Summer with the Giant of Africa? King Henry and Uncle Sam speaks on Nigerian tourism

Henry Ademola AdigunMy name is Henry and I can’t afford a summer vacation. Not that it’s a tradition anyway. But it would be nice to go somewhere in Europe or Asia and share exotic pictures. But with the exchange rate as it is, recession and uncertainty, it is a good time to save money and spend locally. This advise of course does not apply to the big people.

Now if the roads were safe, I would fuel up my car, and do a tour. Go to the castle in Kaduna, spend two nights in Enugu. Then drive to Obudu and touch a cloud.

But too many issues. Kidnappers on Kaduna road, herdsmen on some, fuel might just go scarce and policemen that will extort you at every turn. Then fake soldiers in uniform. Bad roads in many parts of the South South will sink your car. Yet we want to spend locally. Yet we want to promote tourism. Yet we want to attract visitors. The exchange rates should make us a prime destination for visitors. It’s cheap to visit now.

Tourism could bring dollars. Who is promoting it? Who is seizing the moment? Where is the coordination and marketing by states that have historic and interesting sites?

Sam Adeleke works in that field and has been around on such. What has been the response?

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Ikogosi Warmspring

Sam: You see, the reality of the challenges are obvious but the opportunities in each Nigerian state are limitless. The real problem is that the custodians do not know how to convert these potentials into capital. And unfortunately, this government is only taking baby steps instead giant strides.

In the course of your destination marketing and advocacy work, you get to speak with the Honourable Minister of Information and Culture (HMIC) and some State Tourism Commissioners and they all have different visions and perspective of how to promote tourism. If only there can be a coordinated nationwide implementation of the National Tourism Plan drafted by Mrs Omotosho and her team when she held sway at NTDC. Problem is many of them don’t even know such exists talk less of reading it.

nikeBut to be fair, the 2016 April National Tourism Summit was an attempt at coordination, but ironically not even up to half of the Tourism Commissioners (APC states inclusive) showed up. The HMIC showed some seriousness by inviting former Cross River Governor, Donald Duke and Terra Kulture’s Bolanle Austen-Peters, to share details of how they built their empires from ground up.

So why not appoint these experienced folks, with success stories, to head strategic national agencies? Well, your guess is as good as mine. Politics.

Well, there’s some good news. Some time in 2016, the nozzle on obtaining visa to Nigeria was loosened. So folks can now obtain visa on arrival for $150. And the HMIC (Alhaji Lai Mohammed) also announced that PMB (President Muhammadu Buhari) himself will be chairing the Presidential Task Force on Tourism, which is constitutionally the highest decision making organ on tourism development in Nigeria.

 

More recently, in May 2017, the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo issued some executive orders with immense potentials to boost inbound tourism to Nigeria. They are as follows:

“Ordinary tourist and business entry visas to Nigeria shall henceforth be issued or rejected with reason by the Consular Office of Nigerian Embassies and High Commissions within 48 hours of receipt of valid application. The timeline shall be notified to the public by pasting a notice conspicuously at every Consular Office and by publication on every website of Nigerian Embassies and High Commissions.

“A comprehensive and up to date list of requirements, conditions and procedures for obtaining visa on arrival, including estimated timeframe, shall be published on all immigration-related websites in Nigeria and abroad, including Embassies and High Commissions, and all ports of entry into Nigeria.

“The processing of issuance of visas on arrival shall be carried out in a transparent manner. Visas on arrival shall be granted at all Nigerian ports of entry once applicants have met all the published requirements”.

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Marina Resort, Calabar

So let’s hope that these policy declarations translate into tangible outcomes – most importantly, a coordinated effort among all stakeholders nationwide involved in the ‘tourist journey’.

Finally, the way forward is ironically a journey backward into that touchy national question called RESTRUCTURING. The federal government can only do so much in promoting tourism. Each ward, local government, state and region must be responsible for the promotion of its heritage. In other climes (e.g SouthAfrica and the US) these destinations compete with each other to attract domestic and foreign tourists. Packaging a tourist destination or asset anywhere in the world is a lot of work. But our people instead have decided to opt for the lazy route of organizing festivals year in year out and spending money on frivolities. Even the new Tour Nigeria campaign by the NTDC rides on this same ‘entertainment’ philosophy. As a matter of fact, the new DG aims to make Nigeria the entertainment capital of Africa.

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Kalakuta Republic, Lagos

You really can’t blame him. He’s only being a realist. “Entertainment”, Nigeria’s biggest tourism export, is the elephant in the room and he feels it’s better to go for the kill – big time! But we can’t shy away from our realities. We can’t keep thinking short term and put long-term at the back burner. It’s a double-edged sword that should be skilfully learnt and wielded dexterously.

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We need to HEAVILY INVEST in our tourist assets and the complementary infrastructure, and then HEAVILY PROMOTE them domestically and internationally. And that is what people like us are doing at the moment. Obviously, it’s a tough sell and a thankless job, but a beautiful and eye-opening experience nonetheless. Promoting Brand Nigeria right now is often like selling insurance to a dying man. It even reminds one of Okonjo-Iweala’s “Reforming the Unreformable”. It is a thankless job but a beautiful experience nevertheless. And someone’s got to do it.

 

Anyone investing in the sector at the moment is doing so because of the passion and love for the sector. It is a long term investment that will definitely yield for the early adopters. It is a “long walk to freedom”. But slowly and surely, we shall get there.

Henry: Thanks for your thoughts, Sam.

Sam: The pleasure is mine.

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