THE newly appointed Director-General of the National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR), Mrs. Chika Balogun, organized a stakeholder meeting recently in Abuja. She took out time to speak on her vision for the institute, particularly in the area of producing the needed manpower for the tourism and hospitality industry.
Here is an excerpt from the interview
ON how she will describe herself
I am a wife, mother, daughter and a friend. I am a Nigerian citizen who is extremely passionate about the country. I am constantly in school, so qualifications don’t matter to me. Education is something you must continue to engage in until you die.
So I call myself a constant student, learning different things every day. I love people, particularly those who are willing to give 110 per cent to see a project done. For me, the success of Nigeria is the success of each and every one of us.
On her growing up
Growing g up was interesting. I come from a small nuclear family. I went to school at Federal Government Girls College, New Bussa. That is where the Kainji Dam is located.
On the reason for holding the tourism stakeholder meeting
First of all, I do believe in engagement. In any kind of business, communication is very critical, otherwise grey areas begin to multiply and suddenly, friends fall out of love.
Meeting with stakeholders
Since my appointment as director-general, I have not had the opportunity to meet with a large number of the stakeholders.
I had spoken to quite a few of them on the phone, but that is not good enough because you are hearing from one person at a time. It became very critical that we engage people in a way that allows them to air their views. They hear from us and then we learn from the people who actually run the industry. What are the issues they have? And then we begin to look for solutions.
Sometimes when you do this public engagement, the solution is right there. Some offer the solution without even going home to think about it. The solution comes out of the forum or summit. For me, it was to meet with them for the first time, find out about them and tell them just a little bit of what I would see happen.
We all know the issue and I sincerely think that when we keep flogging, it is not going to come alive anyway. We know these issues. We know the issues within the government establishments, and we know the issues in the private sector.
Our job really is to find the way to forge forward, not necessarily for the government, but more for the private sector. This is because the private sector drives the economy in the country. What the government does is give them the enabling environment.
I am also new on the job, so a lot of them might know me in one capacity or the other or might not even know me. And sometimes when you don’t put a face to a name, there is no communication. So, at the end of this programme, for most people, if they did not speak to me personally, they have a sense of who I am and where I might be going.
I hope that we are able to make this an annual stakeholders’ summit.
On how she intends fashioning out the institute’s curriculum to impacts the tourism industry
We had an academic board meeting recently and I looked at the curriculum and told them that I was not particularly happy. I am not going to claim that I know everything. I think it is something we are going to get a few people who have the technical know-how about writing curriculums to review what we currently have and re-jig it to suit the Nigerian template.
Sometimes we borrow this from the U.K. or from the U.S. It might work for them, but it might not work very well for us. That is what we are hoping we will be able to do in the first six months of this year.
By July, we should be able to put up an advert for the September admission that NIHOTOUR now has a new curriculum. We are hoping that is achievable and we solve that problem.
In that process and time, we also hope that we get online courses all set up and running. A few people have called me to say your people do very well. So, I think there are nuggets of pure gold and pure diamond within the NIHOTOUR system.
My job, and possibly the hardest part of my job, is to find those nuggets of gold and diamond and marry them with experts who know tourism and hospitality even better than we do in this country, and set up workshops.
On training for her staff
My staff needs to be retrained. Funding is always a challenge. So, I want to start by general ethics and train across board, and then find the nuggets of pure gold and diamond and escalate their training.
I said to them, everybody wants to go abroad, but government does not have that kind of money anymore. So, we need to now start to think.
Are we going to shut ourselves down because government does not have the millions to put on estacode? Why don’t we invite two resource persons, the same people we are going to meet in Harvard or Cambridge, invite them, maybe three times a year, and they are able to train 500 of us. About 500 of us cannot go to America, for instance, on any budget. But those people can come to Nigeria for two or three weeks.
And if there is any real need for very specialist training, we are blessed by Utali College Kenya, which does very well. It has an MOU with Nigeria. Recently when the Kenyan President came to Nigeria, the MOU was revisited.
Again, it was freshened up, dusted and signed. Now we need to begin to take advantage of these things. The biggest challenge is funding, but it is not all bad. I am sure that when we begin to interact very well with our stakeholders, we will find some of them willing to sponsor.