BusinessDay

Why Nigerian tourism private sector is boycotting UNWTO’s global conference in the country

Across some international media platforms, there have been promotions for the UNWTO Global Conference On Linking Tourism, Culture and Creative Industries: Pathways to Recovery and Inclusive Development.

The conference is billed to take place in Lagos, Nigeria from November 14-16, 2022 at the National Theatre, which is under renovation and preparations are on top gear by the Nigerian government to host the world.

But since Lai Mohammed, minister of Information and Culture broke the hosting right news on June 2, 2022, there has been different reactions, mostly negative and especially from the country’s tourism private sector, which regretted that apart from downgrading tourism from a full-fledged ministry to being subsumed under the Ministry of Information and Culture, the present administration has further neglected the sector, and only remembers it when there is foreign trips for tourism events, especially the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) events in Spain or other parts of the world.

The Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigerian (FTAN), the country’s umbrella body for the tourism private sector, is coming out strongly to oppose the hosting of the November conference, which is the first of such conferences in Nigeria by the UNWTO, on many grounds.

Citing instances with the many benefits gained by Oman, where the UNWTO coordinated a similar conference with UNESCO in 2017, FTAN declared that the conference would be of no benefit to Nigerian tourism and the operators.

Explaining further the reasons of boycotting the conference, Nkwereuwem Onung, president of FTAN, at a media parley with travel and culture press in Lagos within the week, lamented that the Ministry of Information and Culture has grossly neglected of the tourism sector over the last seven years of the present administration.

Again, the FTAN president said the reason also immanents from the fact that in the last seven years, the minister has never had time to meet with tourism stakeholders for healthy interactions or deliberations on policies and challenges the operators are facing and finding solutions.

The above warranted many industry stakeholders, according to the FTAN, to regard Mohamed as only an Information Minister, with calls for standalone Ministry of Tourism, while querying what he discusses on Nigerian tourism at international forums he frequents, and sadly without private sector in his entourage.

As well, he decried that the minister is talking about hosting the UNWTO for the second time in four year, the first being CAF, which the country cannot point out the gains.

“What is the benefit of the hosting Nigeria? Why are we the ones spending money to host when we have things around the environment that have not been done? Why are you spending money hosting things that do not benefit us? What is the relevance to the industry and its growth? Those are the questions we are asking”, he said.

“Our interaction with the UNWTO has not benefited us. I was part of the committee in 2016 which was supposed to deliver the tourism master-plan. It has been abandoned. It is the same minister that was in charge.

“We have not heard anything till now. There is no report. Nigeria has no master-plan. We tied it to the UNWTO; you are now hosting their conference. You have hosted CAF. What is the interest? These are the questions”.

On that basis he asked for the rationale of hosting a second event, when it should be the UNWTO bringing its development projects to Nigeria such as the world class Tourism Village it has established in Sierra Leone, Saudi Arabia and other countries recently.

For Onung, Nigeria should bid for developmental projects to be established in the country with job creation, skills and huge economic impacts rather than hosting and spending the scarce fund on the already rich UNWTO.

FTAN also said the private sector is boycotting the November conference because the minister hardly attends domestic tourism events as many put his attendance to 80 percent foreign tourism trips and 10 percent domestic.

However, the FTAN-led Nigerian tourism private sector is not relenting. It is taking the matter up and has written an open letter to President Muhammad Buhari on why the planned conference will not benefit the country.

The open letter titled: ‘Hosting of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation first world conference on cultural tourism and creative industries: A wild goose chase of no benefit to Nigeria and Nigerian cultural tourism and creative industries’, reads:

“Your Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, we organised tourism associations under the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), the umbrella body for private operators in tourism, travel and hospitality, bring you good tidings.

Read also: Curbing the effects of insecurity on tourism in Nigeria

“We wish to commend your efforts over the last seven years in enthroning good governance and improving the economy of the nation. We are also grateful to you for deeming it fit and necessary to place TOURISM among the priority sectors for this government.

“However, we wish to place on record that from our observations, priority has not been translated into physical reality and transformation of our sector, which is globally acknowledged as a multi-layered sector and the largest employer of labour with every ‘One’ employment out of 10 from the TOURISM sector.

“The supervising ministry for TOURISM; the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, and the Minister in charge, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, is, to say the least, have neglected TOURISM, with no basic policy direction, programmes and activities wholly initiated and/or in partnership with the private sector to drive TOURISM in other to improve its contribution to the country’s GDP.

“The Ministry and Minister appear to have an avowed disdain for DOMESTIC TOURISM and working with the private sector as the fulcrum to change the narrative and disruptive innovations in the sector as has been done in other climes.

“Not even in the difficult era of COVID-19 when most of the MDAs worked closely with the private sector to devise palliative for survival strategies did the Minister and Ministry think it wise to court the private sector.

“The only reaction from the Minister was to set up a ‘controversial’ creative industry committee to work out palliatives for the sector.

“Unfortunately, the recommendations of the committee and the review committee are today gathering dust and cobwebs in the ‘golden’ cabinet of the Minister; neither disclosed nor recommendations implemented.

“Moving to recent happenings, the common denominator of the pre-COVID -19 era all over the world, is TOURISM RECOVERY STRATEGIES championed by the UNWTO.

“Sadly, the Minister has not felt the need to work in this direction especially given our peculiar situation; with our economy bleeding and our tourist destinations gripped by insecurity that does not repose confidence in tourists and investors in revamping our neglected TOURISM.

“Rather, what we have seen over the last seven years is that the Minister and the Ministry have been more focused on merely attending international events and meetings of the UNWTO and thus becoming ‘biding specialists’ by lobbying to get hosting rights to any UNWTO related events without putting in perspective the attendant economic cost and benefits to the country.

“The latest in the quest by the Minister and Ministry to turn Nigeria into ‘Father Christmas’ and ‘host country specialist’ for anything labelled UNWTO, is the forthcoming FIRST WORLD CONFERENCE ON CULTURAL TOURISM AND CREATIVE INDUSTRY scheduled to hold between NOVEMBER 14 AND 17, 2022 at the National Arts Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos now undergoing renovation courtesy of the Nigeria Bankers’ Committee, which the Minister said is now to be renamed – Lagos Creative and Entertainment Centre.

“Mr President Sir, we the private sector, strongly believe that this world conference is of no benefit to Nigeria and our TOURISM INDUSTRY. It is rather self–serving and more of personal aggrandisement and these can be deciphered from a critical analysis of the present state of our TOURISM and CULTURE”.

According to Onung, the federation is not stopping at the open letter, it intends to publish it in national dailies, while pressing for the boycott and making strong case for tourism, which has been given the back seat since the inception of present administration with the downgrading and subsuming under Information and Culture ministry, and further neglects.

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