Recently, the federal government hosted the 61st meeting of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Commission for Africa (CAF) in the Abuja to come up with an agenda for Africa tourism development. TUNDE OGUNTOLA writes on the outcome of the conference.
Over the years, tourism has become a critical sector that cannot be ignored by serious governments across the world, its impact on economic development and nation building is tremendous. Experts are of the view that tourism boosts income creation for nations and also generates jobs. In fact, it is a sector that cannot be ignored as it is one of the most important sources of welfare for countries.
There has been a clear recognition and momentum regarding the potential impact of the tourism sector on Africa´s economies and its ability to be a key contributor to its transformation and diversification. The resilience of the tourism sector among other sectors has also proven to be a valuable asset for national development strategies that want to rely less on extractive industries. As a result, there is a need for Africa to recognise the importance of tourism as a tool for inclusive growth and job creation.
Experts posit that tourism remains a big source of income. Hence, if a country develops its tourism potentials, such country can just relax and enjoy the money flowing in. Also, other spheres also develop alongside the sector, as the visitors start liking the country and the businessmen see the business potential.
Beyond jobs creation, other opportunities abound for government revenue and innovation. Tourism is a vast industry which provides a number of ancillary services; it can be a very important part of economic prosperity and promotion of cultural activities.
The richness and diversity of Nigeria’s culture has always been cited as a strong reason why tourism should be a major foreign exchange earner for the country. With a population of over 180 million people and 250 ethnic groups, each with a unique story, from east to west, from north down to south, the country is naturally endowed with rich tourist sites, some of which include, the Osun-Osogbo Groove, Obudu Cattle Ranch, Ogbunike Cave, Oguta Lake, Yankari Game Reserve, Olumo Rock, Idorin Hills, Ikogosi Waterfall, Mambila Plateau, the Ibeno Beachin Akwa Ibom State, Ngwo Pine Forest, Awhum Waterfall, Arochukwu Long Juju Slave Route, Giant Footprint of Ukhuse Oke, Port Harcourt Tourist Beach, Gashaki-Gumpti National Park, Alok Ikom Monoliths, Isaac Boro Garden Park, Tinapa Free Zone & Resort, Ancient Nok Settlement, New Afrika Shrine, Kainji National Park, Yankari National Park, the list is inexhaustible, including those that are yet to come to limelight.
And when it comes to festivals, Nigeria is not lacking. From the Argungu Fishing Festival, to Osun Osogbo Festival, Abuja Carnival, Calabar Christmas Carnival, Cross Rivers State Carnival, Eyo Festival, Igue Festival, Ojude Oba Festival, Badagry Festival, Durba Festival, almost every state in the country hosts one or two festivals yearly.
Sadly, Nigeria has become an untapped tourist paradise despite its long stretches of exotic beaches, lush mountains, well preserved tradition and culture and enchanting tourist attractions.
The UNTWO delegates were greeted with a taste from the spiritual shines of ancient cities of the north, from the river Deltas to the Yoruba kingdoms, the Igbo’s stunning culture and among many other simply pure types of scenery which leave the delegates breathing hard with suspense and excitement.
Nigeria tourism sector, over the years, has been abandoned by the tourism industry. Unlike every other sector in the nation, it has suffered its fair share from the country’s dilapidated infrastructure including: poor electricity, roads, and water quality.
For better promotion of tourism and culture, former President Olusegun Obasanjo created the Ministry of Culture, now Ministry of Information and Culture. Commentators argue that the ministry has successfully moved one step forward, two steps backward and remains a weeping child swimming in waters filled with daunting challenges due to poor infrastructure and political will to drive the sector.
President Muhammadu Buhari, since inception of his administration in 2015, described tourism as a rejected stone that would be rejuvenated to address the dwindling economy of the country. The President said though culture and tourism sector is driven by private sector all over the world, ‘’it would provide conducive environment to encourage investment in the sector.”
It is against this backdrop that the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture sought the hosting right of the 61st UNTWO meeting, a platform not only to showcase Nigeria, but an avenue to presents its vision and agenda for Africa entitled: ‘’Tourism Statistics: A Catalyst for Development.”
The Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Mr Zurab Pololikashvili, has described the ongoing 61st Meeting of the UNWTO Commission for Africa (CAF) in Abuja as one of the most successful events of the global body and came up with common action plan to serve the continent objectives with the following core priorities: ‘’to alleviate poverty through tourism projects; to find innovative approaches to developing tourism in the region; and to find and foster new partnerships and resources.’’
