Over the past couple of weeks, stakeholders in the travel trade have engaged in multiple virtual meetings to discuss issues affecting the growth of Nigeria’s domestic tourism. They have also proposed important steps that needs taking to scale up the level of collaboration among all sectoral service providers and increase interest from the Nigerian public.
A meeting long overdue
“The zoom meeting series is the result of a realisation that the major reason why our domestic tourism is non-existent is the breakage in our tourism marketing chain,” says convener Efetobo Awhana, CEO of the Nigeria Travel Week, organizers of the annual Nigeria Tourism Awards. “For so many years we have promoted Nigeria as a tourism destination without identifiable products. “Tourism attractions on their own are not products and majority of tourists will not spend valuable time doing research and planning how to visit attractions if there are no identifiable tour products they can pay for.”
Participants in the meetings represent all the critical sectors of service delivery in the industry: tour operators; travel agents; hospitality businesses; transportation; food & beverages; recreation & entertainment.
The meetings are happening on the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has paralysed the global economy. Tourism businesses have been some of the worst hit as a result.
A masterplan in limbo
“One thing is certain: international and business travel will be at low levels until late 2021 or even 2022 as businesses will look to manage resources after the trying period,” Awhana explained further. “Domestic tourism, however, holds promise for every country. How do we thus take advantage to grow our domestic tourism?”
Practitioners are all agreed Nigeria has not particularly lived up to its wide-ranging tourism potentials. A key grouse has been the fact that government apparently abandoned the Nigeria Tourism Development Masterplan developed by UNWTO for Nigeria in 2006, jointly funded by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
They also observe that poor infrastructure, security challenges and a largely negative perception of the country have severely affected the growth of domestic tourism.
While the meeting praised the recent introduction of tourist visas, it pointed out that industry stakeholders have not been carried along as should have been the case, not to mention visa hurdles that have become a constant concern at various embassies of Nigeria, a huge turn-off for tourists.
“There is no high-level public/private sector platform to engage government on policies and development of tourism in Nigeria just like the erstwhile Presidential Council on Tourism,” the meeting noted.
On the practical side, the participants worry about Nigeria depending more on business tourism even though it has a huge potential for leisure tourism given its “vast array of tourism assets including unique festivals and events, amazing ecotourism attractions and rich cuisine”.
The way forward
The following are the recommendations arrived at after the omnibus meeting of 6th June 2020.
- A legal framework for tourism should be established as soon as possible.
- A dedicated ministry for Tourism should be created and managed by tourism professionals to boost the revenue diversification drive of government via tourism.
- Steps should be taken to start the chronological implementation of the Nigeria Tourism Masterplan
- A special tourism fund should be created for the peculiar needs of the tourism industry domiciled in the Development Bank of Nigeria
- Tour operators should communicate their domestic tour packages to travel agents to enable them sell destination Nigeria to Nigerians
- Tour operators should introduce special pricing incentives for Nigerians just like other countries where you have different rates for locals and foreigners
- We need to add value to our tourism assets including our cultural festivals, ecotourism and historical attractions to start earning revenue
- All sectors of the tourism industry should be retrospective about their strategies for collaboration with other sectors to promote domestic tourism
- Federal and state governments should embark on massive sensitization and marketing drives to create awareness about domestic tourism and change the false perception of Nigeria as an unsafe destination.
- Tourism stakeholders should always be carried along with new plans and policies of government to capture the ground realities and accelerate the growth of the tourism industry.
- Nigerians in diaspora should be engaged to promote and drive tourism including key festivals and historical tourist sites.
- Key state and federal institutions should partner to create self development (not study curriculum) programs for workers within the sector.
- We need to engage local and international airline operators to do more to promote domestic tourism.
- We must design a dedicated marketing, promotion and image campaign plan for the nation on tourism.