Operators Task Political Aspirants on Tourism

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There is renewed effort to vote for people who will move culture and tourism forward. Which political party is stressing tourism economic potential? JUSTINA OKPANKU  asks

In the next couple of days, voters in the ongoing general elections will have plenty of options to make capitalising on those that will enthrone policy measures required to insulate the domestic economy and transform the tourism industry.

Interest in track record of the elected officials is peaking just as voters are pickier now. Indicators suggest Nigerians are ready to vote for political aspirants who will provide world class infrastructure, reduce high unemployment and stamp out corruption. They don’t care where they come from or what language they speak. This is necessary in order to avoid the problems of the past. There is need for the opening up of the economy through the application of policies that embrace global standards. The tourism industry is better used due to its multiplier effects.

The questions making the round in the industry are:” How many of the aspirants are able to discuss tourism promotion? Is Jonathan/ Sambo mindful of the economic potential of the tourism industry? Would Buhari/Bakare promote tourism? Can the army of other political party flag bearers focus on what brings income for people in the grassroots level? It is imperative for the political office seekers to tell voters the policies they have formulated to create jobs and reduce poverty.

There will be a great herd of taxi drivers, hoteliers, airlines, advertising companies, tour operators, agents and a host of others all smiling to the bank, if tourism is handled well.

A former USA envoy to the United Nations, Ambassador Andrew Young once advised the nation on tourism, saying that even taxi drivers should be oriented to act as good ambassadors. Young said during his term as Mayor of Atlanta, he gave prominence to convention tourism. “The city of Atlanta unlike Miami has no beach and unlike Abuja has no rocks. I therefore introduced church conventions almost as a monthly tourism event in Atlanta,” he said.

A tour operator, Mrs Victoria Ikebe, said aspirants are expected to discuss tourism promotion but the tourism and hospitality industry is not given its due recognition.

She said:  “Voting right means voting for the Governor or Presidential candidate who will work harder to allow Nigeria to stand out as a regional tourism destination. The benefits are enormous; it gives revenue for government. Another advantage is that citizens do not have to wait for government patronage, as tourism income trickles down to everybody”

 According to her, “So far, there are no events that would generate hotel visits. Most Governors are unable to   create enabling environment for tourism to thrive. Some states don’t even have tourist board let alone identifying their tourist products. We are still fighting for tourism development funds. (Money is needed to help operators keep up a competitive market. Lack of finance has been seen as the factor militating against tourism development.) We don’t even have a blueprint or Nigeria tourism masterplan. Lawmakers seem unable to give legal framework to back travel trade. It is very unfortunate”.

As one event planner put it, “Government is not creating tourism areas or revamping tourism sites. It should be able to woo the world with tourism; there are concerns at the negative image of Nigeria outside the country. What we need is for government to grow private sector participation.”

If political office holders in the three tiers of government pay attention to tourism satellite account, they would realise the impact of tourism to the economy of any country. Tourism fosters unity among people of diverse cultures and a veritable tool to eradicate poverty. It is the largest employer of labour across the globe,   employs skilled and unskilled labour, old and young, women and the vulnerable groups.  

A Lagos-based tour operator who doesn’t want his name to be printed maintained that: “The most important challenge we faced is political
parties are not talking about tourism even though the industry employs millions of people.”

Ikebe, meantime, believed that if Jonathan wanted he could do something with tourism.  “If people are making their money in their small and medium size enterprises, it will improve their living condition; it will stamp off restlessness especially in the Niger Delta.  Kidnapping and all manner of crimes associated with our youths will be reduced,” she said.

Everyone benefits economically, without waiting for funds from federation account. There are a handful of people who have focused on tourism and these leaders are remembered for what they have done.

Former Cross River State Governor, Mr. Donald Duke was said to have delivered dividend of democracy to his people; he empowered people in that state, using tourism.  When he was in power, he developed infrastructure and economic development for the future. It changed things significantly.

What other countries are doing

The modern trend is when the world has identified tourism as a leading foreign income earner.  It has become the tradition of UK Prime Ministers (past and present) to get involved in tourism promotion, putting solid infrastructure in place as well as provide security. Still, they depend on tourist arrivals to enable the private businesses to make profits and rake in revenue.

It is perhaps this reason that former Prime Minister Tony Blair never missed any opportunity to meet with Ministers of Tourism from over 200 countries that participate at the World Travel Market, London. The UK is said to have raked in millions of pounds by holding that event every November. The government therefore works closely with the private sector; especially the organisers of the premier expo, Reed Travels, to woo more visitors to Britain.    Last August, Prime Minister David Cameron was said to made a speech stressing tourism’s economic potential. He said that he wanted to see the UK climb in world rankings of visitor destinations.

Britain is not alone. Former Kenya’s President Arab Moi consistently reminded the world that the coffee growing country has more to do with tourism and it showed.

Similarly, South Africa has inspired its citizens, the youth and everyone to embrace tourism. The invisible trade has indeed become the industry for all South Africans from the farmer who farm fish, eggs and chicken that are eaten in restaurants, to the tour guides who earn income from taking visitors to the tourist sites and to the government that also depends on arrivals for revenue. No wonder, tourism is the mainstay of South Africa’s economy.

Contact us: just_tours@yahoo.com

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