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Stakeholders urge FG to give Ministry of Tourism priority

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Stakeholders in the country’s travel and tourism industry have expressed worry over inadequate funding and lack of operational equipment for the newly-established Ministry of Tourism, positing that the situation is stalling growth of the sector.

It would be recalled that the Federal Ministry of Tourism was established by President Bola Tinubu in August last year, separating from the now defunct Ministry of Information and Culture, with the subsequent appointment by the President of Lola Ade-John as the pioneer minister.

Now, over seven months after its creation, the Federal Ministry of Tourism is still without its own office complex, but rather squatting at the headquarters of the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR), in Abuja, which incidentally is even an agency under the same ministry.

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The worrying situation at the Tourism ministry is further compounded by a paltry budgetary provision, which sadly is yet to be released to it, resulting in an out-of-pocket funding for the ministry’s activities in the past seven months of its existence.

According to a source at the Tourism Ministry, the minister does not have an official car; her aides use public transport to work. The entire ministry does not have any operational vehicle to attend or perform official functions.

This is even more so as during some public functions of the ministry, staff have to be pruned down due to the absence of operational vehicles, while the minister’s aides resort to hailing rides as means of transportation.

“In fact, as I speak to you now, some of them have not been paid,” the source continued.

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The source further disclosed that senators at the country’s National Assembly have created fresh bottlenecks for the struggling ministry with ‘ridiculous’ hurdles laid out for the ministry before accessing funds with which to execute its programmes and activities.

The tourism ministry has an allocation of N11 .06 billion in the 2024 budget of which the sum of N3.96 billion is for recurrent expenditures while N7.30 billion is for capital expenditure (CAPEX).

This paltry sum is spread across the ministry itself and the two agencies in it; NIHOTOUR and the Nigerian Tourism Development Authority (NTDA), but, according to the ministry source, ‘nothing has been received by it for take-off.’

According to Ade-John, that budget was passed during her absence from office due to ill-health, as she insists on describing as a ‘no budget’ provision due to its inadequacy to address mounting challenges before the tourism ministry.

The challenges are coming on the heels of huge expectations from the Nigerian private sector operators, which continues to await the emergence of the country as a powerhouse in the sector, amid the President Tinubu administration’s much-touted Renewed Hope Agenda that seeks to diversify Nigeria’s economy with tourism topping the list of MDAs planking the initiative, based on the sector’s immense potential for generating huge revenue to the economy.

Speaking during a recent interactive meeting of the travel and tourism media in Lagos, the minister declared that the stagnation at the country’s tourism can no longer continue, as she further reiterated her commitment to initiating programmes and policies geared towards repositioning the industry for the growth of private sector businesses.

“We have our challenges as a newly-established ministry. But I must commend the President, Bola Tinubu for his continued belief in us and in tourism as having that potential to lift the Nigerian economy from its over dependence on oil and gas.

“In order to effectively address prevailing challenges such as neglect of cultural and tourism sites, my ministry has outlined plans to engage local community leaders in safeguarding and promoting these national treasures.

“By fostering partnerships with grassroots stakeholders, the Ministry aims to enhance conservation efforts and curb encroachments threatening Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage.

“Also, and in alignment with the Federal Government’s Renewed Hope Agenda, the Ministry of Tourism is poised to spearhead a paradigm shift in Nigeria’s tourism landscape.

“As the nation embraces diversification strategies, the tourism industry stands as a beacon of opportunity, poised to drive economic growth, foster cultural exchange, and showcase Nigeria’s rich heritage to the world,” the Tourism minister stressed.

Now, as things stand, the ministry is battling to even get off the ground. Despite her three-month lay-off as a result of ill health, the minister has surprisingly covered much ground since returning back to office in January. However, all that effort appears to be receiving a shower of cold water from the legislative quarters of government.

At a time when countries like South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya and now Tanzania are putting in extra work aimed at cornering the African tourism market, Nigeria appears to lag in that direction.

According to international arrival figures released by the Statistics South Africa for last year, the country welcomed 6.4 million visitors from the rest of the African continent between January and December 2023, marking a significant 75.6% of all arrivals, while Zimbabwe and Kenya stood out for their remarkable growth, with the former recording a 70.8% increase in tourist arrivals to South Africa when compared to 2022, totalling 2.1 million arrivals, while the latter country recorded a 99% surge when compared to 2022, reaching 42,403 arrivals for January to December 2023.

A report commissioned by the World Travel & tourism (WTTC) in collaboration with the VFS Global in November of last year disclosed that Africa’s tourism market has the potential to generate a whopping US$168bn over a period of 10yrs, representing an annual growth of 6.5 per cent year-on-year (y-o-y) over the period under review.

The report also titled; ‘Unlocking Opportunities for Travel & Tourism Growth in Africa’, also revealed that Africa’s travel and tourism sector could in addition to adding US$168 billion to the economies of Nigeria, and others on the continent, create over 18 million new jobs overall, even as it also stated that this growth potential is dependent on three key policies to unlock annualised growth of 6.5 per cent, reaching a contribution of more than US$ 350 billion.

Listing the factors to include; policy package focused on improving Africa’s growth based on air infrastructure, visa facilitation and tourism marketing, the report maintained that the travel and tourism market is ‘a powerhouse sector in Africa, with a contribution of more than US$ 186 billion to the region’s economy in 2019, welcoming 84 million international travellers.’

It further added that the sector is also essential for employment, providing livelihoods to 25 million people, equating to 5.6 per cent of all the jobs in the region.

Meanwhile, reacting to the deplorable situation at the tourism ministry, Iheanyi Nnorom, an Owerri-based hotelier and member of the Nigeria Hotels Association (NHA), decried the dearth of operational equipment at the parastatal, describing it as shocking.

“We at the FTAN level clamoured for years for a stand-alone ministry of tourism, and when one finally arrived, it was starved of funding. It’s as if we are not yet ready to move tourism forward as a business. How can the minister not have even one single car to move around? Does she even have any security detail attached to her by the way?

“We seriously have a lot of catching up to do, and with each passing day the gap is getting wider between us and the rest of the serious countries. It’s even more worrying because we have more tourism products and potential than these countries, and despite this we keep incubating poor standards in administering this important sector, ” Nnorom said.

Also decrying the situation, Emem Isong, an Akwa Ibom-based tour operator and member of the National Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), wondered why the much sought-after ministry should be subjected to the deplorable treatment by some arms of the government.

“I am shocked just hearing about this. This is not acceptable. How can a whole ministry not have at least one operational vehicle, the minister, no car and her staff, nothing? I also learnt they have not been paid. I just wonder. So, how are they expected to deliver on their mandate and that of the President? And we the stakeholders have all this while thinking they have been idle since establishment,” Isong lamented.

Furthermore, stakeholders fear the scorecard of the tourism ministry may not look good as the Tinubu administration marks its first full year in office, come May 29 against the backdrop of the dearth at the ministry, as they are won’t to blame country’s legislators for adequately preparing grounds for take-off and proper functionality of a newly-established federal government parastatal.