A few days ago, the Federal Government relieved the Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, Sally Mbanefo, of her duties.
In essence, there will be a new person in charge of marketing Nigeria; the country’s unique natural endowments and its rich cultural heritage.
Most visitors to Nigeria come for business with only a small percentage coming for leisure. Considering what the country has to offer – natural beauties and cultural diversity – this is surely, a failure on the part of constituted authority.
Now more than ever, the role of the NTDC DG as Nigeria’s “Chief Marketing Officer” carries so much importance.
In the face of a biting recession brought about mainly by the country’s overdependence on one product (crude oil) for revenue, the Buhari administration has zeroed-in on tourism – among other sectors like agriculture and solid minerals – as a way to generate foreign exchange (previously referred to as petrodollars).
But rhetoric and action are two different things. It is fashionable to talk about tourism having the potential to employ hundreds of thousands as well as help generate foreign exchange. However, many in government circles don’t take the sector seriously.
Like a former tourism minister once told this writer, it is seen as “Siberia” in the corridors of power.
The indications in the past few years buttress the point that tourism is not taken seriously by the powers that be in the country. For example, the letter appointing the immediate past DG referred to the NTDC as the National Tourism Development Corporation. Well, the “N” stands for “Nigerian” not “National”. A matter of semantics you may say, but if the Secretary to the Government can’t get the name of such an important agency right, it spells trouble.
Meanwhile the letter that showed the DG the exit door based the sack on the fact that her tenure had expired. It contradicts the appointment letter on the tenure of the NTDC DG. If the authority in charge of appointing and sacking the DG can’t get the details right, then it certainly needs help.
Considering the fact that there is no stand-alone tourism ministry (the first time since the advent of Nigeria’s fourth Republic in 1999), getting a tourism practitioner – an expert who has spent years successfully marketing tourism products – to head the NTDC is of paramount importance.
Over the past few days, industry stakeholders including travel and tourism journalists have come up with some names to help the government in choosing the right personality to help fulfil Nigeria’s tourism potential which in turn will help generated revenue and jobs.
Ikechi Uko, Jemi Alade, Fatima Garbati, Gabe Onah, Stella Obinwa, Ayo Olowokporoku, Nkereuwem Onung, Ini Akpabio and Bankole Bernard are some of the names making the rounds as suitable industry insiders that can make a difference.
Ikechi Uko is a travel business consultant, tourism development expert, media consultant and journalist who organises the annual Akwaaba Africa Travel Market, the only international travel exhibition in West Africa. The 12th edition was held in Lagos last month.
Akwaaba attracts exhibitors from across Africa and beyond, as well as leading Nigerian personalities like President Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Emeka Anyaoku among others. With participation from international dealers in travel, tourism, aviation and the hospitality industries, it is regarded as ‘’Where Africa meets the world’’.
Akwaaba African Travel Market is designated by the NTDC as the official travel exhibition in Nigeria. It is the only international travel expo in West Africa listed by United Nations World Tourism Organization, and a partner event for African Business Travel Association in West Africa and partner event with National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies.
Uko also organises other travel fairs like the Abuja Bantaba, a one-day speed dating event between investors and clients in the travel and tourism business, and Accra Weizo.
He is the CEO of Jedidah Promotions (an international media and tourism marketing firm for airlines, hotels and destinations across Africa) and publisher of Africa Travel Quarterly Magazine and atqnews.com.
Uko also served as a member of the tourism committee of Nigeria Vision 2020 in the administration of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
In 2010, with the ATQ magazine team, he set up a committee to choose the 7 wonders of Nigeria, popularly known as Naija7Wonders, Nigeria’s most breathtaking and unique man-made structures.
Former Director General of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, Otunba Segun Runsewe, referred to the Naija7Wonders as an epoch in the advancement of tourism development in Nigeria.
Another name that features prominently on the list of potential NTDC DGs is Gabe Onah. Onah is the chairman of Calabar Carnival Commission, a post he has held since 2007. He is a former Special Adviser Tourism to Cross River state governor.
His Masters of Arts thesis is on “Carnival Arts Management & Cultural Diplomacy: The Carnival Calabar Paradigm”.
From 2013 – 2014, he developed a study on ”Conflict of Traditional Norms in the Packaging of Ikom Monoliths for Tourism in CRS.”
He has led vibrant group discussions on cultural pluralism and diversity as strength of the Nigerian nation. He has also been Team Leader for the Cross River State pilot tourism initiative certification program in Jamaica.
Onah also worked and participated with NCC and NCBA of Trinidad for behind the scenes and performance of the world renowned carnival of Trinidad and Tobago for the transplanting of frame works to Carnival Calabar.
Onah is certified by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) as manager, Tourism Destinations. He has formed and trained tourism associations in Cross River.
Fatima Garbati is another name with a sterling career spanning 25 years in travel and tourism. She is a seasoned technocrat in commercial aviation, specializing in economic regulation, pricing and Bilateral Air Services Agreements.
She is an avid tourism practitioner and served as the National President for the Nigerian Association of Tour Operators as well as National Vice President for the Federation of Tourism Association of Nigeria.
She began her career at Nigeria Airways and attained the position of the Deputy Director of Marketing. She founded an aviation consultancy outfit which handled projects that harnessed her competency in aviation operations and international regulations.
Garbati was called back into public service and made the Director of Air Transport and Economic Regulation at the NCAA. For a decade, she was the Chief Delegate for Nigeria on Commercial Aviation at IATA and subsequently as the chairman of the IATA Agency Panel for West Africa.
Jemi Alade is a highly-respected Nigerian tour operator with a focus on inbound tours. Regarded as a pioneer in the tourism industry, he is a founding member of NATOP.
He is the founder of the first indigenous travel company in Nigeria named Jemi Alade Tours which has put together several marketable tours for tourists to explore and experience.
Jemi Alade has helped visitors to Nigeria discover everything from ancient villages, markets, shrines, palaces to modern cities, highways and industries, by offering personalized services to tourists.
Nkereuwem Onung, the National President NATOP, is another powerful voice and personality in the Nigerian tourism industry. He is the owner of the renowned Remlords Tours and Car Hire Services and is the Managing Director, Calabar Microfinance Bank Ltd.
Stella Obinwa is Regional Director International Operations (Africa) at the Dubai Department of Tourism Commerce & Marketing. In her current position, she has helped Dubai Tourism make inroads into Africa, leading delegations to tourism exhibitions like Akwaaba, and helping to increase traffic from Africa to Dubai.
Obinwa has previously worked as Chief Marketing Officer at Wakanow, Nigeria’s leading online travel portal.
Ini Akpabiois Chief Executive of NANET Hotels, Ayo Olowoporoku, is the Director of Finance and Administration at Hotel Support Services Ltd (HSSL) while Bankole Bernard is the President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies.
These names above have the essential knowledge, exposure and connections which are vital for tourism to thrive in Nigeria. If the government is serious about getting tourism right, it will desist from appointing an outsider based on political considerations and rather put a round peg in a round hole.