By Stellamaries Amuwa
As Nigeria joined the world to celebrate the 2017 World Tourism Day in line with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (WTO), declaration, Director General, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation NTDC, Folorunsho Coker, bared his mind to journalists on issues in Nigeria’s tourism industry including the way forward. Stellamaries Amuwa was there.
The 2017 World Tourism Day focused on how sustainable tourism can contribute to development. How well has the potentials of domestic tourism been explored in Nigeria?
We must learn to celebrate whatever we have in Nigeria. Tourism is moving from one location to another to consume some hospitality or recreation products and resell it to your normal place of residence, so I am a political tourist in Abuja. When you go home for Christmas, we are going to celebrate with our families, that is some form of social tourism, people come and buy goods from the market in different states and go back, that is also some form of commercial tourism people move around a lot for business in Nigeria that is also business tourism so add that to the wedding, funeral and other parties we are known for in Nigeria. We don’t measure those things, so we focus on the leisure tourism alone of going on vacation abroad and we say that is the kind of tourism we are looking for, no. If you want to look critically at what we have in Nigeria especially with cultural destination heritage tourism that we traditionally know as tourism, if you compare Nigeria with other countries it is very welcome, however, our destination and our culture tourism asset have not been the focus of excellent drive both from the private and public sector so those things are setbacks we are drawing attention to them now. Look peoples demands have changed their standard have increased.
We want to buy a cooled bottle of water and sit down in a comfort zone and maybe buy a souvenir and say we came to this place; we are encouraging people to invest in those old asset. Over the years Nigeria ought to have developed new medium of cultural exchange. Look at our music, it is one of the blessing we have in Nigeria what did we truly invest in that industry that made it dominant in the world, what kind of schools have we built for our musicians for them to be so dominant in the world, God has bless us with that, our food, our fashion designers are competing in the world. What have we built in Nigeria for our Nollywood artists, there are rated second in the world, look at our Religion see how religious tourists troop into Nigeria. It’s a matter of deciding what we want and putting it together. I compare tourism with agriculture, as we are today you must acquire your land fertilize the land, get huge farm that can generate enough crops for it to be a meaningful business; the gestation period of the investment’s it has to be mechanized in all forms-all these thing are capital intensive and there is gestation period of the labour force. Look at tourism whether you like it or not we have asset that are working. we may not have the best airlines but we have good airlines, we may not have the best hotels but we have good hotels. We have good music, we have religion to bring tourists from all over the world these are our tourism assets. The issue of our security, there is no country that does not have security issues, every country of the world has an element of crime, we are dealing with it. Crime today is not what it was five years ago.
Issues of terrorism is not what it was three years ago, it is coming down some countries of the world like Israel have suffered serious terrorist attacks even London but people still go there. So why are we so quick to say the negative about our country, we should also be quick to celebrate what we have.
Your predecessor pushed for domestic tourism, are you also driving an agenda of promoting domestic tourism?
We move around predominantly for leisure, we move around, if your sister put to birth you travel to celebrate with them. If your father passes on we travel home, it’s just that we do not document it as movement. The only form of sustainable tourism that is sure is domestic tourism. If your house is not clean how many visitors will come and visit you or how long will they stay. It is in us using what we have to the best of our knowledge that we can hope to develop what we have, before foreigners will come and enjoy or invest in the standard of what we have. We are the best people to support our hotels, what is the cost of one man, wife and children taking vacation abroad, check what the cost is today. The reality of Nigeria today is that we have to look inward. To even eat the cheapest hamburger in MacDonald’s is about two dollars that about eight hundred Naira. Me and you know that with four hundred Naira we can buy very solid meal here in Nigeria, what is the basis of your comparism of my Naira to your dollar. The global community especially the oil consuming countries around the world has already started to send a signal saying they cannot manufacture again cars that consume fuel by 2020, if the engine that consumes our fuel are no longer manufactured, it’s time for us to wake up and develop the alternative we have that will serve the benefits of our children’s children. It is important for us to invest now in what we want our children to reap because oil is not going to be there for ever. Tourism is now the new oil. We have the capabilities, the asset it’s a question of adjustment and investment in the appropriate sector and at this time we will see the change in turn.
You are of the opinion that the only way tourism can be sustained in Nigeria is by enhancing domestic tourism, lets look at the clamour for the amendment of law regulating tourism in the country and the ‘Tour Nigeria’ initiative. What are you doing to make sure tourism grows in the country?
The relationship of tourism and media is a special one, tourism cannot be sold by me keeping quiet. I need to put tourism on the agenda. we need to make noise about tourism until I get the billions required to put tourism in the burner. Domestic tourism is the foundation on which international tourism can land safely it terms of value for money, qualities of the service and the maturity of both our destination and institution. It is on a matured domestic industry that even the institutions of this world can strive. If the domestic industry is not robust how can we be expecting international tourism to come and invest?. In terms of what we embarked upon we created a brand called ‘Tour Nigeria’ if you look at all other countries of the world, it is not a logo like the logo of NTDC that drives tourism.
