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Oronsaye Report: Why not put Tourism under direct supervision of the Presidency?

Given the recommendations of the Steve Oronsaye Committee, moving Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation to the direct supervision of the Presidency will afford it better international recognition and make it easier to market Nigeria’s tourism potentials at international conferences and events. It will also enable the sector grow money for Nigeria, Zebulon Agomuo writes.

President Muhammadu Buhari, in his nationwide broadcast of April 27, 2020, highlighted how the health systems and economies of many nations have continued to struggle as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Just like other leaders around the world faced with the same difficult decisions of balancing the protection of their citizens’ health and preserving their livelihoods, Buhari is not insulated from the challenges.

“Nigeria continues to adopt and adapt to these new global realities on a daily basis,” the President had stated in his address.

With the current COVID-19 crisis, there are no rules or playbook yet for the situation while the right answer is constantly shifting. The exact timeline of recovery is still unclear —but many have even predicted a possible two- to six-month window to get to the rebounding stage of the crisis— when the impact will eventually pass.

Like every other country, the Nigerian government is deeply concerned about how to get her economy back on track after the COVID-19 era. The question on many lips is in which sectors will some economic and business activities be restored? The obvious answer, in many instances, is tourism, considered as the lowest hanging fruit.

Major crises like COVID-19 almost always fundamentally change and evolve the status quo. It usually berths a new normal. For the tourism industry, it has been hard hit with the world’s most crowded destinations are deserted as governments shut borders, planes are grounded and there is a scramble to deal with the biggest impact on our world in recent history – COVID-19. As such, the urgent question may not just be a matter of getting the tourism industry’s engine restarted. Instead, the collective tourism stakeholder ecosystem must understand what has changed, and what will best position the industry to grow together and become a global force once again in the new normal.

The new normal will likely include everything from the minutiae of sanitation practices —with consumers wanting to know more about them— to broader topics such as the health of the nations/ports-of-call, the role of travel insurance, and issues unique to specific modes of travel —social distancing possible in modern air travel. This is where the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation, (NTDC), comes in as the Nigerian government’s tourism promotion agency to deal with those subject matters.

“Going back to normal for the travel, tourism and hospitality industry is possible but will not be easy. Policies such as limited gatherings, travel restrictions, hygiene requirements and the protection of vulnerable groups will lead to behavioural changes in consumers,” Folorunsho Coker, NTDC, director-general, said.

Coker views a mighty window of opportunity for tourism, as the pandemic offers a rare opportunity for reflection and recalibration to properly develop travel and tourism as it is uniquely equipped to be part of global recovery efforts.

Speaking with BusinessDay, Coker said: “The gradual shifts with disruptive technologies that are gaining ground —like the use of robotics and artificial intelligence— will be accelerated to become the new normal of zero to minimal human contact in transactions.”

Side-by-side with other sectors of the economy, Coker’s view is very relevant. With scores of professionals and millions of workers active in the myriad of sub-segments of the very extensive tourism industry, the NTDC boss is kept on his toes constantly in response to the demands of his office.

The government tourism agency manager strongly wishes to draw attention to industries that had a set of players whose incomes were tied to services that have been put under lock and key. According to him, a lot of people seem not to reckon with the financial dividends that come from tourism, entertainment and creative-related activities that encompass concerts, hotels, night clubs, art shops, culture hubs, book shops, hair salons, tailoring services, transportation and laundry services to mention a few. Its 2018 revenue suggested that this sector generated cash transactions of over N50 billion in Lagos alone.

For these industry stakeholders, the COVID-19 lockdown would be a horrific economic nightmare they wish to wake up from. But once this present shutdown thaws, the tourism sector is expected to roar back to life, albeit gradually.

However, as the industry faces a new post-COVID-19 reality where countries would be vying for the hearts and minds of wary tourists, it will no longer be business as usual. But Coker and his team at the NTDC are ready.

He said: “As a nation, we need to consider and deploy innovative recovery solutions that are home grown and practical, tailor made for our specific environment and people. They are in three possible policy thrusts: Healing for the People, Healing for Prosperity and Healing for Destinations —Health, Employment and Environment.”

But achieving this with NTDC, as an agency under a ministry, might be a Herculean task.

Travel and tourism is a labour-intensive industry. Its economic and social footprint is greater than that of any other economic sector. The pandemic has already created changes on many fronts and the possibilities for innovative solutions or consolidation of services abound.

Because of its multi-sectoral nature, tourism has been seen as the new oil with most forward thinking nations leveraging on it to reap economic benefits and grow their economies whilst also improving the quality of their infrastructure and the livelihood of their citizens.

In most of these countries that have harnessed their tourism potentials, the norm is to create a stand-alone Department, Agency or Parastatal in charge of all matters relating to tourism. Examples include the Singapore Tourism Board, Kenyan Tourism Board, Tanzania Tourism Bureau, Namibia Tourism Board and the South African Tourism Board. The head of these boards, in turn, report directly to their Presidents or heads of the government in view of tourism’s hydra-headed nature yet yielding substantial returns to grow their GDPs.

In Nigeria, tourism accounts for only 1.7 per cent of National GDP. This is abysmally low in view of the myriad tourism potentials that exist across the breadth of the federation. However, experts have annexed this problem to the fact that in Nigeria, a very important agency like NTDC with the responsibility to implement and execute all Federal Government tourism policies, has been reduced to a miniature agency under the Ministry of Information and Culture —whose minister also supervises 21 other agencies of government.

This has led to a lot of bureaucratic red tape and a very slow pace of getting things done. The situation becomes blurrier when it was later realised that tourism is not even captured in the functions of the Ministry of Information and Culture.

This is one of the aberrations noted and spurred parts of the recommendations by the Presidential Panel on Rationalisation and Restructuring of Federal Government Parastatals headed by Steve Oronsaye, former head of the Civil Service of the Federation.

In the Executive Summary of the Oronsaye Report, it recommends that NTDC should be fully commercialised and seeks to shape a new direction for tourism management in Nigeria so as to minimize bureaucratic red tape and ensure that the country’s tourism potentials are effectively harnessed for national unity and development.

Given the new normal expected in the post COVID-19 travel and tourism industry, an NTDC under a direct supervision of the Presidency will be expeditious in delivering its responsibilities.

Experts have suggested that with a Presidential Executive Order, many policies would be pushed to re-flate the economy faster through tourism. The tourism industry in Nigeria today requires urgent funding and direct investment especially from the public sector. With the diversification of the economy becoming mandatory for the growth of the country, tourism, unarguably, is seen as one of the fastest ways out of the doldrums.

Private investors would be more assured if they can be certain of the Presidency role in tourism development. They believe that the President can order everyone including Immigration, Customs and embassies, while a minister cannot as he or she would still require the President’s approval.

More so, for those who canvassed for the status quo to be reviewed, moving NTDC to the direct supervision of the Presidency will afford it better international recognition and easier to market Nigeria’s tourism potentials at all international conferences and events. It will as well market Nigeria as the foremost destination in Africa.

According to Coker, priority position will be placed on tourism, thereby sending a message to the international community that Nigeria is ready for tourism, as well as sensitizing Nigerians on the need to embrace tourism for job creation, poverty alleviation and overall improvement of the economy.

“If suitable strategies are deployed, tourism can emerge from this current crisis as an even more important contributor to the 2030 Agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals, supporting livelihoods and creating opportunities for millions of people around the world and leaving nobody behind,” the NTDC boss further said.

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