It is a fundamental principle of development that relevant professional knowledge must become universally evident to a committed body of intellectuals or practitioners, as to generate the needed momentum for its advancement, hence, as the saying goes, there is a paradigm shift.
However, this has never been the case amongst tourism professionals in Nigeria, who continue to grope embarrassingly for some collective perspectives that would serve as useful guides or roadmap for the sector. None exemplifies this forlorn situation more that the lingering quagmire over the nation’s Tourism Master Plan, which has remained on the drawing board for more than a decade, with billions of Naira haven been spent on the project, including several workshops and summits, to no avail. These are now like hanging invisible clouds of disdain, despair and defeat, nearing what some would term a jinx, in such a critical sector as tourism that drives major economies.
The above circumstances have long given rise to my various articles designed to interrogate the issues under captions like: “Unending Fumbling With Nigeria’s Tourism Policies”; “Tourism Leadership Vacuum and the Collective Amnesia”; “Nigeria’s Tourism Illusions and the Harvest of Dummies”. “Taking Nigeria’s Tourism Beyond the Vision of Hoteliers”. “Edem Duke’s Mid-Term Score Card”; including various interviews, especially on the National Tourism Master Plan and the performance evaluation of successive administrations in Tourism development.
Before recalling excerpts from the issues under these provocative headings, it is necessary to quickly address the extant subject matter itself, as to what should be the underlying protocols for the engagement of our tourism master plans – whether at national, regional or State levels. We have used the word “scientific” as a way of stressing what should be a systematic and transparent verification process, as against what amounts to subjectively reaching out for tourism consultants, as if they are products displayed on a departmental store shelf.
The emphasis on a scientific process is because history teaches us the bitter lesson in doing the same thing over and over again, then expecting a different result. In the first place, let us look closely at the “buyers” of the Master Plans, who, in this case, are the various States or Federal Government decision makers, who are usually not familiar with the desired “products”, as in tourism master plans. They usually would never have seen one, except knowing that it serves as a guide to practitioners and investors alike.
Again, tourism master plans are usually not standardized and are geographic or culture-specific, not one size fits all. Above all, the entire transaction processes should by themselves be transformational to the stakeholders, not some sterile research volumes that are produced and then easily tucked away in a drawer or bookshelf, without any societal impact at the end of the expensive exercise. Such should genuinely be loaded with roadmaps and action plans that resonate, alb initio, amongst stakeholders up to the community levels. However, from our collective experience so far, we are invariably left with uninspiring and lifeless documents that never translate to concrete experiences. Should we not wonder then at the inability of tourism administrators to decode and navigate a master plan which they had helped to mid-wife? This is the reason that I have often posited that such scenario only arises if what were sold as tourism master plans actually turned out to be dummies.
We have seen obsession with foreign tourism experts, even when the Master Plan is about “us”, not rocket science. When the World Tourism Organization (WTO) – led consultants who designed our National Tourism Master Plan were on ground, they were accompanied or assisted in the process by so-called indigenous experts. It was expected that optimum transfer of expertise as well as necessary domestication of the products must have taken place.
However, where were these same indigenous experts when successive tourism Ministers were being advised by tourism administrators to bring back the same foreign experts to come and decode or guide them through the same Master Plan? Is such not a catastrophic and monumental failing in such a critical sector of the economy? Yet whenever Workshops are being organized on the Master Plan, the same indigenous experts are paraded to pontificate at further fees to a community of tourism professionals and stakeholders who appear not to see the elephant in the room. In some societies or cultures, those responsible for such institutional failings would leave behind an apologetic suicide note, but here in Nigeria, they continue to garner accolades and merit awards.
Many State Governments may have already bought such dummies for a Master Plan, while some, such as Lagos and Edo States are at the threshold of engaging the process and should proactively seek to avoid the pitfalls from previous failed experiments. However, in proffering the ideal protocols for scientific engagement of the long delayed tourism Master Plan for Edo State, as currently on the agenda of the incumbent Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, the Association of Tourism Practitioners of Nigeria (ATPN), has submitted what it intends to now serve as a universal template for any such venture in this clime.
In the first place, it is envisaged that any Tourism master plan should follow a process that leaves no stakeholder behind and should also be a mobilizing force that serves as a catalyst for community / grassroots development. In order to achieve such objectives, there is need for a transparent engagement of bidders who can carry out the sensitive assignment of developing a Tourism Master Plan for the State. According to ATPN, such should begin with an advertised Tender for interested tourism experts with proven roots in the Nigerian tourism industry, to attend a prequalification Workshop, with synopsis of their respective intellectual properties for attaining an exponential Tourism Roadmap for the State. The selection process should be aimed at setting up a consortium of experts based on relevant proven skills, who would, in addition, be able to carry out the needed human capacity building for the respective State Ministry of Tourism and all relevant stakeholders, as an intrinsic process for ensuring that the administrative setup is able to manage the Tourism Master Plan being conceived.
