Everyone in the fully-packed medium hall could feel the tension in the air. it was a moment of truth, and Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, Director General, National Commission for Arts and Culture (NCAC), at whose behest the crowd had gathered, did not mince his words.
He conveyed the message with clarity and gravity: It has become expedient to rebrand the culture and tourism sector in Nigeria in order to shift focus from a petrodollar economy to a more diversified economy where culture and tourism become a boon to the country. This has been his major focus since he took over the reins of the commission in 2017.
The determination to change the narrative of oil as the mainstay of the economy was the reason behind the recent trip by NCAC management to UAE’s Dubai to understudy how the city, now renown as the tourism capital of the world, transformed the Arabian peninsula with tourism, arts and culture.
The aftermath of the trip was the stakeholders brainstorming session of Friday, May 3, 2019, at Kapital Klub and Apartments, Asokoro, Abuja. Titled “Rebranding Culture And Tourism in Africa: The Nigerian Vision,” the gathering pooled the who’s who (people and organisations) in the tourism sector, including Nigeria Institute of Tourism Professionals (NITP), National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Nigeria Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), Association of Nigerian Journalists and Writers of Tourism (ANJET), Federation of Tourism Association of Nigeria (FTAN), Association of Tourism Practitioners of Nigeria (ATPN), Hospitality and Tourism Management Association of Nigeria (HATMAN), and Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) among others.
Runsewe started with a briefing on the NCAC management trip to Dubai on a first-hand fact-finding mission on cultural tourism. The objective was to find out what makes Dubai tick and find a way to make good use of the Dubai model in Nigeria. Attractions visited included Old Dubai, Miracle Garden, Dubai Aquarium, Global Village and the Dubai Mall.
The rationale as fully explained by Runsewe: “Travel, see the sights, see what other people are doing with their culture and tourism and see how to do something with ours, market ours to the world, attract funds, grow the economy using culture and tourism to create jobs and attract tourists to Nigeria.”
The trip, as he further explained, was a capacity-building investment aimed at invigorating the staff potential to expand their horizon in the management of culture.
He disclosed the next phase of the project, which is a proposed trip by 36 state commissioners of culture and tourism, top players and stakeholders in the tourism industry to Dubai to understudy how Dubai was able to transform culture and tourism into a goldmine. “We cannot get it right by reading only books,” said Runsewe, stressing that the exposure will help to pragmatically replicate the model across the country.
“I believe this trip is a great opportunity to reschedule our approach to culture and tourism in Nigeria,” he said. “This is the sector that will save the economy of so many African countries.”
He continued: “Dubai Mall alone has over 1, 226 restaurants and a 5,000-car park facility––and they are looking for people to employ. To me, this is a call to a new beginning to Africa and Nigeria must take the challenge first. We are a people that believe we can do things first and I believe if they can do it here, we can do it and even better.”
Imploring all stakeholders to come together to effect a total change in the sector, Runsewe avowed that “the time is now as we cannot afford to wait any longer.”
Next was the discussion session, during which stakeholders rubbed minds, in a Q&A format, on the way forward, culminating in a number of strategic suggestions.
Generally, “Operation Rebrand Nigeria’s Culture and Tourism” was well received. FTAN, through its president, Alhaji Saleh Rabo, pledged its support and promised to work with NCAC to actualise the initiative. NATOP followed suit, with its president, Hajia Bilikis Abdul, urging all to get behind the NCAC DG.
The highlight of the day was the unanimity among the stakeholders for the creation of a standalone Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which, according to Rabo, is the first step towards the initiative, a view further reinforced by John Likita, Special Adviser on tourism to Plateau State governor.
The importance of full support of the government was emphasized by Bankole Bernard, President, NANTA. Otherwise, the desired result will be a mirage, he said.
Nkwereuwem Onung, chairman, Board of Trustees (BOT) NATOP, who noted that government should be at the forefront of promoting culture and tourism, decried the lip service often paid by the Nigerian government to the sector, which according to him is the reason for the stunted growth of tourism in the country. “Yes, the industry is private sector-driven; but the government provides the enabling environment,” he argued. A standalone Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Onung stressed, is what is needed to salvage, rev and revolutionise the sector.
Ganiyu Sekoni Balogun, CEO, Tarzan Marine Engineering Service, harped on the security, calling for the establishment of tourism police, specially trained in tourism management and security. He also called for a paradigm shift whereby the country’s tourism content is a broad, seamless and continuous spectrum of activities rather than a periodical or season affair as it is currently in the country.
Further contributions, from NITP, hotel operators and owners associations, and media professionals, all coagulated into a compact measure of a holistic, step-by-step approach to overhaul and rebrand the country’s culture and tourism industry.
The stakeholders insisted that the private sector must put pressure on the government to believe in tourism. To this end, they gave the NCAC Director-General an assignment: Get the ministry, work out the policies and ensure that professionalism is instituted in the industry.
There was a unanimous agreement among all gathered. The time is now.
The event was concluded with the signing of a pledged commitment to work together to actualise the new initiative.