For the second year running, Nigeria shunned the just-concluded World Travel Market in London. Funke Olaode, who attended the three-day global event, examines the dire economic implications for the country and how Nigeria loses multimillion-dollars in travels and tourism
Since its debut 36 years ago, the World Travel Market usually organised in London, the United Kingdom, has remained a melting point for 187 countries across the globe to share ideas on how to improve tourism and travel industry -but more important, to deal in multimillion-pound tourism enterprise.
The gigantic exhibition centre situated in Excel, East London, is an avenue that attracts common interests and offers stakeholders the opportunity to keep up with latest insight on travels. In its 36th year, at least 50,000 senior travel industry professionals, business people and top government officials and international press, embark on Excel-London every November to network, negotiate and discover latest opinions and trends on travels enterprise.
With recession facing many countries and the dip in oil prices, not a few countries are exploring their tourism potential as support system to boost their economy.
According to a recent report, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with its famed Abu Dhabi and Dubai sits atop over 93 billion barrel of crude oil. But as it stands today, the country has since put oil aside.
Tourism is its cash cow.
With its less than six million population and a GDP per capital predicted to rise by 22 per cent to just $75 in a few years’ time, Dubai, a city of superlatives, pristine beaches and an interesting mix of indoor and outdoor entertainment, has in the last few years been playing host to thousands of visitors from all over the world.
Owing to factors such as rising incomes, retail real estate expansion and steady inflow of international brands, the UAE tourism offering is set to reach new heights in the years ahead. Dubai’s ambition to become world’s most visited city is obvious. Tourism is an important part of the Dubai government’s strategy to maintain the flow of foreign cash into the emirate. As of 2013, Dubai was the fourth most visited city of the world based on air traffic and the fastest growing, increasing by a 10.7 per cent. Dubai attracts at least 14 million tourists in 2015. And by the end of 2015, the country’s gross domestic product stood at $340.8 billion Another example of a nation that has shifted focus beyond oil is Turkey.
Turkey is a nation straddling Eastern Europe and Western Asia with cultural connections to ancient Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires. Cosmopolitan Istanbul, on the Bosporus Strait, is home to the iconic Hagia Sophia, with its soaring dome and Christian mosaics, the massive 17th-century Blue Mosque and the 1460 Topkapı Palace – former home of sultans. Istanbul welcomes thousands of visitors daily.
During this reporter’s visit to the ancient city, a tour guide at Hagia Sophia Mosque explained that an average 3,000 visitors converge at the iconic site daily at $10 per head. Which means the site makes an average $30,000 per day ($90,000 monthly and $10m yearly). That is only one site. Barbados is the wealthiest and most developed country in the Eastern Caribbean and enjoys one of the highest per capita incomes in the region. Recently, Barbados celebrates its 50 years of independence. The Island was one of the first European colonies in the Caribbean and broke from British rule on November 30, 1966. The five decades since have seen its tourism industry rise to overtake sugar production as the Island’s major source of income.
However, in recent years the economy has diversified into light industry and tourism with about four-fifths of GDP and of exports being attributed to service. Last year, the country welcomed a record 591,872 visitors – which apparently boosted the nation’s hospitality industry, increased employment and put the number of flights to the country at its height. At the end of 2015, the country has an estimate GDP of $4.412 billion in terms of (purchasing power parity). While the Middle East, the Caribbean and godfathers of destinations such as the UK, the United States, Germany, even South Africa and Kenya have continued to position themselves as tourists’ havens and are raking multimillion dollars, Nigeria seems to be teetering on apathy and lack of ingenuity.
In recent times, Ethiopia, Rwanda Tanzania, Kenya, and The Gambia have demonstrated how lucrative travels and tourism are. For instance, despite its genocide tragedy of 1994, Rwanda is one of most visited countries on the continent of Africa and Gambia – despite being run like a police state – welcomes thousands of tourists. Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in its recent reports said the country generated $304.9 million in 2014 from tourism, compared to $293.6 million in 2013, representing an increase of 4%. These revenues increased from $62 million in 2000.
