Sunday, 12 May 2019 00:00

Editorial: Calls for a Federal Ministry of Tourism in Nigeria

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I hope the jury is not closed on the need for a Federal Ministry of Tourism in Nigeria?

Personally, I believe there are several legal arguments on the need for such a ministry at the Federal Govt level, notwithstanding the 2013 Supreme Court Judgement. The judgment is roundly either celebrated or denounced because it gives State Govts right to collect revenue from hotels.

The need for a Tourism Ministry to the sustainable growth of the industry in Nigeria transcends which Arm of Govt collect taxes or generate revenue. Without a national Tourism Ministry we are not likely to have an 'investable' tourism industry. Different States would be doing different things without a cohesive Nigeria tourism product or brand. Hence, I like the idea being canvassed about mainstreaming tourism policies in Nigeria using a top to bottom approach, i.e. the Federal government leading State Governments approach. 

So, my submission is that with, or without, a Federal Ministry of Tourism, it is beneficial to have one in Nigeria.

For starters, within the context of legal rights, Nigeria's Federal Government has exclusive right to nationally legislate on matters of Immigration, security and international relations.

And operationally, the international nature of tourism businesses, which FTAN represents in Nigeria, would regularly come under the statutory purview of Federal Government agencies, especially Immigration and Police. Our experiences with such agencies had mostly been unsavoury. Because, they have not been trained to see tourism as a socio-economic endeavour which is beneficial to national development. This informs why the first impression most first time visitors to Nigeria get is that of officials that harass, and sometimes extort.

Conversely, the presence of a business friendly Federal Ministry of Tourism will serve to articulate Federal Government policies and share same with other Federal and State Governments' MDAs to facilitate smooth and profitable investment and operations of tourism service operators. More so, the Ministry should also coordinate the operational relationship of Nigeria tourism Businesses (mainly FTAN members) with relevant Federal Government agencies such as the Police, Immigration Service, National Bureau of Statistics, Ministry of Finance, and etc, making tourism safe and profitable in Nigeria.

Let's face it, today we live in the world of 'Big Data'. Big Data is estimated to be much more valuable than mineral deposits, within a decade from now. Just look at the amount of revenue Data driven firms like Google and Facebook generate annually. In fact tourism thrives on information and data of travelers and their serve providers.

Lately, Governments all over the world have put policies and operational structures to access accurate actionable data. If nothing, for the sake of security management. Information feeds their national security systems with the right facts and data on social trends, emerging threats and economic development opportunities.

Besides, FTAN needs a purposeful Tourism Ministry to lead in the international marketing of Nigeria as a Cultural Tourism destination. State Governments cannot do that effectively. Assuming they can, what tourist products would they individually promote? Would the States position as a Standalone destination, capable of issuing visas and allied travel requirements?

Tourism development, especially in Nigeria, has to be a concerted efforts by Governments at all levels, with the respected inputs of the organize private sector, like FTAN. 

Mr. Joesef Karim speaking during a hospitality and tourism conference in Abuja Nigeria
Mr. Joesef Karim speaking during a hospitality and tourism conference in Abuja Nigeria

I further submit that, if we have 'a round peg in the round hole' kind of person appointed as Nigeria Tourism Minister, the industry would be rightly captured as one of the most effective ways to diversify Nigeria's economy.

This explains why even the UNWTO encourages countries to have a national Ministry of Tourism to drive national policies and tourism destination development. It is easier for UNWTO to carry our research and provide technical support for members via a National Tourism Ministry. Nigeria would loose if we choose to administrator our tourism industry in State Governments cocoons.

Search and you will see that most progressive tourism countries have a dedicated Ministry for Tourism. South Africa has an Act of Parliament called The Tourism Act. So does Kenya,Tanzania and several other successful tourist destinations. The law stipulates the roles of Govt tourism agencies and the complementary roles of private sector in Tourism.

I daresay, countries that have seen tourism as a sustainable way to grow their economy, alleviate poverty, improve social infrastructure and to balance their international trade, have mostly created a standalone national Ministry of Tourism. Hence, IT IS NOT only because their national constitution empowers them to have such Ministry. 

Right now, tourism is not yet on our Federal Government radar. So which State in Nigeria can lead without the national government support with regard to tourism? None. Not even Lagos State!! Our governments are fixated with Agriculture and Solid Minerals, as their assured means to diversify the Nigerian economy.

Do an empirical observation of most States in Nigeria, you will see that the tradition is for States to toe after the Federal Government to provide leadership in tourism development. States take advantage of Federal tourism policies to showcase their tourist attractions and destinations potentials. The only departure point, between States and Federal Govts in tourism, is over the Right to collect taxes from tourism operations. Isn't that one of the reasons NTDC went to court against Lagos State, leading to the landmark Judgement?

The way I see it, all stakeholders, including the Federal Govt, State Goverments and FTAN, stand to benefit, even more, from the existence of a Federal Ministry of Tourism, than without it.

The argument proving the need for a Ministry of Tourism is enormous, but worth considering...

Let's also look at the issue of lack of Standardization of Tourism services in Nigeria. It is chaotic right now. Unlike other tourist-conscious countries, that most of us have been to, our hotels and tourist services sectors are not classified to enable tourists make informed product/service judgements before booking, either domestically or inbound Nigeria. Experience from international tourist destination shows that hotels and tourist services classification can also be done via agreed peer-review systems of the business operators, not necessarily by a government agency, as we insist in Nigeria.

FTAN, as the lead private sector, ought to champion such Tourism Service classifications and Standardization. This, of course, should be in partnership with relevant Govt agencies, Federal and State. We can pay the taxes to any or all of them, if we can get them to team up and work with the organized private sector as national development partners.

In this regard, a Federal Ministry of Tourism is easier to partner with, rather than dealing with each of the 36 States. The States would key into the Federal Govt policy and programs so long as the matter of revenue collection and sharing is mutually acceptable.

We need a national Tourism Ministry based on all stakeholders discussion, agreed and implementable strategic tourism development plan, or master plan, if you prefer that appellation.

Finally, holding FTAN stakeholders workshop, or conference, to discuss and agree on common positions and lines of actions long overdue. Other wise, we would keep walking in circles of fifth columnists among FTAN. This played out at the Senate public hearing on the amendments to the NTDC Bill, where some spoke in support of the amendment against the general FTAN disapproval of the amendments.

A focused, proactive and powerful FTAN will lead to a sustainable tourism industry in Nigeria. 

Read 2044 times Last modified on Monday, 01 July 2019 15:02
Joesef Karim

Joesef Karim is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Nigeria Travel Digest - an online magazine that started in September 2012. 

Joesef Karim is a graduate of Tourism Management and has an MBA in Marketing. Mr. Karim is an Africa travel specialist and a tourism business consultant. He has been a leading Nigeria tourism stakeholder for over two decades, and is on the Board of some travel and tourism companies in Nigeria.

Joesef is a certified advertising practitioner (APCON) in Nigeria, whose specialty include strategy conceptualization, communication planning, advert scripting, copy writing, and media buying management. 

In April 2013, Joesef authored a book: "Travel & Tour Operations in Nigeria". The book has since been adopted as a course material by some tourism departments in Polytechnics and Universities across Nigeria. Additionally, every quarter, he provides hands-on trainings on 'Tour Packaging & Sales Strategy' for travel agencies in Nigeria. 

Presently, Joesef is the Public Relations Officer of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) - the umbrella body of the organized private sector in Nigeria's tourism and hospitality industry. 

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