Chief Abiodun Odusanwo, President of Institute for Tourism Professionals Nigeria (ITPN), during the recent Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) Annual General Meeting and Tourism Conference in Abuja, while addressing the theme of the conference; Tourism in Nigeria: The Way Forward; analyzed the challenges and perspectives of tourism in Nigeria and offered solutions to some of the challenges. He noted that at the heart of the solutions to the myriad problems facing the sector is the urgent need for strong, reliable, and actionable national policies to fuel its development and growth.
Tourism in Nigeria
The AGM theme “Tourism in Nigeria: The Way Forward” is not only fitting, but could not have come at a better time than now, when the country’s tourism industry is still struggling to gain a foothold after several decades and still is another toddler. I therefore see the theme of the AGM as a call to all stakeholders and key players in the industry to wake up from their slumber and do what is necessary in the interest of the growth of the industry and in the general interest of society – economic good, progress and development of the country. Tourism has the economic power and potential to generate revenue, employment and employment opportunities, poverty alleviation and eradication, and social values for tradition and cultural cohesion, and a machine for peace building and understanding between all faiths around the world. Tourism as an industry has gone through several stages and processes of growth and development over the centuries and is still going through these development processes and is becoming stronger day by day as an economic activity of immense value and contributing to the economy of several nations making it a socio-economic force, to be reckoned with.
Nigeria is a tourism haven for the global community
Indeed, Nigeria is endowed with a variety of tourism products and many aesthetic natural and cultural resources that, if well planned and implemented, present beneficial potentials for tourism and community development. Tourism is a multidisciplinary and multifaceted sector that encompasses social, economic, medical, physical, cultural, political and religious aspects of life. The main tourism potentials that Nigeria is endowed with include cultural tourism, eco-tourism, conference tourism and sports tourism. With over 300 different ethnic groups and languages, Nigeria is one of the most culturally rich nations in the world. Culture is therefore the most important tourism product that the country can package and carry into the world. Nigerian culture is exhibited in various forms. Nigeria is also endowed with tremendous wildlife and scenic natural surroundings available in most national parks across the country. Another area of Nigeria’s tourism potential is conference tourism, with the sprawling city of Abuja, the country’s federal capital, hosting several local and international conferences, seminars and workshops, opening the gateway for the influx of visitors from around the world. All of this combined makes Nigeria a tourist haven for the global community. Surprisingly, this is not the case as the country still lags far behind major world economies such as the United States, India, Brazil, Tanzania, Morocco, South Africa, Egypt, Zimbabwe and Kenya; who pioneered tourism as a major source of income for their economies.
Multiple impacts of tourism
It could be argued that at the moment tourism seems to be the only viable sector of any public enterprise to rescue the country from its current economic distress. Because tourism is not only known to be the largest source of income from abroad; It is also the fastest growing economic sector in the world. Tourism is considered the world’s most important employer. It stimulates huge investments and infrastructure, most of which also help improve the living conditions of local people, and generates significant tax revenues for governments. Tourism is the most important item in world trade with its overwhelming economic impact. Hence, effective implementation of the tourism program will definitely boost the growth of the Nigerian economy.
Challenges of Nigerian Tourism
Unfortunately, while most countries are reaping the tremendous benefits of tourism, Nigeria has yet to play a major role in this booming global economic trend. The reason for this is that the sector does not get enough attention and adequate budgetary resources. In addition, there is a lack of political will to implement most tourism-related programs and projects. This has been the situation of the tourism sector in the country and until we start together to see and take tourism as a very serious business, we may be moving in the same circle. There are also other solvable issues affecting the tourism industry that have yet to be adequately addressed by Nigerian officials. These problems include but are not limited to: weak tourism policy, lack of proper tourism legislation, insufficient funding, lack of community involvement, imprecise planning, uncertainty, poor implementation, weak monitoring team, and lack of professional staff and evaluation. From the ITPN’s point of view, one of the main problems affecting the tourism industry in Nigeria is the lack of professionals and their lack of participation in the formulation, planning, implementation and monitoring of tourism policy. Moreover, those for whom policies are being made and the experts in the field are not involved in the process or involved in matters of tourism growth and development. Furthermore, the lack of a solid and vibrant tourism education policy has undoubtedly robbed this country of much-needed workers who could help harness the abundant resources in the tourism sector that lure for attention and development. Above all, we believe that there are gaps in terms of the coordination of tourism programs and activities between the various key players and critical stakeholders in both the public and private sectors of the industry that need to be addressed, otherwise the industry will continue to operate at odds the key operators.
The way forward
What is the future of tourism in Nigeria? What are the workable solutions to the lack of growth and tourism development in Nigeria? What is the way forward if tourism is to take its rightful place in the country’s economic plan? These are, I believe, some of the questions on the lips of every tourism-friendly and tourism-practitioner who means well for the industry in the country. These questions are very valid and relevant, arising from the insufficient attention, inappropriate policies and general indifference and apathy that the country has towards the development of this all-important economic sector. The scenario becomes more alarming and worrying against the backdrop of the rapidly declining fortunes and infrastructure of most Nigerian tourist spots and the daily dying of our national tourism and cultural festivals.
Hence, these unsolvable challenges and problems plaguing the country’s tourism sector need to be addressed urgently. Because we cannot speak of effective tourism development if the factors that directly or indirectly hamper its growth and development are not adequately addressed. It is hereby proposed that Nigeria should develop a strong, reliable and implementable national tourism policy for the country, which aims to develop sustainable tourism by utilizing the country’s tourism area with optimal advantage as a basis for marketing and promoting its country and international tourism within the confines of the world tourism market and developing Nigeria as a major tourist destination in Africa through the development of international tourism and the promotion of domestic tourism. But while doing the above, the following issues need to be in focus and addressed appropriately: security; planning, research and development; sales promotion and marketing; insufficient funding; monitoring and evaluation; lack of qualified personnel; lack of infrastructure; tourism-political somersault; insufficient legal provisions; and interest groups working on different purposes, among others. At ITPN, we seriously address the issue of industry skills gaps and skilled/competent professional practices. Because we believe that the backbone of a functioning and sustainable tourism industry depends on the quality of its workforce. Our collaboration and partnership with training providers in the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors while conducting certification upon confirmation of satisfactory behaviors in competency tests and performance is already yielding fruitful results. Soon no one will be allowed to practice in the industry without proper certification. It is our way of cleaning up the industry and providing much needed labor and manpower in the industry by eliminating incompetence and quackery. In order to effectively implement and fulfill the ITPN mandate, the Secretariat is adequately equipped with competent and dedicated staff. The institute has also received and earned ISO 9001 certification from the Standard Organization of Nigeria, a testament to our competence as a certification body in the travel tourism, hospitality and other related industries in the country. ITPN has registered its presence in several states as part of its efforts to make its services available to practitioners and interested members of the public willing to pursue a career in tourism and its other related professions.