Alhaji Saleh Rabo is the newly elected President of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria(FTAN), the umbrella body of tourism practitioners. At the end of a two-day retreat for the new executive in Abuja, Alhaji Rabo unfolds his vision and mission for the tourism industry in Nigeria, as well as plans to improve hospitality services and enrich destination tourist facilities. In this interview with Emeka Anokwuru, he details plans to increase the number of tourist arrival, and significantly increase the contribution of tourism to Nigeria’s GDP and turn the country into a choice destination.
Tell us about FTAN and its current membership
FTAN is the acronym for Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria. It is the umbrella body of all tourism and hospitality associations in Nigeria. FTAN is a legal entity; duly incorporated in Nigeria, and therefore represents the organized private sector in Nigeria’s hospitality and tourism industry.
What are the contributions of FTAN to tourism development in Nigeria?
FTAN is the Association of Associations in Nigeria’s tourism industry. Our membership includes different association of hoteliers, travel agencies, tour operators, tourism academia, travel journalists, national dance groups, cultural artisans and several other allied practitioners. FTAN by default is the pressure group for the development of tourism as an economic asset base in Nigeria. FTAN presently constitutes the largest investors in the tourism industry. In addition to contributing to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), our members employ thousands of workers across the country. In the same vein, our members form the bulk of tourism intellectuals, including tourism lecturers, travel journalists and the general academia at Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.
The objective of FTAN is to be the springboard that government uses to formulate tourism related policies. We are the most risk-exposed tourism stakeholders that partner with government organs to guide strategic tourism development decisions.
There is no doubt that tourism is facing a lot of challenges due to recession. What are your strategies to lead the sector out of the woods and make it a sustainable activity?
Well, we campaigned on repositioning FTAN with bankable action plans that include devolving FTAN executive powers to the geopolitical zones, active support of state governments in domestic tourism services, as well as, proactively marketing Nigeria at identified tourist source markets, such as the Americas. During the retreat which was held a few days ago, the executive members were able to harmonise our propositions and came up with a working template for catalysing tourism development across Nigeria.
So you see, our plans are not only for FTAN, but more about, unleashing FTAN member associations’ capacity to jump-start domestic and inbound tourism activities in Nigeria. It is public knowledge that Nigeria gets less than 3% of tourist receipts in Africa. In fact, available data reveals that annually we export far more tourists than we receive! We will change all that.
Beware that funding of FTAN activities is a challenge. To resolve our internal financial insufficiency, we plan to engage consultant financial advisers to guide our choice of investment projects. It is high time FTAN invested in financial vehicles that would generate revenue for the federation on a monthly basis. More so, we would reach out to government ministries, particularly Ministries of Aviation and Transport, to facilitate the repatriation of relevant taxes for tourism development.
How do you plan to involve tourism destinations and host communities for better tourist experience?
Our strategy is to systematically involve local host communities in day to day handling of tourists. In this regard, the best practice from global leading tourism destinations is that, host communities supervise the tourism activities in their locality such as being the primary food chain suppliers, tour guides, security vigilante, souvenirs and handcraft sales, traditional entertainment, and many other direct tourist services.
But within the context of Nigeria, the active involvement of tourist host communities is easier said than done, because of the strong hold that state governments have over local government affairs. Consequently, we would proactively engage with state government apparatus to organize their tourist host community leaders and give them formal training on the niceties and responsibilities of tourist handling at their respective destinations.
Consequently, the State governments would have to deploy their internal revenue generation structures at such host communities to collect tourist taxes and other levies which in turn must be shared with members of tourist host communities. You see, it is not enough for the host communities to simply earn direct income from tourists based on the services they provide.
The best practice here is for the tourist host communities to participate as stakeholders in the state government’s tourism ventures. And the most effective way to get the communities’ total buy-in is when the State government gives some percentage of the revenue generated at the tourist host communities back to them. And the communities need to know the fact of such arrangements before-hand, that way they see the success of their community as a tourist destination pivotal to eradicating poverty and improving their collective livelihood.
How would you describe your vision and programme for tourism development in Nigeria?
The newly elected FTAN Executive members had a retreat from August 4 and 5 to roll-out implementation plans and milestones to immediately get tourism entrepreneurship on track, especially at the tourist host communities, with standardized tourist services delivered by our members operating at every destination in Nigeria.
Presently, there is dearth of data about tourism consumption and market patterns, within Nigeria. Hence, our government has been driving-blind with regard to their actions and inactions about tourism. It is heartbreaking to see the nomenclature of the former Ministry of Culture and Tourism and National Orientation changed to Ministry of Information and Culture! Personally, I feel that the nomenclature decision was made because the government had no access to incontrovertible data that evidently shows the impact of tourism receipts on Nigeria’s economy.