The Gambia, with population of about 1.849 million as of 2013 and over 30 top tourist attractions receives over 100,000 visitors a year and its tourism industry is the second highest earner of foreign revenue. Tourists mainly come from Europe with package tour operators from UK making up over 50 per cent of visitors; the remaining number of visitors arriving from Germany, Norway, Sweden and other countries. In terms of GDP per capital according to World Bank (2013), the country rakes in $488.57 yearly.
Little wonder, in spite of domestic challenges back home, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have not failed to take advantage of the WTM. The trio marketed themselves as a single destination for the first time at joint stand at this year’s WTM London under the banner, “East African countries opt for joint marketing, Borderless Borders, One Destination.”
The single East Africa Tourist Visa, recently launched, enables travellers to visit Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda under one visa.
According to the East Africa Tourism Platform, the move is in line with the vision of marketing East African Community (EAC) as a single destination.
South Africa is a popular tourist destination and the industry accounts for a substantial amount of the country’s revenue. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the tourism industry directly contributed ZAR 102 billion to South African GDP in 2012, and supports 10.3 per cent of jobs in the country. Another important source of revenue is domestic tourism, which contributes 52 per cent of total tourism consumption. The number of tourists that throng South Africa also reached the ten million mark in 2014.
For so-called ‘Giant of Africa’ -Nigeria – with its vast tourist destinations and human resources things are falling apart in travels and tourism as it faces the quartet of kidnapping, terrorism, corruption and lack of ingenuity.
According to an expert, this is a bad omen for a country struggling to make tourism as one of its exports besides oil and agriculture.
“Since Nigeria joined World Travel Market in 1996. This (year) is the second time Nigeria did not participate in the annual event. Not only that, Nigeria has defaulted in many international exploits. For critics, the move is a misstep because among the African nations, Nigeria has always been a cynosure of all eyes. Since it registered its presence at WTM London in 1996, the country has recorded remarkable successes.
“These were attributed to past administrations of director generals of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) such as Mrs. Omotayo Omotosho, Chief Olusegun Runsewe and a host of others. Many would not forget in a hurry in 2001 how the then first black Nigerian Miss World, Agbani Darego, drew the world to the Nigerian tent at WTM under the leadership of Mrs. Omotosho. This, of course, placed Nigeria on the top map in travels and tourism industry,” the publisher of African Traveller and organiser of Akwaaba Travel Market, Mr. Ikechi Uko, said.
In 2012, the country’s tourism industry got international recognition as a potential powerhouse in global travel and tourism markets.
That year, in an industry report signed by the WTM chairman, Fiona Jeffery, Nigeria was highlighted as a viable travel and tourism destination.
Head of Tourism Research of Euromonitor International, Caroline Bremmel, revealed how Nigeria’s film industry, dubbed as Nollywood, has placed the country on the world map.
In the 53-page report tagged, “Africa-Destination-Nollywood,” Bremmel said Nollywood was the second largest in volume terms after Bollywood (India) and ahead of Hollywood (US) with over 2,000 films produced annually.
With these positive remarks, the world always looks out for Nigeria each year at the WTM. Since the last administration of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) headed by the recently removed Mrs. Sally Mbanefo came on board, Nigeria has performed poorly.
It was with fanfare at WTM London 2013 when a new slogan and logo was launched as part of rebranding Nigeria. Former Ambassador of Nigeria to the United Kingdom, Dr. Dalhaltu Tafida and former Minister for Culture, Chief Edem Duke were both present. But the fanfare ended there as it had no significant impact on the country’s tourism or economic development.
Experts who spoke with this reporter noted that Nigeria’s continued absence at the WTM can only lead to one thing: loss of foreign exchange earnings and job opportunities for locals.
Uko, explaining how much Nigeria loses for not being at the WTM in terms of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), stated that the picture is pathetic.
