Austine Eneduwa-George is First Vice President, Federation of Tourism Association of Nigeria (FTAN). In this interview, Eneduwa – George bares his mind on how government can use the tourism sector to shore up the country’s ailing economy, among other issues.
Evaluating tourism 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 ones we have are not encouraged by government and the host communities. Arbitrary taxes and levies are slammed on them, irrespective of whether their business is booming or not. Miscreants threaten visitors; extort them, sometimes with the consent of village heads. This is mainly due to lack of awareness and lack of guiding principles on the part of related government agencies. You find Nigerians going to Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda for vacation, 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.
The federal and state governments can give tourist centres and destinations a special status and incentives. Government agencies should patronize these places rather than taking trainings and seminars outside the country or overwhelm hotels as if there are no tourist centres that need to be encouraged. You find that almost all events you hear of in Lagos are held in five-star hotels. The net worth of the tourism sector in 2014 was estimated at US $4billion. Presently, the net worth is enormous and the prospects of job creation therein are outstanding. From tour guides to photographers, destination marketers, security personnel, suppliers, handlers and more, there are numerous jobs to be created in the sector. The challenge is that government 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 good roads to the destinations, then we will begin to scratch the surface in the tourism industry. Ikogosi Warm Spring is lying fallow, Erin Ijesha Waterfalls in Osun is virtually non-existent, 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 the lack of awareness and proper education for the indigenous people and those who buy in 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 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 they die. Government needs to be proactive and engage practitioners in the industry.
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 to channel my ideas and talents 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. 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 convey their challenges to government. Basically we will be liaising between government and the over 50 tourism associations. I believe so much in the association not only because I’m a member and 1st Vice President but also because of the caliber of individuals in the association who are technocrats with years of experience from Nigeria and abroad
VISA challenges for tourists
If government declares a state of emergency in the tourism industry, in 10 years’ time we will be nearing Eldorado. One of the challenges tourists has is the visa regime in the country. The Federal Government has just started issuing tourist visas and visa on arrival. Government needs to do more in protection of foreign owned businesses in the country. Many hotels and tourism related franchises don’t like to come to Nigeria due to lack of protection. Moreover, it’s an issue when you invest in a country like Nigeria and you cannot access a green card equivalent and you are compelled to renew your resident permit at $1,000 dollars annually. This doesn’t encourage any business person to invest fully in a country he or she is not guaranteed a stay. Some of these businesses can employ up to 500 people. 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 in the case of 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.