So, in partnership with multinational organizations and Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics, we would immediately set up structures to collate tourist data at all leading tourist destinations in Nigeria, as well as, from our international tourist source markets. So that, going forward, we would knowledgably engage and partner with relevant governments based on available and verifiable data. Let me just say, we are very focused on what we want to achieve and very ambitious too.
What type of support and synergy do you expect from Nigeria’s government MDAs?
From the start, we are going to sell win-win programmes to government MDAs. FTAN member associations are arguably the most risk-exposed tourism stakeholders in Nigeria, but the government, at states and national levels, are constitutionally the arbiters to our industry growth. The government literally pulls the puppet strings. And we know what government wants, such as improved tax revenue from tourism operators and employment generation for the youth, women and rural dwellers.
Invariably, we would partner with government to guarantee expanded revenue generation from tourism. And in turn demand improved statutory services from government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). Very importantly, we would quickly align with the Ease of Doing Business drive of the present federal government, under the able leadership of the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, so as to include templates that facilitate inbound Nigeria tourism. Currently, intending tourists to Nigeria have difficulties getting visas to Nigeria. More so, Nigeria’s military and paramilitary organisations such as the Immigration Service, Nigeria Customs Service, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and Police, who form the earliest point- of- contact with inbound tourists, are not well prepared to manage the process. As a result, tourists recount tales of intimidation, extortion and corruption by the uniformed government personnel. Under my leadership in FTAN, things would not remain the same. We would proactively engage, enlighten and partner with relevant security agencies to put Nigeria on the World’s tourist map, and work to record more revenue from tourism economic multiplier-effects at our destinations.
Do you have actionable strategy for domestic tourism market growth across Nigeria?
First, and foremost, I think we must conduct basic Nigeria tourism market research to ascertain the needs and buying patterns of Nigeria’s domestic tourism markets across the travel seasons. So that, based on the research findings, we would embark on massive but surgical marketing and promotion of individual destinations suiting the markets demography.
Have in mind that we are in the business of selling sweet memorable experiences to tourists. World over tourism is a major service industry, so we must emphasize on giving tourists exactly the experience we promised them when marketing our destinations.
Therefore, our sales-oriented promotion of tourist destinations, both for domestic and inbound markets, would go-hand-in-hand with destination facilities standardization. We have already initiated moves to secure expert technical support, from international organizations, to enrich our tourists’ experience by tailoring hospitality services to meet the preference of the different identified market segments.
What roles should state governments play to enhance tourism development?
Tourism is community based; hence most tourist attractions are naturally domiciled at rural host communities. States in Nigeria are therefore custodians of our cultural heritage and natural landmarks. In that context, we consider it pertinent to work as a team with the custodians of Nigeria’s tourism assets. Accordingly, FTAN would work with Sates to midwife tourism destination management programmes to market their destinations and also improve the quality of tourist services in host communities.
Eventually, we would liaise with State governments and the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) to formulate Local Government Tourism Committees for easy tourism administration at the local level, where the attractions are based, in line with the tourism master plan.
Does FTAN have plans to bring foreign tourists into Nigeria for inbound tourism?
Most certainly, but we must get it right with the domestic tourism market before expecting foreign tourists to come in droves. Nevertheless, we would resort to the findings from the research we would commission to identify Nigeria’s tourist source markets abroad.
So before we start marketing Nigeria abroad, we must be very sure, based on verifiable facts, in what continent and countries are there large concentration tourists that find Nigeria’s tourism product appealing. It may interest you to know that every tourism country has a comparative advantage with which to effectively compete with other international destinations. For us in Nigeria, our main tourist attraction is the diversity of our cultural heritage. So, in marketing Nigeria we would ascertain what countries are interested in African, that is, Nigerian culture and simply execute targeted marketing and promotions at those countries. This would include roadshows, exhibition, mass advertisements and, very importantly, social media marketing campaigns.
We already know some of our international tourist source markets but the research findings will tell us how we are presently perceived at those markets so that we can tailor our marketing communication to address the tourists’ needs and concerns. Just give us some time and you will see how things would evolve in Nigeria’s tourism management.
Where do you see Nigeria’s tourism industry by the end of your first term, and possibly, your second term?
Interesting, our determined goal is to richly grow the domestic tourism market in Nigeria. Specifically we want to see significant improvement in our hospitality services, enrich our destination tourist facilities, increase the number of recorded tourist arrivals at tourist sites, ensure significant increase in the contribution of tourism to Nigeria’s GDP and other internal generated revenue for States in Nigeria.
We are very confident that we shall achieve and exceed these targets in the next three to four years, God willing.