Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, is destined to become the third most populous country on earth by 2050, trailing only China and India. Nigerians are ranked by some surveys, including the World Happiness Report, as one of the happiest people in the world. In fact, a study of more than 65 countries published in the UK’s New Scientist magazine in 2013 suggests that the happiest people in the world live in Nigeria. Boisterous, driven, and proud, Nigeria’s over 350 ethnic groups speaking over 1,500 languages and dialects are the most hospitable on earth.
With 853 kilometres of coastline, some of the world’s most stunning sandy beaches, breath-taking forests, unsurpassed wildlife and mountains, magnificent savannahs and cuisines made in heaven, Nigeria has it all. A tourist delight par excellence, Nigerian women are not just some of the worlds most elegant, they rank amongst the planet’s most sexy, curvaceous and intelligent. Nigeria’s biodiversity, dance, music including highlife, Juju, Fuji, and Calypso, to mention a few, will make other nations green in envy.
To put in perspective Nigeria’s geographic expanse, Nigeria is twice the size of California, and bigger than Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Netherlands, and Ireland put together. Nigeria’s ethnic diversity is unrivalled and its physical geography has some of the world’s most breath-taking sceneries. According to some estimates, one in every six Africans is a Nigerian. Amongst UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites are Nigeria’s Sukur Cultural Landscape in Adamawa State and Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove in Osun State, while nine others, including Oban Hills in Cross River State, Oke-Idanre Hills in Ondo State, Ogbunike Caves in Anambra State, Alok Ikom Monoliths in Cross River State, the Ancient Kano City Walls in Kano State, Gashaka-Gumpti National Park in Taraba State, Arochukwu Long Juju Slave Route in Abia State, Surame Cultural Landscape in Sokoto State, Obio Ubium Grove & Shrine in Nsit Ubium, are all on the tentative list. Indeed Nigeria’s tourism endowments rank amongst the world’s most coveted. But Nigeria is hardly noticed on the world’s tourism radar.
According to rankings by Buzzfeed, Africa’s most beautiful countries for tourism are South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. In North America, it’s US and Canada, and in Europe the top ranked nations are Italy, Switzerland and Norway, while in South and Latin America, Argentina, Columbia, Chile and Brazil occupy the top spots. In Asia top to breast the tape are mighty China, India, Phillipines and Nepal, while for the Australasian region, New Zealand and Australia are the top dogs. The logical question that springs to mind is, why is the giant of Africa with all its natural wonders get kicked in the butt by Namibia, ranked second as Africa’s most desirable tourist destination?
With oil revenue, which accounts for over 80% of Nigeria’s earnings in steep decline, rapidly depleting foreign reserves, and burgeoning external debt, Nigeria needs to urgently diversify away from oil, and tourism is absolutely Nigeria’s shortest cut to stupendous wealth. The global hotels and tourism industry generates more revenue than telecoms, and oil and gas industries combined. Add other associated services such as independent restaurants and eateries, leisure boats and cruises, casino, air services, and fast foods, hospitality has no rival in terms of income and employment generation. According to UNWTO (UN World Tourism Organization), international tourist arrivals in 2014 was 1.135 billion, and generated US$1.5 trillion in export earnings, with forecast growth in 2015 estimated at between 3% and 4%. Europe, the fastest tourism growing region, has already surpassed UNWTO forecast with growth hitting 4.7% in the third quarter of 2015.
The industry accounted for 34% of Brazil’s GDP, 46% of South Africa’s, and 55% of income in OECD countries in 2013. While South Africa received over 9.51 million visitors in 2013, Nigeria received less than 3 million. In all, the industry accounts for less than 2.25% of Nigeria’s GDP. To develop its hospitality industry to a critical mass to become West Africa’s, indeed Africa’s benchmark considering its huge population and tourism potential, Nigeria must fully rethink its hospitality and tourism development strategy, tactics, and goals. Nigeria no doubt has a lot going in its favour but to join the world’s tourism power houses the country must take urgent steps to reorder its priorities, including taking these top seven steps, covered here in brief:
- Nigeria must develop a tourism mind-set
This sounds fuzzy, but to jumpstart its international tourism ambition, Nigerians must embrace tourism as a culture. This is easier said than done but it’s the first prerequisite if the boat must leave the shore. Governments at all levels must preach tourism day and night. Schools and universities must include tourism studies as an essential subject in their curriculum. Hotels, motor parks, airports, land borders must all be tourists friendly. If you visit the top tourism countries like South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda for instance, you discover the drivers are all very well tutored about tourism, highlighting historical landmarks as they take you to your destination leaving you panting to go out to soak in more.
