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Tourism and Nation Branding: Why Nigeria Tags Behind Despite Potentials

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Ryom rock, josIn 2013, the IBISWorld global tourism market research report showed the tourism industry globally was worth $1.4 trillion. The report also revealed that emerging economies accounted for a much improved share of the tourism industry. The mobilization and packaging of unique locations and activities for visitors to experience and admire, is increasingly becoming an expanding source of income for many countries across the globe. For economies like Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia, Mauritius and Kenya, tourism has always been a priceless source of revenue. With the number of visitors clocking 8-9 million, Morocco and South Africa have remained table topers in Africa’s tourism league.

Although Nigeria might not be a major player in conference tourism, there are diverse historical sites and monuments that should offer quality attraction in other segments of tourism.  Exciting festivals abound among the different ethnic groups.  Archaeologists through their researches and excavations have also analysed diverse and interesting artefacts surrounding the people and cultures of Nigeria. The puzzle among most Nigerians is, with all these potentials, why is tourism contributing marginally to the fortunes of our country? Why is the tourism industry in Nigeria not contributing the desired input to the country’s gross domestic product? What could be the reason that even those who come for business travel never take out time to actually explore the tourism opportunities of this country?

A renowned analyst on tourism, Dr Austin Tam-George, who is Executive Director of the Institute of Communication and Corporate Studies (ICCS) Lagos, in an exclusive interview with Brand Intelligence, opined that the Nigerian tourism sector remains under-developed in Nigeria. According to him, it is mainly because of neglect by government at all levels. “Even private investors have shown only half-hearted commitment to the sector at best. But if we want to move the country beyond an extractive economy, then our current negligent attitude towards other sectors, including tourism, agriculture, education, health,among others, must change. With over 400 ethnic groups, Nigeria has a rich cultural tapestry that we can showcase to the world. We must see our vibrant diversity as a country as our greatest source of strength. Since 1960, we’ve done little more than problematize our diversity. We need to change this perception. But to achieve this, the divisive and anti-development character of our politics will have to change.”

In a growing tourism segment, like Conference tourism, Kenya emerged the new growth frontier, earning the country second position after South Africa last year in the number of conferences held on the African continent. The country hosted 29 international conferences, with the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) hosting most of them. But this was way below the 97 conferences that South Africa, the continent’s conference tourism Champion, hosted in the same year. Tourist analysts say that, to boost tourism, Nigeria also needs to invest in infrastructure. For a country not at war, Nigeria has one of the worst infrastructure deficits in Africa. Mother Nature has also blessed the country with vast land, beautiful climate and land formation, especially with the swampy coastal lands to the thick rain forests and the savannah. There are also the parks, hills, lakes and games reserves in their natural habitat. These cultural, natural and artificial materials offer attractions that could be explored as an alternative source of sustainable revenue to cities and governments.

As a direct response to the need to maximise these advantages, Style Weeks Limited, a tourism and event marketing consultancy, is partnering with the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation to organize one of Nigeria’s most innovative tourism expo tagged The President’s Tourism Investment Forum (TIF) 2014. The Tourism Investment Forum is scheduled to take place at the Congress Hall, Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Maitama, Abuja on July 23 and 24, 2014 as well as the Presidential Villa Banquet Hall on July 25, 2014. A pre-event–tourism development workshop will also be taking place the Intercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos on the May 14 and 15, 2014, where the Nigerian Tourism Development Fund would be launched. The essence of this initial workshop is to set the right tone that will elevate the Abuja summit to the desired crescendo. Tam-George agrees that Nigeria can change all of that through a single-minded commitment to develop and standardize our roads, bridges, canals, airports and telecoms penetration. This, according to him, will create millions of jobs and increase mobility of internal and external tourists to all parts of the country. Explaining further why Nigeria’s tourism potential remains untapped, Tam-George stated that Nigeria’s over-reliance for decades on oil and gas economy, which still accounts for over 70 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP, is a major draw back. “Agriculture, which is the largest employer of labour in Nigeria, contributes less than 20 per cent to the GDP because it is still at a largely subsistent level. Despite its vast potentials, tourism contributes even less than agriculture to the overall GDP. A recent trend by state officials to equate tourism with simply organizing carnivals in cities also complicates the problem for the industry. Tourism is much more than a colourful and episodic fanfare.” Although some tourist observers and analysts consider the menace of Boko Haram and the ever alarming state of insecurity that has engulfed the country a threat to Nigeria’s tourism activations, it is puzzling to also observe that tourists still flock to countries like Israel, Egypt and other countries, in spite of their unique socio-political challenges.

Affirming that no country is perfect, Tam-George stated that America loses more people to gun violence every year in Chicago than soldiers they have lost in combat in Afghanistan. Yet people still seem to want to visit America at all costs.Tourists visit places for recreational, religious, historical and other sentimental reasons. Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have sites that have deep religious and historical resonance for many people across the world. So, except their lives are directly threatened, tourists will probably always go there. Despite a ‘rape pandemic’ and high levels of violent crime rate in South Africa, the country hosted probably the best world cup in 2010 and continues to earn billions of dollars in revenue from tourism. This is because despite its problems, South Africa works. It has world-class infrastructure – from hotels to roads, airports, universities.” Bismarck Rewane, a popular financial and travels analyst in his blog thinks that successive government in Nigeria have not made tourism a major goal in the country. “We have not even started nurturing our historical and anthropological assets to position them to become attractive. This is why Nigeria is not considered by many, even domestically as a destination for rest or relaxation or as a destination for historical, cultural or anthropological discovery or excursion. The infrastructure that supports tourism simply doesn’t exist. If you’re arriving at the airport or you go to any Nigerian website, there is no reference to places like the Yankari Game Reserve.”

It is mind-boggling that Nigeria has always had a tourism policy. In 2006, a comprehensive ‘Tourism Master Plan’ was even drafted under President Obasanjo. Analysts hold that the problem has always been implementation. Even the best policy is meaningless without implementation. Clearly, tourism is a huge industry with many stakeholders. No government can run it alone. Government could catalyse progress in the sector through infrastructure and regulatory oversight. But if you manage a hotel, you don’t need a government official to remind you to have fresh beddings or faithfully return items forgotten by guests in your hotel. We also need to develop strong business ethics. In the opinion of  some tourism experts in Nigeria,  government’s involvement in the President’s Tourism Investment Forum (TIF), especially after unveiling a new tourism brand identity for the nation’s tourism sector termed ‘Fascinating Nigeria,’ would most likely drive  promotional activities in our culture and tourism sector and put Nigeria at par with  South Africa’s ‘It’s Possible’  brand campaign.

Culled from Thisday.

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