TOURISM AS REVENUE DRIVER: HOW COMMITTED IS NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT?
Governments at federal and state levels are increasingly realising the huge potentials of tourism to galvanize economy and create new jobs. And at every opportunity, they never fail to share this ‘discovery’ with the Nigerian public. But what actions are being taken by the governments to translate this promise into reality? AJIBOLA AMZAT examines policy statements of tourism ministry against performance in this report.
RECENTLY, Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, Mr. Edem Duke announced that Federal Government has been planning to diversify Nigerian economy from oil to tourism.
Like South Africa, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and a few other countries with success stories in tourism industry, Nigerian plans to make tourism a priority sector.
UAE, for example, created business cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi by harnessing tourism resources of the emirate. South Africa is successfully using tourism to rebrand the former apartheid state as a welcoming nation for the people of all races.
Little wonder Dubai tourism sector recorded a GDP of $90 billion in 2012 while the sector contributed about 9 percent to South Africa GDP the same year.
Nigeria though does not have accurate record of tourism contribution to GDP, as the tourism minister hinted during a TV interview; it appears the sector does not generate anything close to the tourism earnings in South Africa and Dubai, even with almost 500 tourist sites and attractions in the country.
According to Bismarck Rewane, publisher of a tourism publication, Travelnomiks, Nigeria still remains one of the countries yet to begin nurturing its historical and anthropological assets to position them to become attractive.
It means therefore the country stands a good chance to improve its revenue generation if the government shows greater commitment to the development tourism sector.
NTDC boss, Mrs. Sally Mbanefo illustrated the potential of tourism this way at a stakeholder meeting held recently: “If we assume that a low estimate of 20 million out of 160 million Nigerians travel locally for business, leisure, culture, religion or sports annually and they spend only 10 per cent of Nigeria’s per Capita income of $2000 annually, we will have a $4 billion domestic tourism market.”
Now $4 billion is still a far cry from the annual oil proceeds, which was $42 billion in 2012, but if this is added to the revenue accruable from international tourism, the figure amounts to huge fortunes. And considering the bourgeoning population of Nigeria, it is expected that Nigeria should at least be performing much better than Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt and Morocco. These are the other African countries reaping the dividends of vibrant tourism industry.
This calculation may have spurred the new campaign by the tourism ministry to articulate a strategic brand positioning for Nigeria in the international arena christened, Fascinating Nigeria.
But how is the government driving this policy? What are the forces packed behind strategic action of the ministry of tourism and its key agencies such as Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), whose mandate is to translate government policy into programmes?
A cursory glance at 2012 FG budget clearly shows that tourism is not on the priority list of the Federal Government. The budget was pegged at a little above N20 billion which was to be shared among 13 MDAs. NTDC that is charged with the responsibility of marketing Nigeria tourism got a paltry sum of N1, 344,787, 346. Out of this, N1, 134, 077, 646 goes into salaries and overheads while 210, 709, 700 was earmarked for capital expenditure.
For a country targeting tourism as a prime revenue driver, this amount may be far below what can catalyze rapid growth. The allocation in fact speaks to the popular cliché of not putting ones’ money where ones’ mouth is.
A visit to most tourist sites across the states bears evidence of the Nigerian government unpreparedness to play in the big leagues of tourism earners. Yankari game reserve, a premier game reserve was reported to have poor accommodation facilities that may not even attract considerable number of domestic tourists, regardless of international tourists on long vacation. Other parks such as Kainji Lake National Park, Old Oyo National Park, Gashaka Gumti, Okomu, Chad basin, Kamuku do not fare better perhaps with the exception of Obudu ranch. The story is not different with most Nigerian beaches. Recently, this page has done exposé on Lekki and Atlas Cove beaches in Lagos. These are goldmines waiting to be tapped but still remain in the virgin state.
There are many festivals and carnivals organised across the 36 states of the federation. Many of these cultural events are potential income gainers on their own – both for the government and the community. There is Arugungun festival in, Eyo in Lagos, Osun festival in Osogbo, Ogun festival in Oyo, Ojude oba festival in Ijebu, Ofala festival in Anambra, yam festival in Abuja/suleja. Promotion of these festivals is mostly left in the hands of a band of charlatans pretending to be festival consultant while governments rather act the role of cheerful givers.
Another key area of challenge in Nigeria tourism industry is transportation. It cannot be over emphasized that good transportation system is key to tourism growth. But the crisis in Nigeria aviation industry, dilapidated state of Nigerian roads, and disorganized system of transport business have further narrowed the chances of tourism development in the country. The news of regular air mishap drives many potential tourists far away from the Nigeria. While South Africa attracted about 9.2 million tourists in 2012, Nigeria has no such data. But according to a 2010 World Bank report, the number of arrivals in Nigeria was 1414000 in 2009.
The situation is further compounded by the foreign tourist perception of widespread insecurity in Nigeria. There are reports of hotels providing shelter for criminal gang, tourist sites patronized by drug users, muggers, kidnapers and prostitutes. In 2009, NTDC reportedly discovered that 70 percent of stolen cars are kept in hotels, though many unregistered hotels have been closed down on account of this discovery. Notwithstanding the incidents of insecurity around hospitality establishments still makes news headlines.
Tourism industry also requires a regime of dynamic law, which at present is yet to evolve. Safe for Lagos state government that has been reviewing their tourism law, other states of the federation are yet to use the instrumentality of law to grow the tourism industry. To play an effective role in the development and promotion of tourism, government must formulate appropriate policies and laws to control, standardize and sanitize operations in the industry.
In addition, the inter-sectoral cooperation that should exist within and outside tourism industry is being lacking. Therefore, when the tourism minister said there was no record of tourist visits, he was indirectly harping on the disconnect among the various agencies of government including private sectors. Mrs. Mbanefo though has promised integration of services by all relevant stakeholders namely, immigration, aviation, security, health, hospitality, transportation, banking, media, legislature and others. But this would only occur if the higher authorities in government are positively disposed to this innovation.
Director of Financial and Private Sector Development for the World Bank in Africa, Gaiv Tata got it right when he said, healthy tourism growth, wealth creation and shared prosperity requires joint public and private sector efforts.
Given the Nigeria abundant natural and cultural resources, the business opportunities and other fundamentals, the country has a great chance to rake in good fortunes from tourism. More fundamentally, governments at all levels need to quit sloganeering on the super gains of tourism and get to the work of attracting massive investment into the tourism industry. Though this is one task that should have happened a day before, but 2014 brings another opportunity to re-engage with this undertaking, and… the time is ticking.