The process should continue with the presentation of the entire framework and terms of reference for the approved consortium for the development of the Master Plan, to a forum of wide tourism stakeholders for enlisting their understanding, facilitation, participation and, importantly, for creating a sense of ownership, since they are to key into it. ATPN has deemed it imperative to proffer these recommendations in view of the huge knowledge gaps and discrepancies that abound in tourism development in this clime, as well as the regular instances in which dummies are sold in the name of tourism master plans – such that can neither fly, nor be domesticated and end up on book shelves, after incurring huge expenses.
Private Sector tourism Stakeholders, as represented by ATPN, in this case, should be carried along in the entire process that would mid-wife the Master Plan, so that those who are equipped with the required technical backups can help with the implementation of the Master Plan. It is anticipated that this protocol will thus serve as a working document to symbolize a seamless collaboration between Government and Private Sector Tourism stakeholders. With the needed collaboration, under a dynamic Administration, there is every likelihood that such a State will not only attain a quantum leap in tourism development, but will set a new pace for the industry.
Successive Federal Government administrations have devised their own reasoned engagement of the national tourism master plan and their considered road maps that led nowhere. The most recent of which, is the incumbent Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who called a mammoth crowd to a tourism stakeholders Summit and expected it to distil a roadmap from such nebulous assembly. My position was that only a small body of experts should have been called up to fashion a tourism roadmap, after which the wide body of stakeholders would be brought in for the sensitization and evaluation.
Again, Committees were set up at various stages to address the issues of implementation of the national tourism master plan, but there were no clear evidence that the selected persons had proven insights about the master plan through previous publications and engagement of the relevant issues as to merit their selection. In other words, they were not known to have proffered any solutions in the past that they already had, or they were just put together to randomly brainstorm in the hope of reaching some guesswork? It would also appear that most members of such Committees were just being patronized as a way of rewarding friends or those that appear to represent strategic interests. It is no wonder then that all such initiatives that began with an unscientific selection of experts always ended up dead on arrival.
It is for the same reasons that we hold serious exception to the proposed composition of the NTDC Board in the Draft Bill recently sent to the National Assembly, as it does not consist of a balanced representation of tourism experts and core stakeholders. It is more of those performing purely ancillary services like Immigration, Customs, Finance, etc, who should rightly belong to a Tourism Facilitation Committee that are favoured by this draft Bill. When politicians are added to this equation of intended statutory public service members, what will be left for tourism representation is of such marginal consequence as to render the Board technically a lame duck.
A truly tourism development Board should have a preponderance of the Tourism Legacy Associations (ATPN, NANTOP, NANTA and NHA) who have been recognized since the onset of the development of the industry in Nigeria and as reflected in the Act under review. From the intended composition of the proposed Bill, the majority of its members will be mere bench warmers and end up with the effect of jumping from the frying pan to fire, by being worse that the Act it is intended to supplant.
There is also a major fallacy in the conception of an umbrella body for private sector tourism as represented by FTAN. For an industry of such diverse and complex stakeholders as Tourism, in which many players have scant recognition of their interconnectedness, it will be foolhardy to use the representation of any incumbent leadership of the Federation as a narrow prism for viewing wide issues affecting this critical sector.
The limitations of the leadership structure in FTAN, resulting in the difficulty of aggregating the complex interests of its wide stakeholders, as well as the relatively low level of expertise amongst tourism administrators in the public service, are reasons why Nigeria is endlessly beset by the embarrassing inability to properly engage the issues concerning the implementation of the National Tourism Master Plan, going to fifteen years. It is equally embarrassing that the NEPAD Tourism Action Plan and similar developmental frameworks have all permanently remained on the drawing boards, since these are not issues that hoteliers or some typical narrow tourism professionals, who scramble for pre-eminence in FTAN, are qualified to handle.
In order to generate the needed momentum for a paradigm shift in the Tourism intellectual community, there has to be a series of Workshops through Call for Papers, wherein only those with relevant and proven intellectual properties as in Tourism Roadmaps, with desirable action plans, should emerge and be engaged. This is a far cry from the usual syndrome of subjectively appointing consultants and keynote speakers who deliver purely theoretical academic papers that have no originality and sense of purpose. In conclusion, only scientific processes, as in prequalification Workshop or Retreats of tourism experts with exponential synopsis of intellectual properties in tourism development, can produce those who can genuinely chart the way forward for our tourism master plan development, rather than a subjective appointment of consultants or even a resort to foreign experts at that.
By Andy Ehanire
CEO Ogba Zoo in Edo State