous revenue earners. They will be insulated from the Ministries and operate as commercialized Government Companies based on the ethos that exist in the Private Sector, that make them more effective and efficient than Government Ministries. Besides consulting for Governments and Private Companies, I have wide experience running hospitality and tourism ventures in the private sector, so I am familiar with this whole process.

The Federal Republic of Nigeria Decree 81 of 1992, Section 7(1) (which is now an Act of the National Assembly), already established State Tourism Boards in each State of the Federation (See Federal Republic of Nigeria Decree 1992:A760). It is shocking, that some States in Nigeria have not created them, several decades after this Decree. I therefore, advise strongly the present crops of State Governors in Nigeria to proceed and put these into effect, for the reasons already discussed, as soon as possible.

In this article:
Mimidoo Osewe Mou
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