The hidden cash cow
The drop in global oil prices over the past few years has exposed the vulnerabilities of Nigeria’s dependence on crude oil revenues. Although, much emphasis has been placed on agriculture being the “messianic industry”, the tourism industry, if revamped has the potential to attract substantial foreign exchange earnings. However, recent reform efforts by the government in tourism seem to reflect old thinking even in new times. Nigeria has maintained a dogmatic approach which narrowly defines tourism as arts and culture with poor emphasis on other aspects like nature and conservation. While several African countries have increased the scope of tourism to meet global benchmarks, Nigeria’s approach remains stuck in the past. Firstly, we have under-invested in arts & culture and so, have been unable to tap into its tourism potentials. Secondly we have failed to bring our practice of arts and culture into today’s world to appeal to a global market, thus alienating major potential tourists.
Across the world, tourism has evolved to become one of the fastest growing industries. This growth has been driven by advanced technology in travel and an increased holiday culture. With an endowed geographical landscape which comprises the coastal beaches, mountains, historical monuments, wildlife, UNESCO approved heritage centres1 and diverse culture, Nigeria should be able to create a niche in global tourism.
According to a 2017 tourism report by the World Economic Forum, travel and tourism (T&T) currently contributes about 2% to Nigeria’s GDP compared to other African countries such as Seychelles, Cape Verde and Mauritius where the T&T industry has been better harnessed, contributing 20%, 17% and 12% respectively to GDP. Although, Nigeria recorded a total of 1.3 million international tourist arrivals in 2016, these three countries collectively attracted about two million international tourist arrivals.
According to the T&T competitiveness report by the World Economic Forum in 2017, Nigeria ranks a low 129th out of the 136 African countries compared to Ghana and South Africa which rank 120th and 53rd respectively. Factors for this low ranking include low prioritisation of the tourism industry by the government, poor infrastructural facilities and insecurity challenges. All these have resulted in an inertia towards tourism in the country, reflected in an increase in outbound travels to destinations like Ghana and South Africa – and resulting in loss of revenue.
The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017 – World Economic Forum
States should take the lead
The development of tourism in Nigeria cannot be achieved without the collective efforts and investment commitment of a Public-Private partnership, with major efforts from local communities and state governments. Tourist sites such as the Mambilla Plateau in Taraba, Obudu Mountain Resort in Cross Rivers, Yankari Games Reserves in Bauchi among others could be developed to world standards. The tourist market is global but states could create niches targeting tourists who have diverse and special interests.
For instance, Taraba State and the Obudu area of Cross River which have scenic mountainous attractions could create a tourist niche around mountain hiking. While Bauchi State could easily restore wildlife to Yankari to attract Safari revellers. There should also be a consolidation on successes recorded in flagship tourist events like the month-long Calabar Carnival which now attracts up to 50,000 visitors annually. This can be further achieved by training professionals such as tour guides, hotel and resort managers, caterers, taxi drivers, security personnel, amongst others.
Insecurity and regular travel warnings by western countries have created global negative press around Nigeria leading to poor perception amongst foreign tourists. The government needs to allay the fears of prospective tourists by developing a strong political will to address these concerns rather than denying and then abdicating responsibility.
We believe that sub nationals have a greater burden of responsibility to build viable structures for tourism. Despite Nigeria’s unwieldy revenue sharing framework, tourism has the potentials to generate revenues that could benefit the states materially. For instance, the jobs created from tourism will lead to an increase in PAYE tax revenues, greater spending and consumption by a larger workforce and increase in VAT revenues from tourists. States can pursue simple initiatives like creating an information infrastructure that is easily accessible and user friendly like ubiquitous websites that give a detailed guide of all tourist attractions and relevant information on transportation and dining in their domains.
Source: The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017 – World Economic Forum
The way forward
The multiplier effects of a vibrant tourism industry include an increase in hotel bookings, air and road travels, restaurants, increased gate takings at tourist attraction sites, and retail trade alongside the investments and employment opportunities that will be created. Thus, the value chain which includes the hotels, transportation system, technological support, community participation and tour guide operators create a great synergy to drive the growth of the tourism industry.
The evolution of the internet has impacted tourism globally. The impact of internet platforms such as TripAdvisor (an online repository containing reviews of travel related contents) cannot be overemphasized. A negative review about a country including its tourist sites, hotels or restaurants could deter prospective tourists from visiting a country. Thus, a positive review on an online platform could be more effective than a million dollar advert on TV. Nigeria needs to have a fully functional website similar to UAE’s tourist information website which provides information to tourists on planning itineraries, visa requirements, applications and upcoming events among others2.
Nigeria was recently accorded the right to host the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Conference in 2018. This endorsement indicates a vote of confidence on the nation’s environment for business and tourism purposes. Some investors from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have also recently indicated interest in the tourism industry in Nigeria. This is a positive development considering that these investors will not only bring capital but also the much needed expertise and tourism acumen akin to the Dubai model.
The capability of the tourism industry in Nigeria to generate sustainable revenues that will rival current earnings from crude oil cannot be overemphasized. This can only be achieved by a synergy of all levels of government in creating an enabling environment for tourism to thrive and attract domestic and foreign nationals. This will include improving infrastructural facilities and creating a favourable business environment in Nigeria that will attract local and foreign investors to participate in this industry.
1UNESCO has approved two sites in Nigeria- Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove in Osun state and Sukur Cultural landscape in Adamawa state, while 12 other sites are on the tentative list.