Alhaji Mohammed Sadiq Abubakar, Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, in this interview with journalists at the recently concluded FITUR International Travel Market in Madrid, Spain spoke on efforts at making Nigeria a destination of choice for tourists. Jimoh Babatunde was there.
Here is an excerpt
On impression of the Nigerian stand at this year’s FITUR First and foremost , I will say that what we have been trying to do is to be in tune with what is happening. I don’t want to debase this market (FITUR) in comparison to the World Travel Market (WTM), but I want to say that this year, probably because of the economic downturn, the activities have not been as much as it was in the WTM.
But a still you can see that we have established our presence. We”ve done that because we believe that it is only through these fora that we would be able to sell Nigeria and also make Nigeria a destination.
Except for some hitches we are experiencing not from our side, but from the Spanish side, the attendance has not been quite impressive in terms of those who they have been able to allow to come. Nonetheless, we have been able to make some en-road.
The Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) has been able to meet with various investors, various promoters of tourism and also experienced tourism promoters across the globe. We believe that it is through that, we would be able to market and promote Nigeria to people from other parts of the world and ensure that Nigeria is a destination that all should be moving towards.
On what the ministry is doing to move tourism fo forward in the country
Well, we are looking at it multi-dimensionally. One, promoting domestic tourism which we think is the one that will drive international tourism, we are looking at international tourism being segmented, being able to market it, being able to produce tourism products, segmented products and being able to market it to the international market.
Promoting tourism in Nigeria, promoting tourism through packages, through institutional support, through creativity by our tour operators and through ensuring that we provide full services in comparison to other services that are provided all over the world.
And so, what we are trying to do is to one, make sure that we implement the tourism master plan which is one of the documents that we believe has tried to capture how we should be able to promote tourism. It is a road-map. It is something that when we look at passionately and when we are committed to it, we are going to realise the objectives for which it was prepared.
On the level the master plan implementation is tTe level of implementation is to the extent that just recently, we have have been able to establish an inter-ministerial technical committee.
This compose of people from various sectors that are related to tourism and they have produced a blue-print and the ministry is setting up a task force that is outside the bureaucracy so that it will be able to pilot and move the tourism master-plan from where it is.
We have been able to do a few things, there have been a lot of training in tourism statistics sponsored by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) in South Africa and other places. The NTDC have been able to move to border posts……this is part of the key recommendations of the tourism master-plan, that we should develop a tourism statistics.
Some of the components of tourism statistics include, among others, the ability to capture those who come in through our land borders, those who come through our airports and of course the NTDC has been able to deploy people to collect the data.
This is the data we are now using. We can now say that we are able to produce some statistics even if it is not complete statistics, we have move forward.
Of course, some of the flag ship projects, you know the tourism master-plan tried to divide the country into five zones, in each of the zones, there is a flagship project which we believe should be promoted. There are some that are being promoted and we will continue to promote them and hopefully, before the end of this quarter, Nigerians will see a different tourism industry.
On tourism as a platform to use to showcase Nigeria’s image in the international community
It is, I believe so. In my discussion with people, anybody who comes to Nigeria, if he is not a Nigerian, the first comment he normally makes is what they have been saying about Nigeria is not true, which means tourism can promote Nigeria beyond the level we think, first in terms of giving Nigeria a very good image, secondly in terms of contributing to the economy of the nation; and so, we must leverage on our capacity, we must leverage on our potentials in tourism so that we can develop it.
In doing that, all segments of the government and the private sector must support this because we cannot pay lip services to it, we have to be supportive, and that is what we are advocating because it is not the role of the Federal government alone to support tourism. It is the role of the private sector, the states and even the local governments and communities must as well promote tourism.
On manpower to meet the growing investment in the hospitality sector
You see, one of the fundamental problems that I have identified is capacity in the industry which I agree with you that informs why people in the international hospitality industry are coming in with human capacity into the country.
But of course, the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) cannot and will not be able to shoulder all that responsibility besides, they don’t have enough funds to take care of what they are supposed to do.
So, we need other groups, people should be able to establish hospitality institutes to train people in the area of hospitality. In some countries, you discover that there a lot of private initiatives in that respect.
One thing people should know is that it is just like going to school. If you are paying money up to a university for your child to be trained, you should be able to pay also for your child to be trained in the hospitality industry because you already have a ready-made employment.
This is a sector that is not well capitalised in terms of human capital, and we need more investment. For instance, the most challenging aspect we have in NIHOTOUR is because there is no sufficient funding from government to establish schools, probably run a hotel where for practical teaching and so, there is a lot that needs to be done in terms of investment before you get the required human capital.
Unless that is done, of course you will continue the see the influx of human capital into the industry from outside the country.
However, we should be very mind-ful, there are some grades of human capital that we should not accept that they should be imported into the country because you cannot allow all segment of human capital to come. it is no true that we don”t have all, there could be some specialised area that we may not have. Certainly there are some grades that we should not allow people to be bringing into the country.