At the annual general meeting of the Nigerian Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) in Calabar, Cross River State, in February 2016, Patrick Utomi, a professor of Political Economics and keynote speaker at the gathering, described tourism as the lowest hanging fruit for the diversification of the Nigerian economy.
Other speakers including Nkereuwwm Onung, the then president of NATOP, called on the need to give tourism priority in terms of enabling policies, friendly environment, inter-agency and government and private sector collaborations, amid security to boost the sector.
But, considering the job and revenue creation potential of tourism, it was sad that it was given the back-seat in Nigeria, with it being subsumed under the Ministry of Information and Culture.
To ensure better performance from the sector, stakeholders in the industry have been calling for a standalone ministry for tourism.
It would be recalled that it was during Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration that tourism had a full-fledged ministry and the economy benefited from the many cultural events, festivals and shows that wooed visitors to the country, amid huge image laundry activities by the ministry.
Of course, those gains were lost in the years that tourism was given back-seat, especially in the eight years of Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
Moreover, the call for standalone ministry became a campaign ‘thing’ as stakeholders kept calling for the need for a dedicated ministry at every forum, meeting or conference they attended.
Nkereuwem Onug, who is now the president, Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), led the campaign with the likes of Ikechi Uko, CEO, Akwaaba African Travel Market, Jemi Alade, CEO, Jemi Alade Tours, Ime Udo, president, NATOP, Samuel Alabi, BOT chairman of FTAN, the Association of Nigerian Travel Writers and Journalists (ANJET), Iro Okumgbowa, Lucky George Isekpe, both veteran travel journalists, among others.
Finally and after sustained years of campaigning for a standalone Ministry of Tourism, the Federal Government, under President Bola Tinubu, created a full-fledged ministry with a woman designated minister.
The stakeholders are happy to welcome Lola Ade-John, a banker and an IT expert, their new minister and are ready to work with her.
Expressing the tourism private sector’s excitement over the development, Nkereuwem Onung, president, Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), said, “We have to first congratulate and appreciate President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for listening to public opinion and ensuring industry representation”.
Also reacting to the development, Emmanuel Ele, CEO, Six Regions Hotels, said that the development is a right step in the right direction, but that it is not enough to create a ministry without the political will to move it forward, considering the challenges including security and weak economy.
Modupe Oyebola, a tour operator, also expressed her excitement, saying that tourism can now breath, as stakeholders have a body to interface with on right policy formulation and implementation.
With the ministry in place, the FTAN president said, “We need to create policies and drive traffic into our country. The value chain of tourism must be improved. The MDAs must be held accountable”.
Ele also advised that the country should avoid running the repositioned tourism ministry like the normal public sector enterprise.
According to Olufemi Talabi, chairman and CEO, CitiHeight Hotel Group, a thriving indigenous hotel chain, the tourism ministry without a doubt, is long overdue, especially considering the fact that tourism makes a significant contribution to the economy.
“The advantage, amongst others, is that the ministry will be more focused and will be able to devote attention to the tourism industry, unlike before when tourism is just part of a bigger ministry.
“It will also help in the rapid development of the industry. We can now for once have a mouthpiece internationally. Nigeria should now be fully represented at the WTM, London, in November this year, after a long time.
“I even think that the minister should seize the initiative to register her arrival and relevance in the tourism space worldwide,” Talabi said.
On the minister’s non-tourism background, the Citi Height chairman noted that although an experienced hand in the tourism industry would have been better, all things being equal, “in the circumstances, she should assemble a team of experienced professionals to assist her”.
He assured that with her level of managerial capabilities, the minister designate should be more relevant to the industry.
For Ime Udo, NATOP president, the industry appreciates the recognition and establishment of the Tourism Ministry by the federal government.
“The clamour for a dedicated ministry by industry players has been answered. It is evident that the government listens,” she said.
According to her, Nigeria has a rich cultural heritage and several natural attractions; hence a dedicated ministry will help in harnessing the potential more effectively.
“Nigeria has been trying to diversify its economy away from oil, and tourism is one sector that can contribute significantly to the GDP if properly managed.
“As a sector that has the potential to create numerous direct and indirect jobs, this will help to boost employment opportunities and provide more focused leadership, resources, and attention needed to develop the tourism industry.
“It can ensure that Nigeria’s tourism potential is effectively marketed on the international platforms, attracting foreign tourists and investments and it will be in a better position to formulate and implement policies that are tailored to the specific needs of the tourism industry,” the NATOP president said.
Speaking further, she noted that the establishment of a standalone ministry could mean more resources and better regulation.
“There is a potential for increased funding and resources directed at developing the industry, and it will benefit from more coherent policies and regulations that are specifically designed for its growth and sustainability.
“This will also mean increased collaboration, where it can better liaise with other government agencies, international bodies, and private stakeholders to drive the tourism agenda.
“Very importantly is improved image and branding as with dedicated efforts, Nigeria’s image as a tourist destination could improve, attracting more visitors and investments”.
With the development, the stakeholders look forward to working with her and wish her well in her new appointment and for the development of the Nigerian tourism industry to a sustainable revenue earning status, to impact the people, the GDP and the country at large.