No doubt, Nigerian tourism has rich potential. But the task of making it a thriving tourist destination that attracts the right investment, market and tourist traffic has over the years been challenged. Despite this, it has witnessed a marginal level of traffic inflow at both the inbound and domestic levels.
In this regard, a group of five tourists and investors from Malaysia and Indonesia, made of three men; Lee Sei Loong, Tjeng Tjin Tjung and Wong Chong Wah and two women; Gan Lay Hong and Ong Bie Lan, with Loong as the leader of the team, visited Lagos last week.
The visit of the team to Lagos was facilitated by Gadeshire Travels and Tours Limited, with Olugbenga Adebayo as the founder and president of the tour firm. The team was on a long haul tour of Africa, visiting nine countries, which included Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria, which was the last leg of the long haul tour.
The group spent one night and two days in Lagos where they visited some tourist sites such as Nike Art Gallery, Freedom Park, Terra Kulture, Makoko, Lekki-Ikoyi Long Bridge, a drive through the Cathedral Church/Tinubu Square/Central Mosque of Lagos, Lekki Market and time out at Elegushi Beach.
Loong, from Malaysian Harmony Tour and Travel, is a thoroughbred travel professional with flair for exploring different cities to sample their culture, meet people, landscapes, history, arts and crafts, natural and cultural heritage, infrastructure, facilities, among others.
These were some of the things that his group sought to explore in their first trip to Nigeria, which according to him, is the beginning of a long romance with Nigeria and enduring relationship with Gahdeshire Travels and Tours.
Embarking on the tour, he said, was fraught with a number of challenges, with visa procurement as a major drawback, which he said resulted in many of the tourists, who had earlier signed on for the trip, to back out.
He disclosed that the first challenge was that before COVID-19, the Nigerian Embassy in Malaysia was not granting tourist visas and that though that has changed since the return of travel, he decried that the process was harrowing.
Loong faulted the procedure requiring you to apply online and at the same time submit a hardcopy application at the embassy, which again entails the tedious process of filling out several papers. Secondly, is the issue of the tardiness of the officials and the fact that there is no specific duration for collection of visa after submission, although he said it took about 16 days for the visa to be issued.
Having to visit the embassy and make phone calls on many occasions without a positive response, were not good enough just as he also condemned the lack of detailed information on the embassy’s website.
Furthermore, Loong decried the high visa fees, which he puts at $116, an equivalent of 450 Malaysian Ringgit (MYR). This, he said, is on a very high side while also questioning the rationale behind requesting applicants to attach the statement of credit card, while making payment online.
Before embarking on the trip, Loong said he has heard a lot about Nigeria, with some of the things he heard not too pleasant. One of the sour points was security issues while as it concerns Lagos, it was the twin issues of traffic gridlock and overcrowding.
On his experience of the trip, he was reticent and that is understandable for a seasoned travel expert and traveller that has visited all the countries of the world including Africa countries, with Libya as the only country on his basket of Africa destinations yet to be visited.
He decried the long hours of passing through immigration and waiting for your luggage at the airport on arrival, which he said the Nigeria government needs to address. Another sour point for him, which he spoke about in all the sites the group visited, was the lack of detailed information, promotional materials and travel guides about the sites.
While commending the sites visited as good and attractive, he advised that Nigeria needs to improve a lot on its tourism offerings, facilities and infrastructure if it wants to be competitive as a tourist destination.
‘‘The sites are good but there is no detailed information about the works on display, there should be information to tell the visitors what the objects are about and the places in Nigeria that they are from,’’ said Loong.
‘‘You need to work hard to improve on these sites. I look forward to visiting and coming with tourists and investors but there has to be improvement on your tourism facilities and infrastructure.’’
Loong disclosed that he will be visiting Nigeria again next year with another team and one of the things he missed on this trip is the Eyo Masquerade. ‘‘I will be here next year, hopefully and I look forward to seeing the Eyo Masquerade.’’
In comparison with other Africa destinations, he scored countries such as South Africa, Morocco and Algeria, as better and well organised than Nigeria, stating that; ‘‘they are more organised and they provide detailed information and direction to the tourists.
‘‘Even at the airport we had a big problem with the immigration, Ghana and South Africa are not like this but there are problems with Burundi, Mali, Guinea and Guinea Conakry.’’
His views are not what you take for granted as he said that; ‘‘I have been to all African countries except Libya. I will be in Libya in October and I have also toured all over the world.’’
On his motivation for globetrotting, he said; ‘‘I like this kind of job, I like to travel, I like culture, I like to see the world, people, facilities and infrastructure.’’
Airing his views on what he considers unique attractions in Nigeria, he lamented that Nigeria seems not to have any recognisable national landmark or symbol that sells the country globally and what should be a source for driving traffic to the country.
‘‘I have not seen anything quite unique about Nigeria yet judging from my experience travelling across the world,” he said.
‘‘Frankly speaking, not yet, because when you see other cities you see how big they are, the organisation and you have detailed information about them, they have world heritage sites and special places you can visit. Even when I asked our tour guide about the landmarks of Nigeria or Lagos he couldn’t answer me. But you need a landmark for Lagos and for your country so that when people visit you take them there and other sites.’’