ByÂ Jimoh Babatunde
Realising the power ofÂ the media and importance of giving accurate information about a destination, the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) in 2004 hosted the first TOURCOM at its Madrid Headquarters on February 5 with all its regional bases including Africa also following suit at a later date.
The Ministry of Tourism & Culture under the leadership of Ambassador Franklin Ogbuewu organised one in Nigeria in 2005 and since then nothing has been done until the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) decided to hold another TOURCOM.
The Director General of the Institute , Alhaji Munzali Dantata,Â said for tourism to develop and play its desired roles in the advancement of the countryâ€™s national economy, that there is need for highly skilled tourism professionals.
The theme of the workshop, â€˜Tourism Communication:
A re_orientation for transparent, effective and balanced information,â€™ was quite instructive and apt at this time when Nigeria as a nation is engaged in a re_branding process.
The Director General of the training institute, Munzali Dantata put it succinctly thus: â€œ… It aptly captures the current re_branding drive going on in our great nation.â€ He then outlined some of the issues that the gathering was intended to address. â€œIt is intended to bring tourism media practitioners together with a view to sensitising them on their role in presenting honest and balanced information about tourism destinations and their local populations.â€
It was also designed to give opportunity to the participants at the forum to understand and better appreciate the need to attract tourists to the destination through effective and balanced media reports. Continuing, the DG said, â€œit is also aimed at creating awareness on the importance of relationship between tourism industry and the media.
Alhaji Munzali Dantata said the reason the industryâ€™s workforce is still being dominated by inadequately trained and unqualified people can not be unconnected to the non-regulation of the industry leading to unguided entry into the industry by investors who have little or no knowledge in the sector.
He noted that the institute is obliged and committed to lead the way in the endeavour of producing tested professionals.
The institute, according to him, has a specific mandate of providing a platform for professionals, managerial and technical skills up grading and manpower development programmes to enhance all levels of personnel in all areas of the industry and all disciplines directly connected and indirectly connected with the hospitality and tourism industry in Nigeria.
Speaking at the workshop, Prof. Kingsley Ologe in hisÂ paper â€œRepositioning Nigeria Through Tourism: Challenged and Possibilitiesâ€ said the implementation of the Tourism Master Plan (TMP)Â launched last year by the former Minister of Tourism & Culture, Mr. Adetokunbo Kayode has commenced, though the timeline for the action plan might not be followed.
HeÂ Â noted that what are being done now by the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) andÂ Â the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) are part of the recommendation of the TMP as he claimed many of what they are doing now were not being done before the master plan was drawn up.
He said the greatest challenge of the TMP is how to get the people to read and understand the contents of the plan, as he calls for more workshops for stakeholders to get to digest the content.
Prof. Ologe said as a way of popularising the Tourism Master Plan, that the implementation committee should make available electronic version of the paln to people, produce shorter version; advertizing the TMP and feature the TMP on television .
While calling on the Tourism Master Planâ€™s implementation committee to be more visible, Prof. Ologe said the countryâ€™s hope of attracting tourists lies in the area of cultural tourism. â€œOn possibilities for tourism development in Nigeria, we need a diversity of cultural attractions in areas like slave route; cultural heritage as in living cultures and cultural festivals as well as conference and sports tourism.â€
He said the country is endowed with hospitable and friendly people just as inÂ environmental endowments like wetlands; pristine beaches; high plateaus; breathtaking waterfalls and parks.
Prof. Ologe regretted that the country is not promoting most of the attractions and until the country promotes these attractions they can not become destinations of note.
He noted that the country is behind countries like Ghana, Senegal and the Gambia in tourism arrival receipts as the countryâ€™s share in world tourism is infinitesimally small.
Prof. Ologe disclosed that tourism is increasingly becoming an instrument of growth world wide as it has become engine for employment, poverty alleviation, preservation of historical and cultural monuments.
In a paper delivered also t the workshop, Mr. Ini Akpapio of Nanet Hotels disclosed that Data from the UNWTO shows that international tourism is growing at the rate of about 5.5% annually.
â€œEven with the global economic meltdown, it is still forecast that growth in the sector would exceed 3 per cent in 2009. With every country boasting of excellent hospitality services and unique culture and other attractions, brandingÂ becomes a ready tool for international recognition.â€
He explained that because of globalization countries are ranked using the Nations Brand Index (NBI) to determine how they are perceived by others, â€œIn evolving the NBI therefore several parameters are considered and nations are ranked based on the index.â€
Some of the criteria, he said areÂ employed to do the rankings are: Governance_public diplomacy;Tourism; Exports;Â Investment and immigration; People; and Culture and heritage.
While noting that we may not score very high when measured on the above listed parameter as a country â€œ However, as operators in the tourism sector we need to participate in improving the ranking of our nation on the NBI.â€
Mr Akpapio said tourism stakeholders can do this by exceeding the usual duty call like ConstructingÂ our hospitality establishments to reflect our national identity asÂ Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania and some other African nations have been able to reflect their cultural identities even in their hotel construction and designs He askedÂ stakeholders to operate theirÂ hospitality outfits in consonance with acceptable environmental standards.