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The Challenges of Sustainable Tourism in Nigeria


The celebration of the World Tourism Day this year focused on Sustainable Tourism as a means of economic development. It has brought to the fore the need for soul-searching on the Nigerian tourism space and the way forward for all stakeholders. Omolola Itayemi  reports

Far from a cliche, the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) provides the most appropriate definition of Sustainable Tourism. With emphasis on participation of all relevant stakeholders; this moment couldn’t have come at a better time for the improvement of tourism in Nigeria.

According to WTO, sustainable tourism development requires the informed participation of all relevant stakeholders, as well as strong political leadership to ensure wide participation and consensus building.

“Achieving sustainable tourism is a continuous process and it requires constant monitoring of impacts, necessary preventive and/or corrective measures whenever necessary. Sustainable tourism should also maintain a high level of tourist satisfaction and ensure a meaningful experience to the tourists, raising their awareness about sustainability issues and promoting sustainable tourism practices amongst them,” adds the WTO.

One other key area relevant to sustainable tourism is the impact on Domestic Tourism – travel, enjoy and respect aspect – which is to the advantage of the host community. 

Little wonder, World Tourism Day 2017, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), presented a unique opportunity to raise awareness on the contributions of sustainable tourism to development among public and private sector decision-makers and the international community, while mobilising all stakeholders to work together in making tourism a catalyst for positive change.

In light of this, the WTO definition becomes pertinent and calls to question the numerous gaps that seem to exist in the Nigerian tourism space, chief of which is the lack of a connection between the various stakeholders that should make sustainable tourism in Nigeria a success.

Some of the questions that readily come to mind are: Is there the existence of appropriate data for effective tourism planning in Nigeria?; Do all the stakeholders of sustainable tourism in Nigeria know their roles and responsibilities?; Do we all understand what the word ‘tourism’ really means?; How can we make tourism go beyond the buzzword that it is at present? What do people think tourism really is? And Are we aware that the words ‘tourism’ and ‘investment’ are used interchangeably?

On a national level, sustainable tourism can become more effective when there is more effective inter-governmental collaboration between the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and agencies like Ministry of National Planning, National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Ministry of Information & Culture, Ministry of Transport and Aviation, National Orientation Agency (NOA), Ministry of Education, Ministry of Trade & Investment, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs, Nigerian Police, Nigerian Immigration Service, and Nigerian Customs Service. The list can go beyond this.

It is not intergovernmental cooperation alone that is required. Other stakeholders are needed in the tourism ecosystem – banks, insurance companies, medical outfits, transport companies, auto service companies, retail outlets, fashion and beauty operations, barbers’ shops, and of course, hospitality and leisure companies.

Interestingly, those who should enjoy this tourism ecosystem are not primordially the visiting investor or tourist. They are the normal Akin, Efe, Rekia or Okonkwo – Nigerians.

According to DG, NTDC, Mr. Folurunsho Folarin-Coker, “The bedrock of tourism is not the big footprint of foreign brands but rather, the many cottage industries manned by passionate indigenes. That is what allows tourism be the largest employer of labour in the world, even over the oil industry.”

Nigerians travel on local roads with local transport. As they travel, they visit cities. Then they visit historical and cultural sites and natural areas. They meet people and interact with local businessmen. Some adventurous ones take time out to admire a scenic view, watch animals and birds. Most times, they fly, swim, cycle, walk, eat, drink and sleep. 

They go to shops or they attend events. Some of them watch sports, go to shows, hang out at pepper soup joints or attend our famous owambe parties. They would like to visit museums but even the National Museum in Lagos, these days, is either locked up or is without power. They should do and experience what their foreign counterparts enjoy. But as it were, they may never get to enjoy all these in their lifetime if the connective tourism ecosystem is not working – government, market or citizen.

Folarin-Coker is optimistic that Nigerian tourism would work. “We go to celebrate Ramadan and Christmas somewhere; we go for weddings, funerals in other cities outside the ones that we reside in. All those movements are tourism. Our currency is under pressure and it will be silly for us to think that we can grow international tourism without the foundation of domestic tourism. Let us consume more of what we have. NTDC’s Tour Nigeria project is focused on domestic tourism. Tourism is the largest employer of labour in the world, even more than the oil industry. Tourism, because the activities in the value chain which includes hotels, restaurants, strategically employs women and youths. It employs 292 million people globally and generates $7.8tn. In our economy, it contributes 1.8 per cent to GDP, so the possibility for growth is glaring. It is just for us to harness our resources to engender growth.”

The NTDC boss, while calling on Nigerians to learn to celebrate what the country is blessed with, stressed the need for a restructuring of the laws governing the practice of tourism in Nigeria. Coker said the change in the NTDC bill was to ensure international best practices in the nation’s tourism industry, adding that the 2017 bill, as against the extant Act, would open up avenues of collaboration with different stakeholders hoping to enter into partnerships in order to promote the industry.

Coker said: “We don’t have the ideal model to have a functional framework compared with some of the countries around the world, but what we have is good. If we compare Nigeria with other countries, especially with regard to cultural destination heritage tourism that we traditionally know as tourism, it is obvious that we are very wealthy.”

Hordes of investors and tourists will eventually visit Nigeria and the tourism ecosystem will thrive. The fact is that as they pass through, they will leave money behind. They will, willingly, even happily, part with their hard-earned cash in exchange for a service or a good provided by a local person. It can be an amazingly efficient and painless system for transferring wealth. It will definitely enhance the quality of Nigerian life. But there must be some movement in the Nigerian tourism space to draw them closer.  It starts with Nigeria, at least, being an ideal tourism jurisdiction. Only a sound tourism law can ensure that.

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