Pololikashvili said the UNWTO will leverage on the success of the meeting to promote Nigeria to become a top tourist destination in the world. He commended the minister for putting Nigeria on the global tourism map.
“Thanks to the minister that is pushing Nigeria as a new tourist destination. We are here to support Nigeria to be the most important and most attractive place to come to visit to enjoy the culture,” Mr Pololikashvili said.
The Secretary-General said the commitment shown by the President to tourism development has motivated the UNWTO to renew its interest in Nigeria. He commended the administration’s visa on arrival policy which, he said, has made Nigeria one of the most accessible countries and urged other countries to emulate the policy.
The UNTWO secretary general said the ongoing meeting in Nigeria has provided a veritable platform to discuss and articulate concrete steps towards the development of tourism on the continent.
The priorities identified and to which the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) correspond to according to the UNTWO are as follows: ‘’Advocating the brand Africa; promoting travel facilitation (Connectivity / Visa); strengthening tourism statistics systems; expanding of capacity building including training facilities; promoting innovation and technology; fostering resilience (safety + security, crisis communication); unlocking growth through investment promotion by public private partnerships; empowering youth and women through tourism; advancing the sustainability agenda (esp. biodiversity); promoting cultural heritage.
Addressing the 61st meeting of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation-Commission for Africa (UNWTO-CAF), President Buhari assured investors in the sector of minimum tariff on investment on amusement park equipment, materials for hotel construction, furnishing, dedicated transportation for tour operators and equipment for restaurants not manufactured in Nigeria, minimum duty on casino equipment and work permit for foreign workers with specialised skills within the industry. He also called on tourists and investors in the tourism sector to consider Nigeria as their second home saying, that the federal government has provided attractive investment incentives for investors in the sector.
President Buhari is targeting to get fresh investments in the nation’s tourism sector as he wooed investors with pioneer status on all major tourism projects, land at concessionary rate, minimum tariff on imported tourism equipment and work permit for foreign workers with specialised skills in the industry.
The President also declared that Nigeria is safe and secure for tourism, citing improved security and the country’s burgeoning economy as basis for his verdict. He said it would have been inconceivable to host an international tourism conference in Abuja four years ago because of security concerns.
‘‘I am pleased that the country is now sufficiently safe and secure, and the message should go out to the world for all tourists and business travellers. The first thing tourists look out for is security and I am happy we have it now.
‘‘Minister Lai Mohammed has been trying to convince the world that Nigeria is safe and has great potentials for tourism and investment. I am glad that you and your team have come here to see things for yourself,” President Buhari said.
He told the over 500 delegates, including 26 ministers and 166 foreign delegates from 34 countries excluding local and foreign pressmen that Nigeria, is a country with a population of over 180 million people and 250 ethnic groups, each with a unique story and these stories are finding expression in the country’s movies, music and many other creative endeavours.
“Our music and movies, in particular, have taken the world by storm and, for the creative young talents in our dear country, Nigeria, the best is yet to come,” he added.
The minister of Information and Culture, in his welcome address noted that tourism has become an important sector of the economy for many member states, especially as an important source of foreign exchange earnings, employment generation and income creation. He said in addition to encouraging infrastructural development and poverty reduction, tourism is one of the sectors the federal government has identified as very key to its economic diversification agenda.
He said the federal government has spent $9 billion on infrastructural projects since the commencement of the administration in 2015. Adding that, such infrastructure will also foster tourism and development.
The minister said the treasures of tourism cannot be unlocked without infrastructure. He said, “Tourism cannot die in Nigeria due to diverse culture and ethnicity. Also, tourism is the fastest way to create jobs.
“We are a country of 180 million plus with over 250 different ethnic groups and each group has its own peculiarity, story and uniqueness. Therefore tourism will continue to thrive. Tourism will survive where there is the right infrastructure,” the minister said.
The minister further said that Nigeria will use the opportunity offered by the meeting to tell the world that Nigeria is safe and secure for its citizens, tourists and investors.
The meeting was attended by over 500 delegates, including 26 ministers and 166 foreign delegates from 34 countries attended. Tourism is indeed the future of Nigeria, the importance of tourism as an economic development tool cannot be overemphasised.
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