By Yinka Ajayi
Austine Eneduwa-George is a tourism and hospitality consultant, and first Vice President, Federation of Tourism Association of Nigeria (FTAN), an association tasked with the responsibility to advice and work with government as it relates to tourism industry. In this interview, he bares his mind on the challenges on how the government can use the sector to shore up the country’s ailing economy, among other issues. Excerpts:
Evaluating Tourism and Tourist centre in Nigeria
Nigeria is far from the scope of tourism nomenclature. Look around and tell me how many tourist destinations you can find. The few existing ones are not encouraged by government and the host communities. Arbitrary taxes and levies are slammed on them, irrespective of whether their business if booming or not. Miscreants threaten visitors, extort them, some with the consent of village heads. This is mainly due to lack of awareness and lack of guiding principles by related government agencies.
You find Nigerians throng to other African countries like Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda for vacations, not because there are no places to go in Nigeria but because when you visit a tourist centre in Nigeria, you get substandard service, yet they are expensive due to poor electricity supply. Government also do not bother to upgrade these centers or put in place guiding standard of operation.
Making tourism shore up nation’s economy.
The Federal and State governments can start giving tourist centres and destinations a special status and incentives. Government agencies should start patronizing these places within their states rather than taking trainings and seminars outside the country, or overwhelm hotels and centres as if there are none that need to be encouraged. You find that almost all events you hear of in Lagos are held in prestigious five star hotels. You can imagine what it costs to compete with these prestigious hotels without patronage?
Net worth of tourist attraction
The net worth in tourism sector in 2014 was estimated at US $4billion. Presently, its enormous, and the job creation therein is outstanding. From tour guides, photographers, destination marketers, security personnel, suppliers, handlers and more. Things will work easier if governments show interest in this regard and create enabling environment for tourism to thrive. The challenge is that government appointees and agents don’t believe in the tourism potentials of Nigeria. Many tourist destinations have no access roads, many also are not marketed.
If government could start providing motorable roads to the destinations from state to state, then we will begin to scratch the surface in the tourism industry. Places like Ikogosi Spring is lying fallow, Erin Ijesha Falls in Osun, but for youth corps members who visit for recreation.
Villagers who inhabit these destinations sometimes are unaware of these locations even though they are located within their environment. This is due to lack of awareness and proper education for the indigenous people who buy in and synergy or are mostly not carried along. Most Nigerian festivals have no innovations and are still organised the way they were in the 70s. Government agencies and ministries are sometimes being chased about by organizers for endorsement and participation which ordinarily should not be. Hence you have some carnivals organised for one or two years and it dies off. Government needs to be proactive and engage practitioners in the industry just like FTAN
Partnering government to resolve challenges in tourism
We at FTAN are geared towards partnering with government to achieve the purpose of the tourism industry. My election as the 1st Vice President, is a challenge for me to channel my ideas and talent to get things done properly. You appreciate that FTAN is a fusion of various tourism industry groups and associations, such as the hoteliers association, tour guide association, travel agents, fast food association, tourism lawyers, tourism consultants association, among others. It is our challenge to make advocacy for the industry, work with government to achieve the potentials, help chart a way for the growth of the industry, assist government in formulating policies for the industry.
Help in formulating checks and balances with operators and advice government on taxation and levies as it relates to the industry. We also want to work with the various associations to up their games in terms of service delivery and efficiency, as members of FTAN board and EXCO are practitioners themselves. They should have a grasp and knowledge of the sector.
We shall also help member associations to allay their challenges to government on peculiar issues and subjects. Basically we will be interfacing between government and the over 50 various tourism associations. We shall also be organising seminars and symposia for the associations to keep them up to speed with the deliverables therein, inform them about government policies and make communiques from such symposia to government.
I believe so much in association not because I’m a member and 1st Vice President but because of the caliber of individuals in the association who are technocrats with years of experience from both here and abroad
VISA challenges for tourists
If the government declares a state of emergency in the tourism industry, in 10 years time we will be nearing Eldorado. One of the challenges tourists have is the visa regime in the country. The Federal Government has just started issuing tourist visas and visa on arrival. While I commend this, the government needs to do more especially in protection of foreign owned businesses in the country so as to encourage more to come.
Many hotels and tourism related franchises don’t like to come to Nigeria due to this. Moreover, it’s an issue when you invest in a country like Nigeria and cannot access a green card equivalent but must be compelled to be renewing your resident permit at $1,000 dollars annually and constant renewal of quota. This won’t encourage any business person to invest fully in a country he or she is not guaranteed a stay.
Some of this businesses can employ up to 500 citizens. Some of these foreigners can even invest and run some of our struggling tourist destinations but there must be incentives and guarantees for them to boldly bring in money to invest in our country. What happened with Etisalat is a good case study. Investors will rather come to source for money from within so as to reduce risks or limit what they can bring, in case of an eventuality. Why should that be?