The tourism and travel industry is a money- spinning industry no doubt. It is one of the few sectors that survived the recent world-wide recession and political unrests, churning out billions in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in countries serious about tourism. And charity, they say starts at home. So, why are Nigerians famed for travelling far and wide not patronizing domestic leisure sites? OMOLOLA ITAYEMI digs in.
That Nigerians love travelling abroad on holidays is no more a myth with the berth of Emirates Holidays. A stand-alone South African Tourism office is also set to berth in Lagos, all in a bid to capture a bigger chunk of Nigerians who frequent abroad on holidays.
The Rwandan ambassador is not sitting pretty in his office as he uses every opportunity to lure both business and leisure travelers to his country. The Gambians also want a piece of the action due to the downturn in their in-bound tourism. Kenya despite its recent terrorist attacks at the West-Gate Mall and tourism resort is still fervently selling its destinations.
From the huge number of visa applicants to air flights and the high exchange rates of the main international currencies, its obvious domestic tourism has not found its place in the hearts of Nigerians yet.
Buts it’s not as if Nigerians are shy of top tourism spots and events as some states have taken their tourism spots a notch higher by rehabilitating or building them to international standards. There are uncountable resort centres with state of the art facilities in Nigeria which can match others in the world.
The Obudu Cattle Ranch, Matsirga Waterfalls, Gashaka Gumti Park, Ikogosi Warm Springs Resorts and L’Meridien Ibom Golf Resort are some of them. Also, the tourism event calendar is becoming more robust as each year goes by attracting more regional and international participation. Osun Osogbo festival, Calabar Festival, Mare Festival, Argungu Festival, Eyo festival, Black Heritage Festival are events that have proved that they could attract foreign tourists. Domestic travel is not completely unattractive as seen with events like Osun Osogbo and Calabar festivals where locals travel to where these events take place.
However, from modern airports to well managed vacation spots and tourist sites to affordable hotel rates and excellent customer service, international tourism is light years ahead of domestic tourism. When it comes to spending one’s hard-earned money, no one wants excuses or near-misses when one can get a better deal.
While not discountenancing international tourism, the need to advocate domestic travel is very important because it further unifies Nigerians as citizens of a country and helps us know more about our diverse cultures.
As much as domestic tourism holds a huge allure for many, a lot needs to be done. Bismark Rewane, the foremost financial analyst/Managing Director of Financial Derivatives and Publisher of Travelnomiks, a quarterly on-line magazine believes the road to domestic tourism might be far-fetched for now.
He said: “My understanding is that we have not made tourism a major goal in this country. We have not even started nurturing our historical and anthropological assets to position them to become attractive. If you take the budget of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and compare it to the budget of the Ministry of Petroleum or Defense, the story is told. In terms of revenue and contribution to economic activity, tourism contributes little or nothing. First of all, Nigeria is not considered by many even domestically as a “Destination” for rest or relaxation or as a destination for historical, cultural or anthropological discovery or excursions. There are no safaris, there is hardly any zoo, there are no cultural events, even though the history and culture are there. They have all been abandoned. So it’s more of a strategic loss than anything else. Now the infrastructure that supports tourism doesn’t exist.
“If you’re arriving at the airport or you go to any Nigerian website, there is no reference to places like the Yankari Game Reserve, Benin Moat. Something as simple as the civil war – a civil war that everybody and history books refer to and many were killed. Where is the Biafran airport, where are the bunkers where the soldiers hid, where are the refugee camps; all those should have been preserved for history. Where are the historical lineages? Where was the Olu of Warri’s palace n 1400 (600 to 700 years ago)?
“I go to Egypt and I see all these in spite of their crises. Tourism is still going on there just as in Kenya, Gambia and Senegal. It’s an objective that is driven by the government as an alternative source of income especially with the threat of oil revenue going down. I think there’s a fundamental issue. One, it’s not being pursued; it’s not a key measureable objective,and quite frankly, it has become a self-fulfilling negative prophecy in the sense that the question is which comes first? Do you project it? Is it the revenue and people interest from outside that is going to do it? What’s going to drive this even domestically?’’
