The Agboakim Waterfalls in Cross a River, Gugura Waterfalls in Niger State , Ikogosi Warm Spring in Ekiti, Oguta lake in Imo State, Kamuku National Park, Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi to Farin Ruwa Falls in Nasarawa, Tinapa Resort in Cross River, Gashaka- Gumti National Park in Adamawa and Taraba and the Assop waterfalls in Plateau; few of the thousand tourist attraction Nigeria as a country is blessed with.
However the alarming thing is that tourism, a major earner the world all over, contributed about 2.8% to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product ( GDP) in 2020 down from 4.4% in 2019 while in countries like Tanzania tourism accounted for 10.7% of that country’s GDP in same year while Egypt tourism accounts for 12% of the nation’s GDP.
So, is it a lack of tourist destinations that Nigeria has? No! As the country can boast of hundreds of them around all the geo-political zones or is it a lack of investment? Or a lack of government participation and coordination that has made the sector so unattractive or just a lack of will power to intentionally coordinate tourism to become a major earner.
Be that as it may, the country has fared poorly as there is no evidence that it wants to make some if the above sites a ‘Mecca’ of sorts worthy to be visited time and time again and able to generate revenue especially in foreign exchange.
The security issues in certain areas of the country would count as an excuse if before hand the country had a thriving or even semi- thriving tourism industry. However, that has never been the case as each sector or sub-sector of the economy is left to fend for itself in one of the most hostile business environments world wide.
Vice President National Association of Tour Operators ( NATOP) Mrs. Ime Udo who spoke to TravelWatch was emphatic on the fact that without a well laid out strategy, government will and provision of the fundamentals, tourism in Nigeria will not reach its potential.
According to Mrs. Udo, the tourism subsector is multifaceted and cuts across various divides with the capacity to stimulate growth and development and spread it. She stressed that a well co-ordinated tourism sector will provide jobs and halt a lot of rural-urban migration.
Udo stressed that tourism business is real business and that there are serious tourism professionals out there that have the wealth of experience and the passion to stir the cause in the right direction but those in authority do not have the will to take the bull by the horn.
She said tourism needed government involvement to enable it stressing that if government can not provide the simplest investments in road network, access to tourism sites the practitioners will not have anything to sell which has been the case over the years.
” Look at Cross River and Tinapa, all those were built by the state government during the Obasanjo era but see it now, there is no continuity and lack of investment has made it a shadow. This resort that could be generating millions in foreign exchange. Tourism is about visiting a place and enjoying the experience so much that you visit again and again and again,” she said.
“In truth there is no will in government and there is no continuity. Tourism was at its highest point during former President Obasanjo, now there is no investment in it and no concerted effort to sustain anything from that era. You don’t just get a carpenter and tell him to take out your appendicitis. You you don’t put people who do not know to handle such a sector. Tourism is critical in nation building, critical is creating jobs, critical in maintaining peace. If we had a developed tourism in sector we would not be facing some of the challenges we are now.
She pointed out positives especially with regard the Calabar Carnival,” look at that carnival, it attracts far and wide and stimulates the economy of Cross River state. Provides employment during the carnival people even rent out their homes as the effect of the carnival trickles down to the host community, that is how tourism can aid communities and it that happens people will not have to migrate to Lagos, they migrate because government has not put in enough to ensure that there are earnings to be made and so they leave
According to Tourism Expert and Founder of the Akwaaba Travel Market, Ambassador Ikechi Uko tourism is intentional, it is not unplanned as there must be key pieces that come together and create a direction for people to follow.
He said that tourism needs government to organize itself so it can organize the industry.
He said,”All the attractions mentioned earlier are owned by government and government has not proved itself very efficient in developing these things. An attempt was done, a very good attempt in Cross a River with Obudu Cattle Ranch but subsequent government has not given it the same attention it deserves.
“There are experiments that are working, in Ekiti State, they handed over Arinta Fall to a private person and he is already building it into a great product, and what has happened to Idanre Hill? A private person has created a product and these are platforms that can be repeated elsewhere.
“That states hand over some of these tourism attractions to private people who are tourism practitioners not politicians not businessmen. Those tourism people know what should be done and they can make these places viable.
“But for tourism on a national scale to be profitable, it needs a little will power from the government. You need to appoint someone who knows how tourism is done. Tourism is a couple of independent activities by different people that cover hotels, airlines, transportation, resorts and these things are driven by business and profit but government needs to organize all of them, where there is no government involvement in that organizational aspect of it tourism fails.
He said there were success stories Nigeria could copy as Dubai is a completely private sector business but it is managed, controlled, designed and organized by the government.
” The success stories in Africa Tunisia, South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe has a lot of government involvement, the government is helping to organize the whole project of developing tourism, so individual could do so much but you need government to organize the environment to make tourism profitable, without that effort by government, it will not go well.”