By Jimoh Babatunde
One of the people who posse in-depthÂ knowledge of travel destinations and services in Nigeria is Mr. Jemi Alade, the CEO ofÂ Jemi-Alade Tours.
In the tourism circle his tour company is often regarded as number one, for the company has brought in more tourists to this country than others.
In this interview, he bares his mind on tourism in the country and the Tourism Employment and Opportunity (TEMPO) project in Cross River. Here is an excerpt.
On tourism in Nigeria in the last few years
Well, it seems to be an emerging business in Nigeria, more and more people are now paying attention to tourism development in Nigeria and at the same time you have investors coming in especially in the hospitality sector of the industry.
More international hotel chains are building hotels, it looks tourism is on its way up in Nigeria.
On NigeriansÂ benefitting from investment in hotels.
For one thing,Â it is going to generate employment for Nigerians and also new money coming into the system will have effects on other aspects of the economy. If you set up a hotel, other services are bound to follow. So it has a multiplier effect.
On a likelyÂ synergy between the hotels and other services
Well for now there is no synergy between the supply services and the industry mainly because of the fact that traditionallyÂ those aspects of services have been on their own. If you look at the car hire, they have been on their own, they donâ€™t see themselves as been part and parcel of tourism.
The main reason is that the core aspect of tourism has not been duly emphasis as most Nigerians do not know what tourism entails. They just hear the word tourism and nobody seems to understand it.
Tourism has to do with movement, either for leisure and business. So the synergy you are asking about is not there yet, but eventually I believe we are going to get to a situation where people will understand tourism and the various sectors of tourism industry, because the tourism industry is very wide.
And the core aspect of tourism which is the leisure tourism is still very low in the society itself. Nigerians are yet to cultivate the habit of going on holidays. Most workers still go to the beer parlor when they have their annual leave to enjoy themselves and they see it as tourism.
On how to cultivate leisure culture
The way I look at it is that the adults in the country are very difficult to convince. At this point, what we can do, is to try to capture the young ones coming up and that way the industry can be sustained over time, but for now the adults do not see any benefit in tourism, they are running after money.
Does this have to do with lack of tourist attractions?
We have a lot of potentials in terms of tourist attractions, but most of the tourism products that we have, are yet to be developed and people donâ€™t seem to understand it.
People donâ€™t understand the aspects of tourism which cut across every aspect of human endeavor.Â I will give you an example, we have a new city called Abuja which is excellent for conferences, meetings, which is known in the industry as conference and incentives.
You still find out that when there is a major conference in Abuja the ministry people are the ones still taking care of that aspect, whereas in other places, it is professionalized, ifÂ you go to South Africa now andÂ you want to organise an event there are event organisers, transporters, food industry and they all come together to form a synergy.
In some other countries now, when there is a major event, you advertise for it and people bid for it, but in Nigeria it is not the case. If government has programs, the government people spend government money. This is one aspect we have been fight for in the industry that wee need to professionalize these services.
On what package he would offer a tourist coming to Nigeria
We have our package whichÂ we operate all the time. We have a package of the south west which is very popular with the Europeans. They come into Lagos, spend one night and they move round the south west part of the country.
Kano is a very popular destination, we have been operating to Kano for a long time, we take tourists from Lagos to Kano from where they move to Abuja.
The third one that is popular is Maiduguri, from Kano to Jos to Yankari in Bauchi and then end up in Maiduguri.
The very popular one is Obudu, but there is a major problem with obudu that it is not readily accessible. It cost much money to organise a tour to Obudu than to go to Dubai. It is very ironic that it will cost you just about the same amount to spend one week in Obudu as it will cost you to go to Dubai.
On TEMPO as an instrument of developing Cross River.
Let me say it that TEMPOÂ is not a project of the Cross River state government. It is a world bank-assisted project that was initiated by I believe NIPC and the whole aspect has to do with small scale business enterprise development in the whole of Nigeria.
So, it was an intervention by the world bank to develop some aspects of Nigerian products and services. It cut across rice production in Kaduna and Ebonyi; cat fish production in oyo state and other areas;Â and palm oil development in the eastern region, and of course tourism in Cross River.
The project was about creating a proper supply chain for tourism services in Cross River. From my experience, Cross River has been the only state that has actually made efforts to Â Â Â develop infrastructure for tourism and they have done a marvelous job, I think other states should emulate them.
I think the key issue has been marketing the state and this has been a major problem for Cross River, so the intervention by tempo was a major effort to actually develop or promote Cross River as a destination for tourism, not only in Nigeria but across Africa and the rest of the world.
The project was very timely, because that was the only effort that I have seen so far in this industry to promote a destination in Nigeria and the project was well received, but there were some problems with the implementation.
On the problems
The key problem has to do with funding, and the funding was made available but not at the appropriate time.
There was a major delay. I did not know what the problem was, but as a grantee of the project, I was to handle the source market where you source the tourists from. There were four destinations that were picked. Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano. So we were trying to get people from those destinations to visit cross rivers.
They had what they called the ambassadorsâ€™ promotion, which was the key project of TEMPO. The whole idea was to get people to come to cross river, experience the tourism in cross river and then act as ambassadors that will help to promote the destination by telling other people, because the best way to spread tourism is by words of mouths.
Word of mouth is the best way of spreading a destination and this has been proven worldwide. So that was the major effort of TEMPO to create ambassadors, but unfortunately the timing was very wrong in terms of implementation.
The funds were not released on time, it was more than three or four months before funds were made availableÂ and it was very close to the time, but you know tourism is what you build, I mean if you want to sell a package you have to a time span of about six months.
In the case of TEMPO that was not the case, by the time the funds were released it was just about the time for the promotion itself, because the promotion was for the month of February, but had to be shifted forward for two weeks to accommodate the lateness. That really affected the implementation, but the other aspects of TEMPO were received.
They had capacity development in terms of training and it was well done; you had the supply of food items to the hotel which was well done; there was the farm trip as well. But, the core issue which was promotion itself did not take time on time and that created problem.
The whole idea of TEMPO was to develop what is known as a destination management company out ofÂ TEMPO, which I believe now is in transformation.
Because after the project, the key thing was to have continuity and have tempo as major destination management company in cross river, so that from time to time you have promotions and you are able to gather data about the industry and be able to promote effectively cross river as a destination.
In order word, since you have the supply chain in place, the demand side is what is now lacking, how do you get people to visit cross river, that is the whole purpose of tempo and tempo is still on going.