After all said and done, Nigeria’s tourism development would only be transformed by visionary and transformational leadership. Political leadership that makes tourism a central part of Nigeria’s national economic development strategy, and not an after-thought, which, till date, seemed to be the case!
CHALLENGES TO TOURISM
- Multiple taxation by governments
One of the biggest challenge and drawbacks of tourism business operation in Nigeria is the multiplicity of taxes at both Federal and State government levels. Tourism private sector operators across the tourism value chain, especially hoteliers and resort owners, have had the profitability of their businesses retarded and, in some cases, grossly eroded.
Nigeria tourism private sector operators are presently the largest financial investors in Nigeria’s tourism industry, yet they are appalled by the lack of incentives for the hundreds of millions of Naira they invested, over the years, to acquire lands and assets, setup operational structures, routinely provide utilities (electricity, water and transport) and regularly pay staff members and vendors.
Lately in Nigeria, the new mantra is Internally Generated Revenues (IGR). But the new drive for IGR are done without any incentive to local businesses, including tourism operators, thereby throwing them into bankruptcy and closure of businesses. Nigeria’s tax codes must be fine-tuned to support, and not to punish local investors.
The latest government frenzy and political cliche is ‘Ease of Doing Business’, albeit it is mostly for foreign investors. So far there has been little or nothing, in the form of business operating palliatives, for domestic tourism investors and operators!
- Lack of infrastructure at most tourist Sites
The sheer dearth of basic socio-economic infrastructure across Nigeria are debilitating to a sustainable tourism development in Nigeria. There are virtually no roads to the most promising tourist destinations in Nigeria’s hinterlands. And where the roads exist, they have since become impassable with pot-holes and erosion.
Nigerian roads are mostly abandoned and poorly maintained, if ever! The common excuse for such dereliction of duty by government agencies is the argument of whether the affected roads are federal or State roads.
The same lack of fundamental socio-economic infrastructure is evident in the areas of electricity, pipe-borne water, security and so on. The Federal and State governments seem to ignore the fact that most tourist attractions are located in rural host communities and far-flung destinations. Yet these host communities and destinations lack basic life-lifting and business enabling facilities.
Over the years, our governments have been persistent with punitive measures in collecting incremental taxes from us; yet our governments have perennially turned a blind-eye to their responsibility of investing such tax collectibles on requisite socio-economic infrastructure.
- Negative Perception of Nigeria abroad
There is always ‘an elephant in the room’ whenever a discussion is held abroad about inbound Nigeria tourism. The ‘elephant in the room’ is the age-long gargantuan perception of Nigeria abroad as a nation of fraudsters and criminal syndicates.
We acknowledge that some Nigerians have deviant characters; but that is true of all nations of the world! Every country in the world has its own share of deviant characters: the USA, South Africa and Brazil have comparatively higher crime rates than Nigeria, yet tourists from all over the world flock to their tourist destinations every year.
From the points of view of tourism destination management and tourist business development, the difference between Nigeria and other destinations with high crime rates is that those destinations, through the instrumentality of the new and traditional mass media, are controlling the narratives about their countries and thereby influencing influx of inbound tourists to their destinations.
If there is any benefit of the recent inglorious merger of Tourism with Information Ministry in Nigeria today, it is for the supervising Ministry (i.e. Information Ministry) to, as a matter of national emergency, execute an international public communications campaign, deployed at our tourist source markets to counter their negative perception about Nigerians and inbound Nigeria tourism destinations.
RECOMMENDATIONS & SOLUTIONS
The approach to managing tourism in Nigeria should be orchestrated to benchmark on the tourism comparative advantage of each geo-political zone. More so, each geo-political zone in Nigeria presents a different tourist opportunity, in terms of the local people’s tradition, cultural heritage, vegetation belt, landmark attractions, and socio-economic environments.
* Source Markets Research & Tourists Segmentation
1. We should conduct a forensic audit of tourist attractions in Nigeria to ascertain the state of our tourism assets, as well as, determine their individual commercial viability. This should be done by a combination of local and international experts, tourism service provider associations, representatives of tourist destinations, Nigerians in Diaspora organisations and tourism friendly States governments in Nigeria.
2. Subsequently, we should identify Nigeria’s tourism domestic and international markets, and also segment them into geographic areas, based on identified markets’ demand, including their tourist push and pull factors. Tourism is income elastic and also emotive, depending on peoples lifestyle. Therefore, the marketing plans at this formative stage must be cognitive of demography and psychography of each identified target market segment.
