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TOURISM AND ECONOMIC DIVERSIFICATION

By NBF News
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Hitherto, tourism has been seen not only as an aspect of cultural transmission, but also a manifestation of naturally endowed potentials both in concrete and abstract, located within a community or society through which it entertains and enhances its members' living conditions. By so doing, it indirectly creates an enabling environment that attracts local and foreign investors through whom the society concerned generates internal revenue, creates employment opportunity and meets the requirements for economic growth and development. Following this process, Egypt became a notable tourists' destination that captivates the attention of the world over the centuries.

Nigeria is a multilingual nation consisting of over 500 ethnic groups with each blessed with specific history, culture and tradition. Tourism is largely embodied on culture; and culture is conveyed in two forms -material and immaterial. The term, material culture, is used by archaeologists to define a non-specific way to refer to the artifacts or other concrete things left by past cultures. Immaterial aspects of culture include cultural ideas, myths, stories, philosophy, cultural attitudes and behaviour. Many modern societies have learnt to profitably transmit their cultural dimensions in such a way that attracts both local and foreign attention under the term 'tourism'.

However, despite the high level of material and immaterial cultural abundance which could have helped to strengthen the tourism sector of the economy for increased Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and employment opportunity, Nigeria has so far recorded little or no revenue from tourism as a result of lack of awareness of the benefits of the sector. There are also problems related to lack of legal regulatory framework, low disposable income to pursue tourism activities, insecurity, non-professionalization of the industry, non-implementation of the tourism policy and lack of political will to pursue a tourism development master plan

To achieve its economic objectives, the government of the largest economy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Abu Dhabi, has embarked on major initiatives to re-invest its oil revenues which have registered vibrant gains over the years particularly in such sectors as tourism, construction, electricity, water and manufacturing. Following this track, in the last five years, the country has recorded a fat Gross Domestic Product (GDP) nearly put at $100 billion given its population which is just 1.463 million people. With a total per-capital GDP exceeding $68,000, Abu Dhabi is rated among the world's wealthiest countries or city states such as Luxembourg, Ireland and United States.

Tourism sector has offered tremendous contribution to Turkish economy, with 20 billion dollar revenue in the last two years as recorded by the World Bulletin (2009).

Australia has recorded considerable revenue generation from tourism as her collective expenditure on travel and tourism has amounted to an estimated $2,422 million in 2008 and, $2,893 million in 2009, trending up to a forecast $3,452 million by 2014. This has helped to improve the economy in spite of the constant attacks it suffers from natural disasters.

It would be a welcome development if Nigeria can shun mono-economic practice and diversify its oil revenue to other sectors like tourism. This will help largely in income diversification. Putting in place hospitable environment that attracts both local and foreign attention is always the major outlook for the nations that have derived robust revenue from tourism. Nigeria must invest in the hospitality industry to attract both local and foreign tourists to its tourism sector.

With the booming revenue from the oil industry in the country, government has paid little or no attention to tourism development such as national parks, game reserves, beaches, plateau, forestry development, natural sports, hotel accommodation, hostels, guest houses, camps, catering services, Museums, cultural shows, drama and dances and souvenirs carvings, weavings, sculptures and various art works. Others are parks, conferences, fairs, exhibitions, festivities among others which would have helped in economic diversification. This has led to huge loss of revenue that would have accrued from the tourism sector.

Nigeria is a land of aquatic splendour with numerous beaches such as, Lagos Bar Beach, Eleko Beach, Takwa Beach, and water falls like Gurara Falls, Farin ruwa Falls and Owu Falls are well known sites of tourism attraction in Nigeria, but have so far contributed little or nothing to the governments' IGR as a result of inadequate maintenance, lack of government attention and lack of modernization.

Improvement in transportation and communication must be seriously considered in the nation's road map towards the revival of tourism sector. The upsurge in road traffic accidents across the country is fast assuming a worrisome dimension with thousands of lives lost annually. This has indirectly discouraged tourism development. For instance, in the 2010 estimate, statistics related by the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) has shown that Nigeria recorded 7,737 road accidents, which resulted in the death of about 1,056 persons. Besides, in the last three decades, Nigeria has recorded series of mishaps in the aviation sector with several casualties. This phenomenon scares foreign tourists away and has negative consequences on Nigeria's tourism development.

Efforts should be made towards forging an effective institutionalization of a public-private partnership. That is, the federal government must immediately conduct assessment survey to ascertain the different steps and facilities needed to attract tourists in potential areas. This is necessary as the federal government alone cannot achieve the mandate of tourism. In view of this, Bramwell (2005) noted that the issue of collaboration is a major theme in the public administration of tourism; and in practice, collaboration has many different forms such as by means of tourism planning and policy making participation processes; informal meetings between politicians and the industry; through debates and round table discussions; spreading information in the media; setting up advisory committees and coordination bodies, and public-private partnerships (PPP).

To ensure sustainable growth and development of tourism, the Spanish government has over the years gone in partnership with private sectors such as Amadeus Ltd in Spain. This is aimed at strengthening the performance of tourism sector through Public-Private Partnerships using both local and international sustainable development training, workshops, conferences, project formulation, fund-raising, knowledge development and management tools.

The Federal Ministry for Culture and tourism in collaboration with the Nigeria Tourism Development Commission (NTDC), National Theatre of Nigeria (NTN), Nigeria Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR), National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), National Commission for Museum and Monuments (NCMM), Centre for Blacks and African Arts and Culture (CBAAC) should develop an effective national tourism orientation program to promote Culture and Tourism as a foreign exchange earner, income distributor, major employer of labour, a catalyst for rural development, poverty reduction and fostering peace and unity in the country. This can be complemented by the special intervention of relevant departments and agencies.

Certainly, professionalism is desirable to advance Nigeria's tourism industry, especially with regards to accurate information, safety, complex and expensive training requirements which could benefit both local and international tourists.  This has been successfully exercised by the governments of Chile and Argentina. For instance, Chile professional based tourism industry has generated about US$10 billion, comprising 3.5 percent of GDP and employing about 200,000 people in the 2010 fiscal year.

Mohammed writes from Abuja.