… asks Buhari
Tourism is recognized worldwide as the largest employer of labor and the engine of human society and economic development due to its multiplier effect. With this in mind, many nations of the world pay close attention to its development by initiating key policies and measurable implementation strategies to capitalize on this multidimensional sector.
Even the United Nations understands too well the importance of the sector in keeping the world and humanity together, and so established the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) at the governmental level to work with the nations of the world in the pursuit of global prosperity and happiness to work together because these are the two most important end results of tourism. It delivers prosperity and happiness in terms of its economic power as it contributes immensely to the gross domestic product (GDP) of nations and develops human ability to promote happiness, peace and lasting relationships by engaging in the many activities brought about by tourism develop.
The result was handsome and obvious for all to see the strides that serious nations have made over the years that have paid close attention to the study and understanding of the underlying dynamics of tourism while investing enormously in creating thriving travel destinations , for which they are now the envy of the world. Some of the top rated global tourist destinations are Dubai, the modern dream world, France, Great Britain, Thailand, Singapore, Israel, the United States of America and even Jordan. Top African destinations include South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and The Gambia, known as the “Smiling Coast of Africa”.
In Nigeria the history of tourism is very different as it is not only a beleaguered but also a sordid tale of gloom and missed opportunities to capitalize on the vast potential that the sector offers the country to improve its economic status and the To develop its people’s capacities, to cultivate friendships and to reap prosperity and happiness. While it is noted that tourism is privately run as the private operators are the stakeholders exploring the available business and investment opportunities, tourism, due to its fragile nature, requires the full and active involvement of the government.
Not only by creating the right framework conditions through the right policy initiation and implementation in partnership with the private operators, but above all by making the right investments; in building the right infrastructure and promoting the sector to a local and global audience. In the case of Nigeria, these were absent as tourism was emasculated and lumped together among other ministries or agencies as a mere appendage.
The only time concrete and visible efforts were made to properly focus tourism as a key sector of the economy was at the beginning of Nigeria’s current democratic journey, when in 1999 former President Olusegun Obasanjo founded, for the first time in the history of Nigeria, the Federal Ministry for Tourism and Culture. It should then draw attention to the development and promotion of tourism as an economic sector that would contribute to the country’s GDP and create wealth and happiness for the people, and not just as a mere socio-cultural engagement, which it was the years. With that, some activity was seen as trying to lay the right foundations for tourism, and what was even more interesting and encouraging was the fact that various state governments saw the need to follow suit and started promoting tourism in their various places. and ministries of culture set up states. Unfortunately, this newfound love and romance with tourism didn’t last long when President Muhammadu Buhari took office in 2015 and ended the romance by dissolving the ministry.
In its place, the once closed Federal Ministry for Information and Culture was redesigned and tourism was attached. Since then, the neglect of tourism has been signaled again as the Buhari-led government paid only lip service to it, despite listing it as one of its six economic priorities. The appointment of former spokesman for his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Lai Mohammed, as minister in the ministry responsible for tourism has turned out to be a mistake as it has only further improvised the sector and its operators.
This is largely because the minister has shown a lack of understanding of the dynamics and underlying factors of tourism over the last seven years of his tenure. It is therefore not surprising that there has recently been increasing calls for private operators to redesign the defunct Federal Ministry of Tourism and Culture if the nation and tourism companies are ever to advance in the global tourism circuit. This is because Muhammad betrayed people’s trust by completely neglecting the task entrusted to him of leading the development and promotion of domestic tourism, instead taking more interest in his office’s facilities and leaving the country just to attend tourism and culture-related UNWTO meetings without seeing the attendant benefits of such huge investment in travel around the world. The picture of the neglect of tourism and the failure of the minister and current government to pursue tourism was graphically painted last week by the President of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), the governing body of private sector operators. Nkwereuwem Onung when addressing the media about the concerns of the private sector operators represented by his association.
The current outcry from operators of neglect is further amplified by the Minister’s current plan to host the first UNWTO Conference on Cultural Tourism and Creative Industries, to be held at the National Arts Theater from 14-17 November. Iganmu, Lagos currently being renovated by the Banking Committee.
To draw government and public attention to their plight and the fact that the UNWTO conference is doing nothing good for the country other than using the horrific taxpayers’ money to send a few government officials to a hosted buyers event celebrations that would not attract any tourist to the country, the federation he said had written an open letter to the president on the matter entitled; Open Letter to President Muhammadu Buhari: Hosting the First UNWTO World Conference on Cultural Tourism and Creative Industries: A Wild Goose Chase with No Benefit for Nigeria and Nigerian Cultural Tourism and Creative Industries. Onung clearly stated that the conference is a jamboree as it offers no enriching prospects or benefits for the development and promotion of Nigerian tourism and organizers, noting that what the nation needs goes far beyond the symbolic show or circus performance go out that the conference represents.
He explained that when the minister applied for the rights to host the conference, he never consulted the operators to advise on the adequacy of the event at a time like this, when the nation was bleeding economically and the operators were still recovering would have to have a huge negative impact of COVID-19 on the sector and its operators. Onung further revealed that it was the minister’s style to completely exclude the private operators from the affairs of tourism, which apart from the National Culture and Tourism Summit held in Abuja between April 27 and 29, 2016, never happened made the effort to have any dialogue with the private sector or even attend tourism events around the country or start someone. In his opinion, this approach is very wrong and stresses that the only way to show a path for the growth of the sector is for both the private and private sector to create synergies and that this process should be driven by the minister.
However, notwithstanding the fact that the minister did not lead this process, he said FTAN had written over six letters and reminders to the minister since last year, demanding a meeting but with no response from the minister. “We know and are aware of the importance of fully consulting with the government, even when we have to lobby. We have written to the minister so many times in the past asking to meet him, but no response from him,” Onung explained. Aside from the fact that the government didn’t offer palliative care to the sector, which he said was worse hit, as hotels across the country have been closed for over a year and some are still struggling to stay afloat, while others have since gone bankrupt and have been closed, he said lamenting the government’s lack of investment in tourism.
“No investment in the tourism business in the last seven years from the government,” he exclaimed, noting; “This is one of the issues that concern us.” He then inquired about the need to host the UNWTO conference; “What is the benefit of the conference for Nigerian tourism?” He continued, saying the reason the association is yelling at the presidency and the public for what he calls “this charade of Mohammed” is to set the record directly and to let people know that the federation is not part of Mohammed’s charade as he has decided to boycott the event entirely.
“If we remain silent, this charade will continue and people will not know the pain of the private sector. It’s of no use and benefit to us and they haven’t told us about it and we really see no need for it. “The complete neglect of the tourism sector and the private sector by the minister is unacceptable to us as the industry is not doing well. We need an independent Federal Ministry for Tourism and Culture and have therefore written an open letter to the Federal President in which we draw his attention to our plight and point out that it would be a big mistake to continue to allow this to happen unchecked. Hosting the conference would serve no purpose for the nation.” Onung ended his complaint by saying, “This minister is unresponsive to industry and the private sector.”