According to him, before the country’s recession, Nigeria had the highest hotel pipeline projects in Africa. It was expected that all leading global hotel chains will invest in Nigeria.
“If Federal Palace hotel can scratch an investment of $450 million you can imagine when more chains come over. WTM is the biggest platform for an English-speaking country. The whole world is there. That is where it happens as it is a must-visit for all players in the sector. We cannot grow tourism without engaging with the global community and we ought to go where the world meets. Nigerian Tour Operators and Hoteliers missed the meetings and the networking necessary for growth.
“When people are looking for Nigerians to do business with and they are nowhere to be found it is a huge loss. If you noticed Nigeria’s participation in international fora went down within a particular period – not just the WTM. ITB Berlin, FITUR Madrid, Arabian Travel Market Dubai, Akwaaba in Lagos, Carnival Calabar and other tourism events lost the attention of the Federal Government.”
Speaking on the financial implication of untapped tourism opportunities as illustrated by the WTM, a renowned economist in Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, Professor Sheriffdeen Tella, said it is not possible to quantify how much Nigeria is losing unless it is known how much the country had realised in previous years it attended the WTM.
Prof. Tella said, “But do we keep records or follow up? Because there is no national plan that categorically states what the country should do and not do at different times. Each office holder decides on what to do when they get to the position. So one minister was interested in taking Nigeria to the WTM because he knew its benefits but another may consider it irrelevant. This will not happen if the attendance is ordered by a plan. Maybe also the former minister did not document or write a report on the attendance and its national benefit in his handover note.”
Speaking further, the economist said there are quantifiable benefits that an attendance at the WTM can generate for the economy. He, however, stressed that the private sector should not wait for government to champion what is of immense benefits to them. That is, the private sector can on their own invest in tourism just as the Nollywood activities are private sector-driven.
Tella emphasised that there is no doubt that the free money that oil brought to the government has made taking initiative to look for other sources of fund fairly difficult.
In recent times, many countries rely on tourism to generate lots of income, even countries that do not have as much tourist attractions as Nigeria.
“Why is Nigeria not investing in tourism sector? It is because we under-estimate its income generation. If you don’t invest in developing tourist sites, you cannot reap the benefits. But for oil, you don’t need to invest in it but collect rent from those who invest in it. It also has to do with the nature of Nigerians. How many people go on holidays? How many Nigerians visit tourism sites, even those close to where they live? So, not investing in tourism is derived from our social and cultural attitude of reaping without sowing, and lack of interest generally in visiting tourist sites or enjoying holidays.
“For those of us who have seen how countries reap huge benefits from tourism is a big minus. As stated earlier, Nigerian government has never taken tourism seriously by investing in the sector, even if to encourage private sector investments in a planned manner. Therefore, people in government do not care to provide necessary infrastructure including financial architecture such as functional bureau de change for foreign exchange transactions by visitors and cheap but standard hotels and tourists’ transport and ancillary services,” he added.
Suggesting how tourism can boost economic development, a London-based African Market Tourism CEO, Ben Omoakin-Oguntala, said the problem is that Nigeria as a nation doesn’t know its tourism potential.
“I understand Calabar is one of the tourist hubs of Nigeria. How many people have been to Calabar? Going forward, I will suggest that all these tourist sites should be documented online so that those who are far away can explore the tourist resources in Nigeria without being there physically. To get to many places in Nigeria you have to go by road. There is security challenge. I will suggest that tourism should be brought online for the outside world to see. Even if it is subscription service alone Nigeria will make money,” Omoakin-Oguntala stated.
For Funmi Akisanya, a British-born Nigerian and CEO of Pamperazzi Travel based in the UK, Nigeria’s continued absence at international tourism fora is bad news for tour operators like her. Throwing more light on how Nigeria is losing out, Akisanya, who brought 60 tourists from the UK to Abuja Carnival in 2007 said if she and other operators have the chance they would do it over again.