But Rewane is not the only one that shares this ideal. Tade Adeyeye, a businessman and frequent traveler said, ‘’Where is the security to assure these people that they are safe when they embark on domestic tourism without fear of being kidnapped or robbed? How far has the ministry of tourism promoted the tourism industry to make it attractive? What are the facilities in place to provide comfort and make domestic tourism worthwhile? We know, there is a lot of fun tourist places in Nigeria but not safe enough with little or no conveniences available. So, don’t blame those who go abroad for vacation but blame it on the failure of the Government of Nigeria to package and sell tourism through its ministry of tourism.”
These are questions to ponder upon as we seek to make domestic tourism more attractive. Feelers from tourism events like Osun Osogbo and Calabar Carnival shows that if security is guaranteed, roads are motorable, accommodation is affordable, tourists spots are well managed and skies are safe to fly, domestic tourism will thrive and contribute a huge quota to the national purse.
Interestingly, even the most ardent pro-international traveler still believes Nigerian’s domestic tourism has potentials. Sally Mbanefo, Director General, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation and Domestic Tourism advocate holds this belief and in a recent interview with this reporter stated: ‘’Domestic tourism is in a way that we want Nigerians to develop a culture of having leisure in their country. And when Nigerians think of leisure at all, they think of travelling out of the country. Why should this be? We have beautiful sites all over the country. There is no state in Nigeria that is not endowed. Talk of Nasarawa, Enugu, Taraba and other states in the country. I have been able to capture all these beautiful sites in my three months in office. From all these, I saw that Nigeria has much to offer. Domestic tourism, in essence, means that Nigerians should explore their country. NTDC has already signed an MOU with ABC Transport Company to facilitate travelling by road. This company is over 20 years old. This is what our partnership should be talking about.
“Foreigners need to be told that Nigeria is a destination to be appreciated. We are doing all these so as to ensure better travel infrastructure and quality services when travelling by land, water or air across Nigeria, in order to afford a holiday within Nigeria after meeting basic needs like food, health, education, housing and other necessities of life, while also seeking improvements in travel security and up to date information about sites and attractions.
“What is more important is the impact of a Nigerian travelling out of a country populated by over 170 million people. Nigerians, because of the oil boom, had access to education. We are highly educated people, the highest number of educated people that we have on data when compared to Europe. We are economically independent when compared to our European counterparts, considering the level of education that we have. What if ten per cent of every Nigerian who has worked outside Nigeria has experienced Nigeria in a positive way? Imagine the positive story they are taking out there that is spread to change the negative publicity we have out there.
“I believe we don’t deserve this. Nigerians are nice. Our food is fabulous. Our people are wonderful and warm. Our weather is fantastic for tourism. We have culture and festivals that are diverse in nature. For instance, Olumo Rock, Olumirim Water Falls, Ikogosi Cold/Warm Springs, Zuma Rocks are beautiful sites to behold, among others. People want to journey; they want to have a scenic rout of these beautiful sites. Go to Delta State, where I come from, the earth there is red. Go to Lagos, the sand there is white and other special features that are peculiar to other zones suggest that Nigeria is such a rich country.
‘’We intend to direct tourists to the sites of choice as it obtains in other tourist –friendly countries. We are already working on the classification. At the WTO, I met with Ministers of Tourism from The Gambia, Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, and Sierra Leone to discuss how we can work on a West African tourist brand. We are also working on a single ticket that will take tourists through the five West African countries. This is about the regional tourism not international tourism.’’
‘’Security is also something we are looking into. We are talking to security chiefs, Customs and Police. This is a long journey, but we want to achieve a thing at a time. We are even reaching out to the diplomatic community who are enjoying peace in Nigeria. We want to ask them why they are not telling their people the good things about the country. We want to tell them to give good testimonials about Nigeria, and that Nigerians are peaceful and loving. If people can go to South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, and other places, are civil unrests not happening there?”
Story By OMOLOLA ITAYEMI, ThisDay Online
This article was written by Folarin Kolawole
Founder of Naijatreks, Nigerian-born Folarin Kolawole is a geologist, travel writer and researcher. When not at work, he travels the length and breadth of Nigeria, exploring, taking photos and writing about her numerous hidden tourist potentials. 'Naijatreks' is a product name registered under the Ntreks brand, which is also duly registered by Nigeria's Federal Corporate Affairs Commission. The contents on this blog are re-usable. However, it must be ensured that it is linked back to this blog, and correctly attributed to Naijatreks or the author. Please do not edit, rewrite or commercialize the original works on this blog without direct and written permission from the Founder (Folarin Kolawole). For inquiries and advert placement on the blog, kindly contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.