Although tourism business is as old as civilization, in Nigeria it is a late starter. The first effort to create a body that could oversea tourism as an organised business in the country was in 1962, when the Nigerian Tourist Association (NTA) was established. It had no regulatory backing. It was a private sector initiative mostly championed by expatriates and some Nigerians who had returned from their sojourn overseas.
The Nigerian government, through the then Supreme Military Council, was to later issue a decree No. 54 1976, to create the Nigeria Tourism Board (NTB) to oversea tourism in the country. It was the first tourism regulatory body.
However, between 1976 and 1997, even though there were private sector tourism associations like the Association of Tourism Practitioners of Nigeria (ATPN), the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), there was no umbrella federating unit for the private sector tourism practitioners.
The Federal Ministry of Commerce and Tourism, in 1997, decided to establish an umbrella body for tourism industry practitioners to serve as a liaison between the government and the organized private sector tourism industry practitioners. That gave birth to Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) with the renowned business mogul, Mr. Goodie Ibru as the pioneer president of the body.
FTAN, between 1997 and 2021, has tried rally the private sector tourism associations to form a cohesive body to stimulate growth and development in the industry.
The Federation had in the past made efforts to rally the organised private sector and had carried out destination surveys and researches. it had also had partnered with relevant tourism trade associations to conduct travelers’ and tourists’ surveys towards improving tourist service, product and destination experiences. But these are not enough. The problem of tourism which had been dogging the industry for many years, have continued. These are problems that the creation of FTAN was to champion the efforts to solve them and move the industry forward.
Three years, after the formation of FTAN, a full-fledged Ministry of Culture and Tourism was created under President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 with the late Chief Ojo Maduekwe . But the current administration at the federal level has scrapped the tourism ministry.
Many are shocked that in the 21st century, despite the huge contribution of tourism to the countries’ economy, there is no tourism ministry in Nigeria. Tourism is rather subsumed under the Information and Culture ministry. What this means is that there is no representation for a key industry at the cabinet level, and also this would ultimately affect budgetary allocation for the development of the sector.
Many believe the lack of assertively on the part of FTAN to push forward the importance of tourism to government at all levels has contributed to this poor perception of the industry by the current administration hence there is no ministry to cater for the industry.
Many in the industry also believe if FTAN had been more assertive in championing and making a case for a stand-alone ministry of tourism, the current neglect might not have been the case.
Also, with a ministry of tourism, it would have been easier to bring in the right create ideas and strategies to implement and position Nigeria as a leading tourism destination in Africa.
Currently, the world is still under the clutches COVID-19 and the most affected is the tourism industry. COVID-19 did not cut down the business of tourism; it brought tourism to a complete halt for many months. Millions lost their business and millions equally lost their jobs. It is based on this understanding of this that governments and countries the world over made adequate provision to create financial stimulus to cater for some of these most affected businesses.
Tourism industry practitioners were expecting FTAN to champion such efforts to get help from government to restart their crumbled businesses. The federation has not been assertive in pushing the plights of the practitioners to the front burner. As such, despite the Federal Government saying it has released fund for the creative industry which tourism is lumped into, practitioners have not seen anything to that effect. It should be the job of the FTAN to push for this until the Federal Government actualizes its promise.
Other industry problems crippling tourism industry like multiple taxation, huge electricity bill and rather difficult operating environment are still bedeviling the industry.
Despite the assertion by the government on the need to diversify the economy to reduce over dependence on oil revenue, a key sector like tourism that can meaningful help in diversifying the economy is facing neglect.
In the post COVID-19 tourism world, it will not be business as usual if the country is to make progress in its quest to develop the tourism industry. The organised private sector in Nigeria must be its acts together.
FTAN must be more articulate and assertive in pointing the way forward for tourism in the country. It should be able to articulate the position of the industry to elicit necessary actions and intervention from the government.
A process is now on change the leadership of the private sector body and enthrone a new leadership in FTAN. From what the industry is facing now, and the need to make meaningful progress, it is imperative for FTAN to put its house in order and elect the right caliber of individuals to pilot the affairs of the Federation.
By July when the federating tourism associations meet to elect new leadership, the problem of Nigeria tourism and how the private sector can lead the way forward for the industry should be the major consideration in electing those to lead the federation.
Two distinguished individuals who have made meaningful contribution to the development of the industry are contesting for the leadership position of the Federation.
In the past, even before it gets to annual general meeting, a consensus candidate had been agreed upon bade on negotiation and horse-trading.
However, the 2021 AGM would likely witness a keenly contested elections to the executive positions in FTAN especially the office of the president.
Leading the two camps are the current Acting President Nkereuwem Onung, and the FTAN Vice President South West, Otunba Ayo Olumoko.
Nkerereuwem Onung is tourism professional with a background in the banking industry. He runs a community bank and also the chief executive officer of Remlords Tours and Car Hire Services.
He is also in the private sector team that complemented the efforts of the Cross River State government that built the Calabar Festival and Carnival Calabar into one the biggest tourism showpiece in Africa.
He has been was the many years the president of Nigerian Association Tour Operators (NATOP) and was the First Deputy National President of FTAN until after the demise of the substantive president of the association, Alhaji Saleh Kareem Rabo, when he assumed the position of the acting president of the federation. He will be seeking the vote of the affiliated associations of the Federation to become the substantive leader of the body.
Contesting the position with him is Otunba Ayo Olumoko, the FTAN Vice President South West. He is a tourism event marketer. For close to 20 years, his company, Infogem, was the official marketer of the Osun Osogbo annual festival in Osogbo, Osun State. He supervised the growth the festival including being part of the team that was in South Africa to see the Osun Groove being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Many Nigerian private sector tourism practitioners are hoping the new executive of FTAN to be ushered in after the July 7 and 8 annual general meeting will open a new chapter help birth Nigeria as a key tourist destination in Africa.