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Amid dwindling resources, tourism is road less travelled

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By Femi Oni

THE Nigerian government has certainly been feeling the pinch since the oil price slide began to hammer public finances. Whether the dwindling oil revenue is as a result of drastic reduction in the demand for the nation’s light crude oils or as a result of the fall in the price of crude oils (light or heavy), the implications for government are the same: cut down on spending. Against this backdrop, several economics pundits and social commentators have been suggesting different proactive ways out of this economic quagmire.

One of these is the urgent need for the diversification of the economy. However, with the recent clamour for diversification of the economy, one begins to wonder the practicality of diversifying the economy. If one compares the statistics of revenue that accrued to the non-oil sector in the past few years, one is quick to ask oneself of the feasibility of sustaining the nation’s economy on non-oil sector activities.

In 2013, $2.97billion was recorded as against $2.56billion achieved in 2012. Regrettably in the second quarter of 2014, the figure dropped to $664mllion whilst in the second quarter of this year, the figure further dropped to $391million. This abysmal performance in non-oil sector can be attributed to the fact that farm produce of Nigerian origin had come under the hammer of the European Union for non-compliance to Export Expansion Grant (EEP) and to globally acceptable standards in product registration, labelling, high concentration of chemical residue, insurgence in the North East which is the agricultural basket of the nation amongst others. Truth be told, the period of oil boom was the best time to have invested in the things that drive economic growth. Then, our government should have invested in those critical infrastructures that would have enabled the easy diversification. Those structures, human factors inclusive, that would have facilitated easy transition from a monolithic economy have now collapsed or where they exist, are near-comatose.

It is a shame that Nigeria, the sixth largest oil producing country in the world, Africa’s largest producer of oil and the tenth largest reserve owner in the world, has a very low standard of living compared to other oil producing countries. Like the Biblical prodigal son, the government has now come back home cap-in-hand appealing to the citizens to be patient with it on its belt-tightening economic policies. But there is still hope for revival of the economy. The place of tourism in the development of any nation cannot be overemphasised. What is new in tourism? According to World Tourism Organisation (WTO) in year 2002, international tourism was then the world’s largest export earner. Earlier, in the mid 1990s, the tourism industry contributed more than six percent of the values of all goods and services produced throughout the world. According to the World Book Encyclopedia, tourism accounted for more than seven per cent of global capital investment and 13 per cent of world consumer spending. Experts have estimated that tourism supported more than 130 million jobs worldwide and contributed more than 5.6 per cent to total tax payments. The popular thing is to talk about eco-tourism or adventure tourism. However, tourism has grown beyond these and now people are talking about reality tourism and space tourism.

It is unfortunate that Nigeria is yet to fully harness its potentials in these areas let alone delving into space tourism which requires large capital outlay and sophisticated human wizardry. The Center for Global Education in Minneapolis, United States of American is known to organise trips from the United States to third world nations for people to learn about the history of repression and political violence and this is what is called reality tourism. In Nigeria, focus is still on cultural tourism while activities in natural tourism are just picking up. Funny enough, earnings from cultural tourism are seasonal. That Nigeria has the potentials to become a world giant in tourism is stating the obvious. The ‘Giant of Africa’ and the Heart of Africa is richly endowed in ecological and cultural resources, which are of universal recognition. The richness and diversity of the country’s culture is a manifestation of the socio-cultural differences of the over 250 ethnic groups that inhabit the land for ages. Undoubted, the country has not explored fully tourism potentials. Till today, some religious experts still arrogate the source of the country’s woes to FESTAC’77. They averred that God was angry with Nigeria for the fact that government encouraged idolatry through FESTAC’77! I don’t know the truism of this claim.

Every year, our musicians, comedians, fun seekers spend millions attending Nottingham festival in the UK; Weather Festival in Paris, France; Itadaki festival of Shizuoka, Japan; Montreux Jazz Festival of Montreux, Switzerland; to mention a few. Aside Ojude-oba, Argungun fishing festival, Eyo, Sharo/Shadi festival, New Yam festival, Ofala Festival, Calabar Carnival and Osun/Osogbo festival, I am yet to come in contact with other festivals that enjoy ‘global appeal.’ Please note my emphasis of global appeal but I stand also to be corrected. Traditional rulers that are supposed to be custodians of these traditional festivals have delved into politics to the detriment of their primary responsibilities. Another major factor is funding and I want to believe all these problems are surmountable. We need to appreciate what we have. Promoting culture is more than exporting our traditional attires, musical instruments, etc. We need to be proud of what we have. Our musicians must export our ideas, beliefs, through their music. Theater practitioners must stop showing that all what our culture is all about is rituals and killings. Thanks to veteran producers like Kunle Afolayan and Tunde Kelani who are redefining our cultural space through well researched indigenous films. The corporate sector should not rest on its oars. It can partner relevant culture research institutes, government’s bodies and agencies to promote our culture. This can be done through a special purpose vehicle (SPV) called Public-Private Partnership (PPP). Government can concession some natural tourist centers to private sectors for an agreed timeline to develop them to international standards. Not only this, exclusive or partial branding rights for some cultural events or natural tourist centers can also be concessioned through a SPV called Public-Private Partnership. Aside branding rights, natural tourist centers events centers can also offer participating players in the Organised Private Sector (OPS) a platform to showcase Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

There are several other ways by which the potentials in the tourism sector can be fully tapped. It takes the co-operation of the citizens, support of players in the private sector and, sincerity and level of preparedness of government to enter into partnership with relevant agencies. Government should remember that tourism activities can only thrive in an environment where security of tourists can be adequately guaranteed. Parks such as Yankari, Kainji Lake National Park, Old Oyo National Park, Chad Basin do not seem to fare any better perhaps with the exception of Obudu ranch. Another key area of challenge is transportation. It is no gainsaying that good transportation is key to tourism growth. But the dilapidated state of roads, non-functional aviation system, poor rail system and unsafe waterways are what the government needs to address in order to be able to enjoy the dividends accruing from investment in tourism sector. The roles of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) in tourism cannot be overemphasised. It is expected that all the 36 states will have a state tourism board each. Each Tourism Board has the responsibility of assisting NTDC in the implementation of the promotion and development of tourism.Nigeria should take a cue from South Africa and United Arab Emirates (UAE) and a few other countries with success stories in tourism industry. UAE, for example, created business cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi by harnessing tourism resources of the emirate. No wonder, Dubai tourism sector recorded a GDP of $90 billion in 2012 while the same tourism sector contributed about nine percent to South Africa GDP in the same year. South Africa was reported to have attracted about 9.2 million tourists in 2012.

I am of the opinion if the potentials of the non-oil sector are fully harnessed, especially tourism, the current economic woes plaguing the country will be in the past. God bless the tourism sector! God bless the administration of President Buhari!! God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!!!

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