“I have always been interested in Nigeria. I always encourage people to come to Nigeria because the country has a lot to offer. We are very resourceful. I create a traditional hairstyle because Nigeria has a lot of cultural heritage. I was at the Abuja Carnival in 2007/2008 with over 60 tourists that came from America, the Caribbean and the UK. We stayed at Rock View Hotel in Abuja. We didn’t have any problem as everyone enjoyed their stay. We met the NTDC here in the UK and they assured us (of safety). We had our own logistics and everything went smoothly. We met with the High Commission and they gave us all the needed support. How I wish Nigerian government keeps the tempo going because a lot of tourists still want to visit Nigeria despite the security challenge.
“It is disappointing for us when Nigeria was not at the WTM last year and this year again. Everybody knows it is an opportunity for us as a nation to showcase what we have. Again, if the authority feels it is not worth coming I don’t have problem with that. But the point is that the country shouldn’t switch off just like that. If the Nigerian High Commission can link up with Nigerian tour operators in the UK who are willing to be part of it, we are ready to keep the flag flying. Even if it is to create a small table with a banner, we are on ground and we will be able to showcase to the world. We are small-scale enterprise and I know or still have a lot of tourists who are interested in coming to Nigeria. You can imagine 60 tourists lodging in a hotel for one week? Security is an issue but when we came in 2007 everything went well. We took care of everything. I would like to bring them to Osun Osogbo, the Calabar Festival which happens to be the largest street party in Nigeria. For me, I think Nigeria is missing out. When people come to the African stand and Nigeria is not there it is like Africa is not here. Everybody wants to experience that Nigerian experience.”
Lamenting the woes that have befallen tourism in Nigeria, a journalist who have covered the sector for many years, Mr. Wole Shadare, stated that “In most developed and developing nations of the world, tourism is a major source of employment, gross domestic product or national income, income to the tourism promoters and the tourism destinations and a catalyst for socio-economic development of the communities concerned through social infrastructural amenities like electricity, water supply, communication, transportation, motor-able roads and health improvement facilities.
“It is unfortunate that in spite of these benefits of tourism, the Nigerian government, investors in tourism business and promoters and even the host communities where these tourism attractions are located seem not to bother much in developing and promoting tourism in the country.”
The top 10 tourist destinations in Africa, according to the United Nations World Tourism Barometer in 2013 are: Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Namibia and Senegal in that order. Nigeria is nowhere to be found in African tourism ranking.
For instance, the number of tourists that visited Morocco in 2014 was than 10 million; an increase of 2.4 per cent compared to 2013. Tourism is the second-largest economic sector in Morocco. It accounts for around 8 per cent of its GDP, employing some 500,000 people, and the government hopes to see the number of visitors rise to 20 million by 2022.
According to Shadare, a global tourism map will definitely exclude Nigeria. A trip to any of these countries, he said, would show beauty and serenity that starts from the airport.
“The international airports in those countries are like five-star hotels that exude irresistible attraction and ambience. Nigeria’s international airports, on the other hand, are the opposite of what those airports are,” he claimed.
Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, in a telephone chat with ThisDay, declined to comment on why the Federal Government chose to shun WTM and other international tourism fora. He referred this reporter to Mbanefo (before she was given the sack). All attempts to get Mbanefo proved abortive as she neither responded to calls made to her telephone line nor replied text messages sent to her.
But a top government official, who spoke with this reporter on condition of anonymity, stated that “you can’t be talking about tourism without addressing the fundamental issues.”
Those fundamental issues, according to him, border on corruption and unpatriotic acts.
The source said participating in international tourism programmes like the WTM is a jamboree for government officials and an opportunity to give their family members and sexual partners a treat.
A new year is just right at the corner, with plenty of promises of changes by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, particularly in exploring alternatives to oil, some have expressed hope that the ministry of information and culture under the leadership of Mohammed will breathe some life into Nigeria’s almost comatose tourism and hospitality industry.
In the mean time, the country will continue to lose an undocumented amount of money that experts estimate to be multimillion-dollars while other African countries feed fat on tourism.