Saleh Rabo, president of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), is very passionate about tourism development in Nigeria. In this interview with Stellamaries Amuwa, he hopes to see the eventual emergence of Nigeria as a leading tourist destination in West Africa.
What inspired you into tourism business?
Well, a whole lot really. For starters, I read Tourism Management for my first degree. Subsequently, I had a short stint working in two major tourism agencies of Nigeria, precisely the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR). A few years later, I left the services of these agencies and took up the job of managing All States Travel & Tours Limited. It started from my student days in Nigeria and Austria, where I read Tourism Management. From those humble days till now I have never worked in any other sector that got nothing to do with Travels and Tourism. I consider myself to be a committed tourism practitioner, and Insha Allah, with my involvement in FTAN, I would see to the eventual emergence of Nigeria as a leading tourist destination in West Africa.
As one of the leading persons in Nigeria’s tourism sector, what are the challenges the industry is facing?
he challenges of tourism businesses in Nigeria are enormous, for different reasons. Some of the challenges are the typically national, like lack of socio-economic infrastructure, while others are peculiar to our tourism environment, such as poorly developed tourism destinations and government’s non-committal attitude. It is quite a long list, of which we at FTAN are struggling with for the past 20 years.
What is the way forward?
There is no silver bullet that could be used to solve Nigeria’s tourism underdevelopment. It would take a whole lot of strategies and investments of all the stakeholders including the federal government, states and private tourism businesses. To kick start the process though, government needs to urgently prioritize tourism as an economic policy as they have done for Agriculture and lately solid minerals.
Presently, there is no bankable government tourism policy thrust that investors can latch unto. The industry in Nigeria urgently needs a public-private partnership template, so that both the government and private tourism operators can see eye to eye and work with a common goal in mind, while each of us plays his role according to his areas of responsibility and strength.
Similarly, tourist host communities have to be involved in tourist destination development and management in Nigeria. As it is now, most people see tourists as intruders into their heritage sites and curious voyeurs. We need to have a sustained public enlightenment campaigns that communicate the social and economic benefits of tourism to Nigerians, especially those in the rural areas, because is essentially a cultural tourism destination, as such most of our tourist attractions are far-flung rural areas.
How do you cope with multiple challenges and responsibilities as FTAN president?
With humility and dedication to work, just like any top executive of a national organization. You see, prior to becoming the current FTAN President, I have been the Managing Director of All States Travel & Tours Limited, one the leading travel agency in the entirety of Northern Nigeria, for a several years.
Even though the task of superintending the operations of FTAN is gargantuan, it is certainly not beyond my managerial capacity. Moreover, I campaigned on committing myself to the needs of FTAN member associations, and I was elected based on that promise. Perhaps the biggest challenge is joggling my time between being the Managing Director of All States Travels and equally being the President of FTAN. I must confess that it is quite draining, notwithstanding I have long perfected the art of managerial multitasking.
What is your typical day like?
I wake up at 5 am, resume work at All States Travels by 8am, turn up at FTAN Secretariat at 3 pm and head home, mostly from 7pm. It all depends on the events of the day though, sometimes I rejig my routine, especially when I have to travel, which I frequently do, or when there are urgent national assignments relating to FTAN.
Where is your favourite tourist destination?
Quite a few across Nigeria including Jos, Plateau State, where I hail from, Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State, Obudu Mountain Resort in Cross River, and a few others.
What is your philosophy of life?
Faithfully worship Allah, and live in peace with people that I meet in life
How close have you come to achieving your personal goals in life?
Very close. Even though no human being can achieve everything he or she wants in life. Nevertheless. I have made some considerable life achievements for my age. I have a lively family, and I also have my professional work at the top echelon of the industry in Nigeria.
What does fashion and style mean to you?
For me fashion and style is about wearing what you feel very comfortable in, especially when it looks good on you. I do not believe I must be expensively dressed up to be fashionable. Besides, I am a modest person by nature. However, I particularly like Northern Nigeria style of costumes. It complements my Nigeria tourism philosophy, which is that, Culture is our lifelong asset.
Can you tell us about your designers?
Ha ha ha, I am sure you and your readers would not know them, if I mentioned them. They are your the typical, creative Hausa couture and fashion houses in Jos, Kano and Abuja. But I pick up stuff anywhere it catches my fancy.
What are those fashion items you cannot do without?
There is none really. It depends on how I am dressed for the day or occasion. But I like caps that complement by clothing. It is part of Northern Nigerian couture. You must have a cap that matches your outfit.
ell us about your upcoming FTAN programme.
It is actually FTAN 22nd Annual General Meeting. It would hold on July 11th 2019 in Abuja Nigeria. Unlike the previous AGMs, this FTAN 2019 Annual General Meeting is poised to draw attention of governments and private tourism stakeholders on the imperative of data gathering and sharing between government and private tourism operators. You know that globally, the world is now in the age of ‘Big Data’. Hence, we feel strongly that, government tourism policies and private investors’ decisions would be more impactful to Nigeria tourism development if they are influenced credible data.
Recall that we recently setup a new department of Tourism Research and Advocacy at our head office in Abuja. Therefore, the next Annual General Meeting would include programmes that cement our proposals to work with tourism stakeholders to institute tourism data collation and sharing.
In your own opinion, what is the way forward for the diversification of Nigeria’s economy?
Without mincing words, I would say it is the mainstreaming of tourism economic development in Nigeria. The reality is that, tourism is pro-poor and also pro-rich! Everyone benefits from a booming tourism economy in a destination, especially in a third world country like Nigeria.
The multiplier-effect of tourism cascades from the urban centres to the most rural area. Governments collect levies from tourists, and also collect taxes from tourism service providing organisations, which feed into our national purse and shore up our GDP.
Similarly, tourism service providers not only make profit, they employ hundreds of thousand Nigerians, even when the industry is still embryonic, our FTAN members generate loads of direct and indirect employment in hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, car services, souvenir and cottage industries. Most importantly, tourists regularly spend foreign currencies in rural host communities by patronizing farmers, artisans, and many other grassroots dwellers. In short, tourism is the best way to alleviate, and eventually eradicate poverty in Nigeria.
By Stellamaries Amuwa