‘MY FATHER LURED ME INTO TOURISM’
You were once a board member of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation and you are familiar with the reforms in the tourism industry.
How genuine are the reforms?
The reforms are okay. They are capable of taking Nigeria to the promised land as far as tourism is concerned. That is boosting tourism. Secondly, the people the government appointed to take charge of affairs in the industry are people that have interest in the sector. Also the Nigerian tourism master plan has experienced technocrats that are committed to ensuring that the provisions are implemented. So, I feel the government has done well. But like every other policy or project, as we implement, we might need to make improvements.
What are the challenges hindering the development of tourism in the country?
There is lack of awareness on tourism in Nigeria. People do not understand what tourism is all about. They do not understand the intrinsic potential in tourism. Secondly, we do not have infrastructure in place. For tourism to develop, there must be adequate infrastructure. Here in Nigeria, the infrastructure is not there. Another reason is that in the past, the sector was driven by the government, which further depressed the development of the sector.
We thank God that recently the government is divesting from the sector. For instance, if you go to Olumo Rock in Ogun State today, it has been transformed because of the public-private sector partnership that is in existence. Government is just realising the need to leave this industry for the private sector and I think it is the best decision.
If you look at Kenya, that country survives on tourism and I am optimistic that once Nigeria is able to put in place the right infrastructure, the tourism sector would have a boom.
Some people fear that the development of tourism has the potential of promoting illicit sex and of course HIV/AIDS. What do you have to say about that?
That is not true. Tourism is good and a vibrant sector that generates employment. We should look at the positive sides and not the negative sides
Looking at South Africa, is tourism not responsible for the high rate of HIV/AIDS in that country?
I don't think tourism is responsible for the AIDS scourge in South Africa. South Africa is not polluted from outside and I don't think Nigeria will suffer from AIDS as a result of a boost in tourism.
For us in Nigeria, I believe the National Action Committee on AIDS is doing a lot in the campaign against HIV/AIDS. As we are promoting tourism, we need to remind Nigerians that AIDS is real.
In concrete terms what is the tourism market potential in Nigeria?
There is a lot of potential in Nigeria, that I can say. Also Nigeria stands to gain a lot from tourism because we have a population of 140million. Besides, if the sector is developed, it would facilitate the inflow of foreign direct investments to Nigeria.
How has investors' interest in tourism development been?
Investors are willing to come in Nigeria and develop the sector. I can tell you that they are now coming en masse because they have realised the potential of tourism in the country. I have the opportunity of going to the World Travel Markets and when you see stands of African countries, you will be amazed. Other African countries are doing a lot better than Nigeria.
Which of the tourism sectors do you think Nigeria can profit from and why?
We have different types of tourism potential in the country. This includes cultural, beach, physical and sports tourism. We need just to take one form and develop it.
But as I earlier said, when tourists come sometimes the roads are not there and even the power supply is poor. These are disincentives.
Some people said security is another challenge. Do you agree with that?
I agree that the security situation is the bane of tourism in the country. Recently, tourists came to Nigeria to visit the Yankari game reserve in Bauchi and they were attacked by robbers. This is not good for our country and the sector in particular. So, security has to be put in place. The government has to invest to secure lives and properties for the industry to thrive. Although the attack on tourists is not perculiar to Nigeria, we as an emerging tourists' market need to strengthen our security network to make the market more attractive and competitive.
In what areas can you give Nigeria a pass mark?
We are doing well in telecommunications and that is a leverage for us. Also the reforms in the industry are beginning to make us attractive to the world.
What is lacking in the Nigerian tourism sector?
I think we need to develop our domestic tourism. Until we do that, we may not have foreigners investing as much as they should. We need to have a positive mindset to our tourism sector. The trend here is that people go on holidays during festive periods only. That is not supposed to be the case.
Do you associate the low development of domestic tourism to poor disposable income?
I do not agree because when you calculate how much people spend on food and drinks, it is much. So, the low patronage has nothing to do with low disposable income. There is an illusion that people who go for tourism are rich. It is not true. It has to do with the mind.
What do you think Nigeria can learn from South Africa?
Nigeria has a lot to learn from South Africa. One, South Africans understand what tourism is all about and they are ready to patronise any tourist attraction. In so doing, tourism in that country is practised even at small scale. Their patronage to tourists' sites has helped in attracting foreign tourists to that country. What this means is that Nigerians have to develop interest in their domestic tourism sector, if we want to grow the industry.
As a person, what propped up your interest in tourism?
My father was responsible for my interest tourism. He used to take us to tourists sites during the holidays. In so doing, I was able to know and appreciate several tourist sites in the country. Besides, as a geography student at the University of Ibadan, I had the privilege of attending excursions and that created in me the passion for tourism.
You talked about hosting conferences. What does the common man stand to gain from tourism?
I have been in the business of tourism for quite some time and I found out that most of the conferences were held outside Africa and particularly in Europe. We felt, why don't we bring this kind of conference to Nigeria, since Africa is an
emerging market for the tourism industry. That led to the birth of “Direction Africa.”