Most Nigerians know that there are so many exciting places to see in Nigeria, and, coincidentally, we have a Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, who is ready to tell it to the world. It was, therefore, no surprise when last week, in far away China, Mr. Mohammed, was by acclamation, elected the Vice President of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) at its 22nd General Assembly conference. An obviously elated Mohammed appreciated it as an honour to Nigeria and said his election had proven that “in the last two years, we have succeeded in pushing tourism and the Creative Industry as a whole from the backburner to the front burner, from a side issue to the main issue. This has been noticed by the global community…” Nigeria would hold the position till 2019 and will host the 61st edition of UNWTO Meeting in Abuja 4-6 June 2018.
Indeed, last week, the World Travel and Tourism Council had several positive things to say about Nigerian tourism, including the fact that in 2017 the industry would generate 24,500 new jobs. It stated that the 1.8 million jobs in the industry in 2017 are an increase of 1.4 per cent from the 1.7 million jobs in the sector last year. In other words, even during the recession, the industry was adding jobs, not losing them.
The UNWTO has shown considerable interest in the growth of the industry in Nigeria and has taken decisions including the offer of vital technical assistance, capacity building and the revision of the country’s ‘Tourism Master Plan’ as part of its efforts to encourage the development of tourism in Nigeria. It also promised data collection, hotel classification, rural tourism development, training of festival managers, and the empowerment of women in tourism through the centres being planned for the six geo-political zones, and programmes to create awareness for tourism. Those promises were announced by the UN agency after its meeting with Lai Mohammed in Madrid, Spain in July 2016. At the end of that meeting, the Secretary-General of the UNWTO, Mr. Taleb Rifai, commended Mohammed for his “great intelligence and big vision” for tourism in Nigeria.
We cannot but congratulate the Minister for his passion for the creative industry and tourism. We agree with him that given the recognition he received last week, the global society seems to have also noticed his efforts. We also share the optimism of the World Tourism Council that the industry could generate so many new jobs. Indeed, we think its figure is understated.
The tourism potentials of Nigeria have always been paid lip service. Yet it is an industry with enormous prospects for growth, with almost infinite capacity to create jobs, drive exports and generate prosperity for all parts of the country. The tourism sites of Nigeria are spread out liberally all over the country and every region has prospects for huge returns if the right circumstances and attitudes are created. In the middle of the tourism sector is, of course, the hospitality industry of which industry leaders have spoken highly as holding the prospects for steady growth in the next five years.
One industry leader, Kushai Dutta, of Jumia Travels was so optimistic that the industry might overtake the downstream oil sector by 2021 if the recently launched African Union passport is adopted by Nigeria’s legislature. A unified African Union passport would have broken the barrier against free travel which would enable millions of other Africans to visit Nigeria. Such upsurge in tourism would yield so much foreign exchange for the country and literally serve as evidence of the diversification of the Nigerian economy.
There are hundreds of tourism sites that are as exciting as any in the world. We may not have the Pyramids, but we have the Zuma Rock, the Obudu Cattle Ranch, the National War Museum, the Long Juju of Arochukwu, the Ikogosi Warm Springs, the Abuja Millenium Park, dozens of incredible beaches, the Idanre Hills, the Argungu Festival, the Ogbunike Cave, and so on.
The minister must not rest on his oars. There is still much work to be done. The decent hotels are too expensive for domestic tourism. Why should Nigerians on vacation not want to spend it in Nigeria? We think that hotel managers should be given special training. The Federal Government should invest in the tourism industry by training various categories of operators and generally create a conducive atmosphere for the glittering prospects of tourism to be realised.