- Promote internal tourism
This is the second prerequisite. Nigerian’s hardly travel within the country preferring to travel abroad. This must change. However, travelling within the country cannot be legislated. Governments all over the country must create incentives to make their states attractive for visitors. Deliberate steps, such as “handshake across the Niger”, “handshake across the Benue”, and similar initiatives must be elevated to the status of catechism. As UNWTO notes in its annual report, the large majority of international travel takes place within traveler’s own regions, with about four out of five worldwide arrivals originating from the same region. Imagine travelling from the creeks and swamps of Degema in Bayelsa State to the sand dunes of Bunza in Kebbi State. Oh what a feeling!
- Integrate all the tourism attractions
Tourism thrives in a network. Individual tourist spots matter, but value is derived when the entire ecosystem operates in tandem and in unison. Argungu Annual Fishing Festival, Calabar Annual Carnival, Abuja Carnival and all the isolated golden tourism rivulets must all converge to form a mighty ocean watering the length and breadth of the country.
- Make travelling easy
This sounds trite but if you travel within the country you soon discover how difficult it is to navigate your way to your destination. From Calabar to Sokoto, Lagos to Maiduguri, Port Harcourt to Kaduna, Uyo to Kano, Ibadan to Yola there are no road signs showing you direction where you are headed. In the 1960s and 1970s there were milestones along the length and breadth of the country signalling where you were, whether 100 kilometers to Lokoja, or 20 Miles to Makurdi. Today that is no longer the case. Other than that, our streets are not well numbered, leaving one in a quandary when embarking on a journey. As basic as these things are, they are in gross deficit all over the country. Time the federal, state and local governments embarked on these basic essentials.
That is part one of the equation. In addition, the country needs bullet trains, the type that can wheeze tourist and citizens from Maiduguri to Lagos, or Sokoto to Port Harcourt or Kano to Calabar in three hours traveling at 350km per hour. The trains we use today belong to the museums. With the parlous state of the economy, the public sector may not be able to handle this massive endeavour, hence a boon for private investors.
- Give us world-class institutions
We need world-class health facilities, the type dotted all over India, UAE and London that make Nigerians elevate medical tourism to pilgrimage. We need world class schools that can compete with Harvard, Cambridge and Wharton. In the 1960s we had such universities, University of Ibadan for example. We need world-class airports. It’s the same thing UAE did to elevate Dubai International Airport to the status of the 4th busiest airport in the world within 10 years. We need research institutes that will be at the cutting edge of material science, exponential technologies and space science. We need world-class agricultural research labs that will turn our desert threatened north to agricultural Mecca like Israel’s Negev desert. Tourists will entrust their all to us when they trust our world-class institutions can adequately take care of them.
- Dream big dreams
People will visit you if you have something to offer. People salivate to visit wonders such as Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the CN Tower in Toronto, the Burj Khalifa, and Burj Al Arab all in Dubai, The Shard in London, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, to mention a few. What do we have? The NECOM House has no functioning lifts and no one goes there. It could be a tourist delight if refurbished. Time we built others, more grandiose and ambitious.
- Provide power
Other than culture, cuisines, dance and music, and engineering wonders, tourists wish to feel comfortable. Light or electricity will make everything come together – beautiful cities, more wealth that fuels higher demand that fuels higher productivity that fuels yet higher disposable income and a virtuous cycle of greatness is guaranteed. If we cannot provide electricity then achieving other things will remain severely circumscribed. According to GGI (Good Governance Initiative), an NGO, Nigeria spends about $30.28 billion annually to import electricity generating sets or generators, while MAN (Manufacturers Association of Nigeria), estimates that Nigerians spend about $13.5 billion annually to fuel the generators. This is not the way to go. Give everyone light the cheap way, as Malaysia gives its citizens, to mention just one country.
There you have them, the shopping list required to put Nigeria on the world tourism map as a global contender. We must promote internal tourism by bridging the North-South divide. We must set new standards of excellence in healthcare delivery, education, super highways, and city boulevards. More than anything else, we must embrace the notion of greatness as a people. These are tall orders but just getting the basics right, like providing electricity round the clock, will catapult us to the top in the world tourism pecking order. Just do these and Nigeria will become a world tourism giant with a few years. It all sounds utopian but UAE did it so who is afraid of Utopia?
Convener of the Annual International Hospitality & Tourism Conference
Vision & Talent International Ltd