• Monday, May 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

Nigeria at 54: Promoting tourism for economic growth (1)

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Tourism, one of the earliest industries known to man, essentially involves travelling from one place of interest to another, either for sight- seeing, leisure, adventure, picnic, relaxation/ recreation, holidays, business or just for peace and quietness. A vacation or ‘getaway’ from life’s stress, pressures and busy schedules to a tourist destination is, for many an excitement and opportunity to unwind, for some a status symbol and for others a sign of an improved standard of living. While tourism in Nigeria is still at an embryonic stage, it is a major, soaring industry in most developed and some developing countries, where it has contributed tremendously to the economies of those countries, such as Australia, Spain, Italy, Canada, Kenya, South Africa, Senegal, Seychelles, Egypt, Gambia, Mauritius, the United Arab Emirates, USA, the Bahamas, Canneries Island and many other Countries, notably in the Caribbean.

Regrettably, over the years, the immense tourism potentials that abound in Nigeria have not been effectively tapped, developed and harnessed. Before delving into the tourism potentials in Nigeria, let me highlight some of the benefits and contributions of tourism to the economic growth and development of any nation.  First and foremost, tourism provides a veritable platform for rebranding and international public relations by way of projecting, showcasing and promoting a country’s unique history and rich cultural heritage, economic endowments and natural resources, including social and political evolution and transformation, thereby positively influencing the image and reputation of the country in the international community. There is also a growing global recognition and awareness that tourism fosters bilateral ties among countries as well as the expansion of international trade by way of artistic and cultural interaction and exchanges thereby promoting better harmony and understanding among nations.

Tourism contributes significantly to the Gross Domestic Product as well as the economic growth and development of a country, especially in terms of its potential capability at generating foreign exchange earnings. There is a nexus between tourism, investment opportunities and economic development of a country. For example, in the Gambia, the tourism sector is the second largest contributor to the country’s Gross Domestic Product [GDP], after agriculture. The tourism sector contributes 16 percent of Gambia’s GDP and provides jobs for over 75,000 people, in a country with a population of about 1.7 million.  Tourism is such a booming and lucrative industry in the Gambia that the country’s Minister of Tourism and Culture, recently averred that “During the winter period, which happens to be the high season, we witness a situation where there are no hotel accommodations for our tourists as all the beds would have been occupied”. How I wish the same could be said of the tourism/hospitality sector in Nigeria! The undeniable contribution of tourism to a nation’s economy has been evidently attested to and amply demonstrated by what tourism has done to the economic growth and transformation of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E), an oil producing Country like Nigeria, which has diversified her economy away from oil, through tourism.  While the UAE oil reserve is ranked as the seventh largest in the world, unknown to many, tourism now fetches the emirates more revenue than oil! It is common knowledge that Dubai, one of the major cities in the U.A.E, has become a popular tourism hub and preferred destination for tourists from all over the world. Apart from its attraction as a business/trade destination point, Dubai has assumed a new status symbol as a haven where many Nigerians now go for leisure, vacation, holidays, and, wait for this, weddings and Medicare. It is pertinent to note that medical tourism which is increasingly gaining grounds amongst Nigerian elites and celebrities is a source of capital flight and foreign exchange drain on the economy. Conversely, medical tourism has continued to be a source of foreign exchange earnings for countries such as Britain, France, Germany, Spain, USA, India and other countries where Nigerians go for medical check-ups, surgeries and treatments.

  As part of comprehensive economic reforms to strategically restructure and diversify the economy away from oil, conscious and deliberate efforts should be made by the government to develop and promote the nation’s tourism potentials. This must begin with efforts by relevant government Ministries and Agencies to change the orientation, attitude, mindset and mentality of Nigerians to tourism by stimulating and increasing domestic or internal tourism. By this, I mean that government should not just beckon or wait on foreign tourists to visit our country but should galvanize Nigerians to begin to appreciate and show interests in our local tourism products by taking time out to visit the various tourist sites in the country instead of going abroad. Towards this end, there is the need for a mass orientation programme and enlightenment campaign by the relevant government authorities and agencies to create awareness and sensitize Nigerians on the various tourist spots, resorts and destinations that abound in the country, as well as the major attractions and benefits of visiting these sites.

KAYODE OLUWA