•Seeks development of Nigerian tourism using Dubai model
•Stakeholders offer ideas

By Chinasa Afigbo

The Director-General of National Council for Arts and Culture, NCAC, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, recently hosted some stakeholders in the culture, arts and tourism sectors from different parts of the country in Abuja where they brainstormed on the theme: Rebranding culture and tourism in Africa: The Nigerian vision. The NCAC management team, tour operators, and travel agents were also present.

Segun Runsewe

A video of a trip by NCAC top management to Dubai led by the D-G was played. Dubai remains a model to any country when it comes to tourism.

It begins from the Miracle Garden, a floral landscape of 250 million plants and 50 million flowers with the tallest flower in the world. Then we see the Dolphinarium, a fascinating show of dancing dolphins; the Global Village, an architectural grandeur of each country’s aircraft, merchandise, cuisines and so on, the Old Dubai, and the Dubai Mall with 1,226 restaurants.

Historically, Dubai was a sprawling desert city with an economy that relied heavily on fishing and pearl diving until the mid-20th Century when it struck oil in 1966. Oil changed everything for this sleepy town and eventually transformed it into gleaming high-rise towers that Dubai has become today. The history of Dubai could be summed up as the popular maxim of nothing is impossible, from humble beginnings to one of the greatest places to be in the world.

With tourism, Dubai Government has made everything easy for her citizens unlike Nigeria that has rich, nature-given cultural tourism but chose to neglect it. It is unfortunate that Nigeria has focused on oil, ignoring other sectors which suffer as a result of high profile corruption among political leaders.

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“Everywhere you go in the world,” said Otunba Runsewe in his opening remarks, “the tourism sector is doing very well. What is wrong with us? Today, we must find a solution to the problem in Nigeria. Programs like this begin with a vision of one man. And every one of us has a role to play in achieving this vision.”

Having set the ball rolling, Otunba Runsewe called on other participants to ask questions or contribute to the discourse:

Alhaji Rabo Saleh, President, Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria, FTAN:

“Tourism cannot flourish where there’s insecurity. Those challenges are there but we cannot look at those challenges for now. All we need to do is focus on driving our country forward and making tourism one of the things that can turn our country around.” He commended what NCAC is doing, saying that a team needs to be created that will come up with ideas. He also said that Nigerian tourism needs a driver for it to flourish, and that a minister for culture and tourism needs to be appointed.

Mr. Bankole Bernard, President of National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies:

He began his speech by supporting Rabo Saleh’s view on the need for a minister for culture and tourism which he believes is suited for Otunba Runsewe. He commended Otunba’s relentless services starting from when he was the D-G of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, NTDC, to his present position as D-G of NCAC. “He is making more than an impact and pushing the frontiers.” Tourism, he said, is not an industry that should be neglected in any way.

Bankole also said that tourism was wrongly tucked under the Ministry of Information because the Federal Government did not consider it to be important.  It is time, he said, we took our position and write an open letter to the President, to let him know the importance of tourism in the economics of Nigeria, and that the ministerial position for tourism shouldn’t be given to anybody but a person who has been part and parcel of tourism.

Akerri Prosper, representative of Oliver Enwonwu, President of Society of Nigeria Artists:

Akerri said for a successful project to excel, it first starts from the vision of one man and then gets supported by so many other people. He went on to say that if a president of the country is not interested in tourism, there won’t be any development in tourism. He expressed his reservations about journalists’ reports of the daily crisis in the country, saying negative report kills and buries the country’s tourism because tourism develops from people outside, not within.

Mr. Tarzan Ganiyu Balogun, CEO, Tarzan Boat & Jetty Services

He appreciated Otunba Runsewe for his kind gesture in donating 500 live jackets to his company, then went on to stress the need for Otunba Runsewe to be appointed tourism minister.

Hajia Bilikisu Abdul, President of Nigeria Association of Tour Operators, NATOP

She asked:  “How many of us have our country Nigeria at heart? When we tell good stories about our country, we promote our tourism,” she said, urging citizens to love their country. “To make it right in tourism, people need to have their country at heart and stop travelling for pleasure but as tourists. You don’t necessarily have to be a tour operator or be in government (to make a difference). The D-G travelled to Dubai and saw something interesting and nice that he couldn’t hold to himself. Now he is trying to sell it to us. I think if every one of us emulates him, I believe the government would look into this matter.”

To the media, Hajia Bilikisu said: “This is the time to sell our country with good news.”

John Likita Best

He commended the D-G for always leaving a good mark, and urged him to do more. “Tourism is a huge alternative for financing the country. Showing us Dubai is not enough unless we can make a Dubai in Nigeria.”

Onifiok O. Ekong

Tourism needs law and order to move forward, he argued. “These are little things that matter because a visitor will not condone the disorderliness we condone  in his country, especially in the transport sector.” He went on to say that the government is not making good use of our natural tourist attractions, such as Aso Rock, Zuma Rock and Gurara Falls.

Alhaji Badaki Aliyu, former National President, Hospitality and Tourism Management Association of Nigeria, HATMAN:

He encouraged the private sector to come together and support the vision of improving tourism in Nigeria. “It is the duty of tour operators and tour agencies to put pressure on government to see the importance of tourism,” he said.

Andrew Okungbowa, President, Association of Nigerian Journalists and Writers of Tourism, ANJET:

He said: “Creative content drives tourism. With the absence of content, we have nothing to entice people with.” Andrew talked about the manner government reacts to crisis and killings in the country, including travel operators. “In our industry, tourists have been kidnapped, and three weeks after, government didn’t make any pronouncement. It was some of us that had to force the government to make a pronouncement.”

Otunba Runsewe concluded by thanking everyone for their presence and thoughtful contributions. “There is no country that doesn’t have its own Boko Haram or its own slum. The only strategy of selling any country in the world is through the SWOT analysis and focus on building these tourist facilities in three or four states.

But the problem now is that some governors don’t understand the notion. Tourism is to market and promote while culture is the content. And we have the cultural content.

To me, this is a call to a new beginning in Africa, and Nigeria must take the challenge first. If Dubai can do it, we can do it, and even better. The time is now, as we cannot afford to wait any longer. The unborn Nigerians, the future generation of this country will not forgive us; posterity will not forgive us if we do not make amend and affect changes now. So I implore all stakeholders to come together for us to make a total change in the sector.”


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