NTDC logo is a master brand created in 1992 not the most endearing but the master brand logo. We now created the first tour brand called ‘Tour Nigeria’ like they have the ‘Incredible India’, ‘Magical Kenya’, so we have a pretty logo called tour Nigeria and we are asking you Nigerians to tour Nigeria with both the traditional tourism like cultural new yam festival, the Argungu fishing festival, we are asking them to go to the destination like Obudu, the Mambilla Hill with our music, the food. Let us look at these things closely, tourism is a business that generates trillions of dollars, the art is there do it right, culture is there do it right, produce it right and the best of tourism will strive on it. We are asking people to do the cheaper thing, look at what you can do to stop exporting jobs, incomes of not just today but even tomorrow of your own people we ask people to grow the Naira, earn here and spend here although there is nothing wrong with going abroad occasionally but let it not be the blind focus that we must get out of Nigeria. In domestic tourism you do not change currency, you do not roam your phone, whatever subscriber you are with works from Sokoto to Abia; you don’t need visa, you don’t have to carry any documentation. Generally somebody will speak your language, you are still at home “no place like home” how about airlines and hotels coming together to sell one brand. We don’t have packages here in Nigeria. We are encouraging them to come together and create a package, you will sell more if you create affordable packages. We are talking to the state governments, we should come together and see how we can partner.
Our people are very hospitable and have been playing host to several tribes since the pre-colonial days, our location in Nigeria is strategic as you can access any part of the country with ease by land or air and we have clearly one of the richest cultures which is a major source of pride to Edo people.
Recently the minister for information was appointed Vice President of UNWTO; Can one say that tourism is earning a place of pride in the country?
I am the greatest benefitiary of the appointment of the minister for information Lai Mohammed as the vice president of the United Nations World Tourism Organization because whether you like it or not it’s going to make my job easier because he is now the VP of UNWTO so why Nigeria, yes Nigeria has witness few growth potentials and it is notable for us to have received the vice presidency, secondly if you look at the man who has been spear heading the tourism drive at the ministerial level and international level in the person of the minister, he is a tenacious hard working driven person and am sure it is the recognition of his personal quality and drive that made the UNWTO conclude that the Nigerian potential and the energy and drive the person heading tourism has that is why he was awarded the position.
What does it mean to Nigeria?
The 2019 united nation general assembly is going to be held in Nigeria, everybody is going to come to Abuja Nigeria; our hotels will be full, and everything is coming to Nigeria. The experience of Nigeria by such high level delegates if you give them a good time they will become our cultural ambassadors because they will go back and say Nigeria is a nice place. Bring them here. It will give us a fair hearing and reverse this constant negative things about Nigeria.
Tourism as the highest employer of labour worldwide, employing one in every ten jobs globally, holds a lot of opportunities for job creation and environmental preservation. We promised 200, 000 jobs in the first instance during our electioneering campaign and are determined to revamp the tourism sector where some of the jobs will be created.
Drive into Abuja city is probably one of the best in the world, most African countries have worst security than ours, so lets put this into context. We are going to show the best to the world and it will happen here in Abuja. Ministers of tourism from the whole world will be here and they will see that Nigeria is not that bad as portrayed.
They say that foreigners come to Nigeria and go back with their money. Unlike in South Africa, Dubai, Kenya and others, you see tour guards who market the countries’ souvenirs and tourists buy but here in Nigeria we do not have such and no tour guard?
We have so many tourist attraction centres here in Abuja, like the Jabi lake, Usman Dam, Katampe hills, Zuma rock, zoo, and Aso rock. you see government has no business with business, we have tour operators, they are a lot of them we call them and encouraged them. NTDC is at the airport, we are looking to pull them in the hotel. We have national tourism board here already, we have some structural challenges but we have looked at it as well if you want to go on a tour all you need is a tour guard to also be training hotel staff. What is tour guarding, simply knowing your locality so we are trying to move from the airport presence to hotel presence. We are also trying to talk to some of the more established transport companies to let their drivers become tour guard because in most countries of the world when you get into a taxi, a taxi driver can tell you the story of the city but here we don’t have it now but we are trying to educate them and introduce tour guarding as part of the services that the taxi drivers can offer. We operate the tour for government agencies.
It terms of sourvenirs I totally agree with you. we created the brand tour Nigeria, branding is the vehicle that you used to create an emotional connection between a buyer and a product. Example we all know what coca cola is made of but we buy coca cola it’s a brand, when we are not patronizing coca cola enough they put our names on cola cola to make us buy more, if you did not buy your friend will buy and bring to you with your name on it.
The simple thing we have done is tour Nigeria, it will be nice for us to have a shop in the airport that sells tour Nigeria product, it will be nice for me to buy clothes that is dye in the pit in Kano and sell it in Lagos International airport, it will be good for me to transfer the revenues I gain by selling in kano, it will be good to turn the beautiful white walls of government offices in Abuja into painting, but tourism requires a lot of work from many different agencies but part of what affects tourism is Police, Immigration, Works, Transportation, Aviation we don’t controls all those things but they have a hold on the fortune of tourism as a business.
Every penny that government spends on those things benefits tourism but something needs adjustment.
What do you say about the claim of multiple taxations on hotels?
There is a bill in the house and I don’t want to talk much about it, but one thing is sure, if you grow tourism and reap the benefits of it you have to have national standard, and national body that relates with UNWTO. Each states want to grade their own hotel, its police, customs, immigration different from each state? You want 36 different standards of hotels, where has it gotten you in the last 40 years.
The focus is on revenue generation, how much do all the hotels in all the state in Nigeria pay?
There is a lot of noise about multiple taxations but the truth is that things must change and it must change for positive and examples all over the world go and look at what they are doing there before you make negative noise, check how they are regulated.
It brings tourism from the leisure image to business image, it’s serious money, it’s about promotion of tourism. if you promote tourism, revenue will come from private and joint venture participation. It’s important for central bodies to be globally collated for us to relate to the rest of the world, we have to set standards. They are laid down principles that have worked perfectly. My job is to market Nigeria and that is what I am doing here.