By Justina Okpanku
The President, National Association of Nigeria Tour Operators (NATOP), Mr. Nkereuwem Onung has said that countries, both developed and developing, now rely on the travel and tourism industry to boost their economy, stating that Nigeria with a huge tourism potential can also reap the benefit of tourism. Onung who is also Managing Director, Remlords Tours, pointed out that tourism can contribute to any country’s economy. He therefore urged the Federal Government to return Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation for tourism to thrive.
At present, he said government is paying lip-service to tourism the sector that is capable of contributing so much to GDP especially now that the country is going through difficult times.
“We want a full-fledged Tourism ministry. It’s not about the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. We don’t have any problem with him,” he said.
“It is about a separate ministry that will pay more attention to tourism. It is imperative to revisit and commit ourselves to the diversification of the nation’s economy. Tourism can earn Nigeria the much-needed foreign exchange. Growth and development of tourism would guarantee poverty alleviation and lead to social and political harmony and stability, he added.
The current arrangement where tourism is lumped together with Ministry of Information and Culture (the ministry supervises about 17 parastatals), is said to have further harm the nation’s fragile tourism industry.
Onung regretted that Nigeria has become a source market for other countries where Nigerians are travelling to anytime they want to enjoy themselves. Nigeria is richly endowed but we have low level of awareness among the generality of the populace and opportunities in the country. He said this make people travel out. “NCAA told us that Nigerians spent about 1.5 billion dollars on airline tickets on 2015,” the leading tour operator said.
He said the actions being undertaken by countries, businesses and institutions contribute to improving the environment and sustainable tourism. Nations both developed and undeveloped, including neighbouring African countries pay adequate attention to tourism.
According to him, “It is this reason, the whole of West Africa has just 10 per cent inflow of tourists to Africa. Four countries of South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco have a combined 60 per cent of Africa’s tourist arrivals. So, if four African countries have 60 per cent of the total tourist inflow in Africa, then you will wonder how many Nigeria has from a mere 10 per cent. We have up to a million in a year and it is a shame. South Africa just celebrated 10 million tourist arrivals.”
Nigeria was said to be enjoying relatively healthy tourism numbers before 2015, but visits have sharply declined in the past two years when it was merged with Information Ministry. The development had generated hot debates.
Nkereuwem had lent his voice to other tourism operators who said the tourism should be left alone as former president Olusegun Obasanjo created the Tourism ministry in 1999 to reposition culture and jump-start tourism.
At a time during NATOP AGM in Calabar, 2016, operators tasked the federal government on the need to diversify the economy pointing out a missing link. While commending the effort of past governments that realise the importance of the sector, they urged the Buhari administration to do the needful and provide the enabling environment.
“We celebrate the effort of past government who gave us Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, which provided better platform for stakeholders to operate. We attended travel expos regularly to market Nigeria, and tourism stakeholders had a sense of belonging. We had our problems but there was room for improvement. In 2002, President Obasanjo even made a nationwide broadcast during World Tourism Day (WTD).”
Today, we celebrated 2017 WTD on our own because nobody called us for a single national event, so we have to organised this event (Tour of Lagos Creeks). We at NATOP are urging government to let tourism institutions work because the structures are there, government should return us to world trade expos because we are missing and nobody is marketing Nigeria. We tour operators want to market Nigeria. We decided to come into the Lagos creeks. With many tour operators on this trip, we are gaining practical experience on the products available here in order to be able to market these products better to our clients. We are talking about using sustainable tourism
The First Vice President of Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), who went down memory to bemoan how Nigeria’s over reliance on oil destroyed its economic growth, said all is not lost. FTAN is the organised private sector tourism body, the association of hotels, tour operators, travel agents and other tourism reliant-companies.
“It was on this note that we reiterate the need for the government of President Buhari to consider restoring our Ministry of Tourism, it will improve on public-private sector partnership. They need to recognise tourism as a major factor in socio-economic development. This will promote and enhance activities within the value chain. We are also saying that in restoring our Ministry, link the national parks to the ministry, it is what obtains in most countries,” he said.
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