The Director-general of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Otunba Olusegun Runsewe is a man of ideas and action. In this interview with LEADERSHIP SUNDAY’S TORDUE SALEM and CHIBUNMA UKWU, he lays out a 3-yr plan of the Corporation, what it has achieved so far and the enormous tourism potentials of the Country.
Tell us About NTDC
NTDC is a Federal government parastatal (agency). It started basically with promoting marketing and development of tourism content across the country, home and abroad and of course to make sure that there is a proper and good combination working relationship with all the stakeholders and the State amicably.
What has been your major achievement in the last two years?
Well, let me give you document for the achievements. In terms of projection, we are making serious projections that will make Nigeria, a tourism destination of repute. Basically, looking at the aspect of tourists coming into our country and after they had left would still look forward to coming back again.
We also basically, make more projections whereby we can generate more funds for our GPP from tourism. The good thing is that right now, we have worked 125 flights into Nigeria every week; most of the major airlines in the world now come to Nigeria.
So our projections are to capitalise on this opportunity and make sure that more tourists come to our country, have places that they can always look forward to coming back to. However, we must appreciate one fact.
That most of these destinations are not owned by the federal or state governments so what we now try to do is to encourage them to ensure that they provide good road, facilities and transportation for the destinations.
At a time in the past, you wanted to equip transporters to help serve tourists well…. Did you succeed in implementing that programme?
We actually provided these boxes for all the taxis that operate at the airport. In the entire world, somebody can just have minor asthma attack which by the administration of inhaler will make the person okay, another person can have that attack and that’s it. So we gave out these little boxes to taxi drivers which could be served as the few car kits available, so that is exactly what we tried to do.
I also remember you wanted to train the taxi drivers. Was that done?
We did that with some tactics which worked out very well. The taxi drivers now see themselves as major stakeholders in the tourism industry and we are very impressed and I must tell you that we are going to the next level of giving them training on etiquette and public relations.
There are some laws on tourism that seem to be out-dated,… has anything been done about them?
No, you see, basically, when tourism strives in any country of the world, then you also have to as a matter of policy, improve your legal frame work because you need a very strong legal document to back your tourism sector, and if not, there will be so much abuses that will be difficult for you to manage, so we strongly believe in that.
Do you have a draft bill now for what you want to do?
Oh yes, we have a draft, it is being fine-tuned, at the end of the day, we will be able to put it through.
You have always been an advocate of sustenance in tourism and development but the fact still remains that there are obstacles to achieving the goals that you set there. Could you please identify these obstacles for us and how you are going about them?
Basically, there are always going to be challenges, and the first and biggest challenge is getting Nigerians to appreciate and understand the benefits of tourism. It took time but as of today, I can tell you Nigerians have come to terms but really, tourism can make a lot of changes in our environment and in what we are doing.
That has been able to help us and put us on a different pedestals of appreciating the contribution of tourism. Challenges also are in terms of infrastructure which of course government is now addressing.
We cannot address all at the same time, it is a process and it is going to take some time, but I believe that some of these challenges are also preparations for the next level we are praying for. So, to me, some of these challenges are man-made which of course we must confront head-on and make sure they do not distract us.
The Federal Government agenda of transformation agenda is supposed to touch all areas to convince foreigners on why they should come to Nigeria. One would have expected that the money you would budget would be so much. I would not say it was meagre, but it was far below what we would have expected. Why is it so? Is it that the NTDC or Ministry of Tourism have not been able to present a very robust case for more funds?
I do not think so. Before you can make such comment, you would have found out what was being given before. There are some improvements but there is room to also improve on the past.
I agree with you that for us to get tourism right, we need to invest some money. I can assure you that in the next two to three years, the government would have seen the goodwill and what we have really put on ground and to put more money in tourism.
With insecurity in the country, we assume that there are setbacks in the tourism and development sector. Can you quantify how much we have lost to insecurity in the last one year for example?
We need to get something right. Nigeria is not the only country that is facing insecurity challenges. We agree that we have insecurity challenges, but this is not enough to make us fold our arms until everything is plundered before we can promote tourism.
There are countries that have more challenges and they still promote their tourism. I see myself as an ambassador of the country. There is no amount of threat that can stop the sector. It remains for me to make sure that I am competent in it. We would be able to say look, we have challenges but we are also doing our best to make sure that it does not, by any chance, make our tourism development to suffer.
There was a time that hotels were almost closing down, and it could be said that hotel business in Nigeria was no longer thriving. Have you been able to reach out to hotel managers to reassure them that this is what the government is doing to put things right?
That information is completely misleading. You see, even when we have challenges, hotel businesses are still doing well. I was in Kaduna three weeks ago, I observed that the hotel we were staying in and some of the hotels that we lodged our staff in, were fully booked.
It is true that we have challenges in Maiduguri and in Kano for obvious reasons, but that does not mean that we should run down the whole country. Those areas could be counted as part of the challenges that we face but I assure you that it will not stop Nigeria from moving forward.
What do we expect from NTDC in terms of delivery on your mandate between now and 2015?
Yes, what you would expect between now and 2015, is every government wants every sector to contribute meaningfully so that at the end of the year, there could be some challenges, but we have been able to put some structures on ground. It is like an investment which is different from profit.
You do not buy to make profit tomorrow; an investment is a long term measure but at the end of the day, the returns are better because they are constant. So between now and that 2015, I can assure you, before this time actually, who knew very much about tourism in Nigeria? But today, the awareness is there, the contacts are there, the networking is there and the people can feel and taste it so what we need is to capitalise and build on that.
About five years ago, we hardly had people from central Africa or even from the Middle East coming to Nigeria, but today, a lot of them come to Nigeria. You see, we have one unique opportunity; we have a very strong content of tourism and if we capitalise and re- focus, I can assure you that we will become a destination for tourists all over the world.
Sir, NTDC has given an automaton of 30 days to hotels who fail to get registered. Despite your efforts, some hotels are still not complying. Please, what do you intend to do to these hotels after 30 days?
No, they are complying. We are impressed with those ones who have started coming. You see, there is a sharp difference, people view this registration as an avenue to make money but it is not so. It is for our national security.
When you travel to anywhere in the world, you would realise that before you are checked into a hotel, you have to present your passport, but today you and I, we have relations who are staying jobless and foreigners are coming to Nigeria to work thereby denying our people from being gainfully employed.
Again is the fact that it is easier for foreigners to come into our country to cause damages to people and leave, thereby leaving a lasting and bad impression on us as a people, so we are bent this time on making sure that this is curbed and it is part of the way of doing this business to ensure that we have the data of all the hotels operational in Nigeria.
I must commend the IG of police; he is a man of his word. Normally, there is no success that does not come with challenges, so he has said and after 30 days, anybody who refused to get registered would be said to be operating an illegal organisation (hotel), and definitely, we cannot allow people to continue to disobey the laws of the land and at same time, turn our country to a den of terrorism and so on.
All the terrorism attacks that we have experienced now in Nigeria have never been experienced like this before. So that is why we must keep record and track.
Now, with the involvement of the police to ensure registration, how much will that aid NTDC to achieve their focus and will that be sustained?
It would be sustained. Anybody who knows the new IG will attest that he is a man of his word and he does not allow any form of indiscipline. In recent times, he has set up committees.
Some do not fancy the setting up of the committees but they would be of tremendous help. You see, the new IG has his own plans but he needs to know what was on ground before and how to move them forward.