3. Following the earlier action, we will do well to segment Nigeria into four (4) tourist destination zones, namely North, Central, South-West and South-East destinations. Consequently, the key tourist attractions and prevalent cultural practices/events within the respective zones should be streamlined and packaged as tourist products for onward development, enrichment and promotion. These should be executed in full partnership with tourism private sector operators and investors.
4. Accordingly, we should determine what type of assets and programmes are required at each destination to transform the local tourist sites to be 'visitor ready' destinations, provide expected tourist services, and efficiently operate them to generate revenue for both the States and local host communities.
* Nigeria Tourism Product Enrichment & Destination Development
1. Facilitate legislation and governments policy that encourages private sector investment in tourism, using a PPP model. Areas of investment in tourism development should be natural tourist sites, event attractions, accessibility equipment, staff training, etc.
2. Federal and state Governments should encourage private sector participation in tourist facility development through loan guarantees and tax exemptions.
3. The governments (Federal & States) should complete abandoned tourist resort/facilities across Nigeria, or lease to private investors. Such as Farin Ruwa Resort in Nasarawa State, many others across Nigeria.
4. Operational air fields should be built very close to some of the tourist attractions including, but not limited to, Yankari Game Reserve, Ikogosi Warm Spring and Mambilla Plateau.
5. The Federal Government should catalyze the success of tourism in Nigeria by making her institutions more efficient and tourist friendly, namely Immigration Service, National Security Agencies, Internal & Foreign Affairs, Power Ministry, Infrastructure, etc.
6. The state and local governments should prioritize opening and asphalting of rural roads that lead to significant tourist attractions in their domain.
7. There should be concerted effort by both government and tourist service operators to provide amenities and activities - these are what tourists will indulge in when they come!
* Nigeria Sustainable Tourism Strategy & Implementation
1. Government should create policies on community-based tourist products with locals having as much stake as government and or private investor, thereby ensuring sustainability and job creation in host communities.
2. There should be a Nigeria National Tourism Day to be hosted by different landmark tourist destinations on a rotational basis. Typical host destinations could be, but not limited to, Obudu Mountain Resort, Yankari Game Reserve and the beach resorts in coastal Nigeria. It should be very festive event and include local folklore entertainment and souvenirs merchandising.
3. Implementation of accessible tourism policies by government and private tourism operators. More so, resort operators should deploy structures that enable physically challenged people, and baby-wheeling mothers, to use and enjoy tourist facilities.
4. Tourism host communities should be co-opted, trained and included in the tourist security adhoc committees at the destination. This is in-line with the principle of community policing.
- Secure Host Communities and Private Sector buy-in
State governments should desist from their magic-wand of setting-up tourists sites, without the active involvement and buy-ins of tourist host communities. The reality is that, the communities are the natural custodians of their God-given tourist attractions, hence the government should organize communities into tourism business cooperatives and get them to take part ownership of the tourist sites. Such community cooperatives should manage the tourist sites as a business, on the condition precedent that they periodically share profits and pay taxes to governments.
This is achievable, so long as government puts in place a policy, or legislation, that empowers communities to form local tourism cooperatives or associations, and tourism clusters. They should be given basic tour guide training and tourist security management. Subsequently, these clusters can draw-up business plans with which they can get funding from both government (conditional cash-transfers) and private sector (community banks and venture capital firms).
The investments of these host community tourism clusters will certainly become profitable, if the government invests in national and international marketing promotion, using mass communication channels. But, most importantly, the existing National Tourism Bureau will consequently be fed with diverse tour packages from these tourism cluster businesses across Nigeria.
Hence, a true domestic tourism industry will be sustained, especially when the government and private stakeholders embark on robust tourism mass communication campaign.
- Execute a robust tourism destination marketing communication
Finally, the federal ministry of Information and Culture has to draw up, and professionally execute, a domestic tourism mass communication master-plan. The idea should be to galvanize the Nigerian travel market, which is the largest in Africa, to start visiting domestic tourist sites and destinations, which the National Travel Bureau will be packaging and selling.
Developing the domestic tourism industry will certainly do two things: (1) it will reduce the tens of millions of both Naira and US Dollars that Nigerians spend on foreign vacations, inadvertently exporting Nigerian jobs abroad. (2) It will serve as a veritable source for foreign exchange (forex) inflow into Nigeria, thereby creating economic multiplier-effects at the host destinations, and also serve as a source of forex for Nigerian Bureau de Change businesses.
The domestic tourism mass communication strategy should be executed with States and Local governments where inherent tourist attractions, facilities and resorts are located. And the most effective channels would be TV promos, radio jingles, and the various social media platforms in internet. Funding for such campaign can also be sourced from private sector tourism practitioners, especially big hotel and resort operators.
Written by JOESEF KARIM