Tourism- Nigeria's Untapped Goldmine
By Bassey Nkponam
February 05, 2021
The drop in global oil prices over the past
few years has exposed the vulnerabilities of Nigeria's dependence on crude
oil revenues. Although, much emphasis has
been placed on agriculture being the "messianic industry, the tourism industry, if revamped,
has the potential to attract substantial foreign
exchange earnings. However, recent reform efforts by the government in tourism seem to reflect old thinking even in new times. Nigeria
has maintained a dogmatic approach which
narrowly defines tourism as arts and culture
with poor emphasis on other aspects like nature and conservation. While several African
countries have increased the scope of tourism
to meet global benchmarks, Nigeria's approach
remains stuck in the past. Firstly, we have under-invested in arts and culture and so, have
been unable to tap into its tourism potentials.
Secondly, we have failed to bring our practice
of arts and culture into today's world to appeal
to a global market, thus alienating major potential tourists.
Across the world, tourism has evolved to
become one of the fastest growing industries.
This growth has been driven by advanced technology in travel and an increased holiday culture. With an endowed geographical landscape
which comprises the coastal beaches, mountains, historical monuments, wildlife, UNESCO
approved heritage centres1 and diverse culture,
Nigeria should be able to create a niche in global tourism.
According to a 2017 tourism report by the
World Economic Forum, travel and tourism
(T&T) currently contributes about 2 per cent
to Nigeria's GDP compared to other African
countries such as Seychelles, Cape Verde and
Mauritius where the T&T industry has been
better harnessed, contributing 20 per cent, 17
per cent and 12 per cent respectively to GDP.
Although, Nigeria recorded a total of 1.3 million international tourist arrivals in 2016, these
three countries collectively attracted about two
million international tourist arrivals.
According to the T&T competitiveness report by the World Economic Forum in 2017,
Nigeria ranks a low 129th out of the 136 African
countries compared to Ghana and South Africa
which rank 120th and 53rd respectively. Factors for this low ranking include low prioritization
of the tourism industry by the government, poor
infrastructural facilities and insecurity challenges. All these have resulted in an inertia towards tourism in the country, reflected in an
increase in outbound travels to destinations
like Ghana and South Africa - and resulting in
loss of revenue.
The development of tourism in Nigeria can not be achieved without the collective efforts
and investment commitment of a Public-Private
partnership, with major efforts from local communities and state governments. Tourist sites
such as the Mambilla Plateau in Taraba, Obudu
Mountain Resort in Cross Rivers, Yankari Games
Reserves in Bauchi among others could be developed to world standards. The tourist market
is global but states could create niches targeting tourists who have diverse and special interests.
For instance, Taraba State and the Obudu
area of Cross River which have scenic mountainous attractions could create a tourist niche
around mountain hiking. While Bauchi State
could easily restore wildlife to Yankari to attract
Safari revellers. There should also be a consolidation on successes recorded in flagship tourist events like the month-long Calabar Carnival
which now attracts up to 50,000 visitors annually. This can be further achieved by training
professionals such as tour guides, hotel and
resort managers, caterers, taxi drivers, security
personnel, amongst others.
Insecurity and regular travel warnings by
western countries have created global negative press around Nigeria leading to poor perception amongst foreign tourists. The government needs to allay the fears of prospective
tourists by developing a strong political will to
address these concerns rather than denying
and then abdicating responsibility.
We believe that sub nationals have a greater
burden of responsibility to build viable structures for tourism. Despite Nigeria's unwieldy
revenue sharing framework, tourism has the
potentials to generate revenues that could benefit the states materially. For instance, the jobs
created from tourism will lead to an increase in
PAYE tax revenues, greater spending and consumption by a larger workforce and increase in
VAT revenues from tourists. States can pursue
simple initiatives like creating an information
infrastructure that is easily accessible and user
friendly like ubiquitous websites that give a
detailed guide of all tourist attractions and relevant information on transportation and dining in their domains.
The way forward
The multiplier effects of a vibrant tourism industry include an increase in hotel bookings,
air and road travels, restaurants, increased gate
takings at tourist attraction sites, and retail trade
alongside the investments and employment
opportunities that will be created. Thus, the
value chain which includes the hotels, transportation system, technological support, community participation and tour guide operators
create a great synergy to drive the growth of
the tourism industry.
The evolution of the internet has impacted
tourism globally. The impact of internet platforms such as TripAdvisor (an online repository containing reviews of travel related contents) cannot be overemphasized. A negative
review about a country including its tourist
sites, hotels or restaurants could deter prospective tourists from visiting a country. Thus, a
positive review on an online platform could be
more effective than a million dollar advert on
TV. Nigeria needs to have a fully functional
website similar to UAE's tourist information
website which provides information to tourists
on planning itineraries, visa requirements, applications and upcoming events among others2.
Nigeria was recently accorded the right to
host the United Nations World Tourism
Organisation (UNWTO) Conference in 2018.
This endorsement indicates a vote of confidence on the nation's environment for business and tourism purposes. Some investors
from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have also
recently indicated interest in the tourism industry in Nigeria. This is a positive development
considering that these investors will not only
bring capital but also the much needed expertise and tourism acumen akin to the Dubai
The capability of the tourism industry in Nigeria to generate sustainable revenues that will
rival current earnings from crude oil cannot be
overemphasized. This can only be achieved by
a synergy of all levels of government in creating an enabling environment for tourism to
thrive and attract domestic and foreign nationals. This will include improving infrastructural
facilities and creating a favourable business
environment in Nigeria that will attract local and
foreign investors to participate in this industry.
UNESCO has approved two sites in NigeriaOsun-Osogbo Sacred Grove in Osun state and
Sukur Cultural landscape in Adamawa state,
while 12 other sites are on the tentative list.