The 61st meeting of United Nations World Tourism Organisation – Commission for Africa (UNWTO-CAF), has concluded in Abuja, with the organsers and other players in Nigeria’s tourism sector listing benefits and lessons drawn from the event.
The three-day meeting, which held between June 4 and 6, no doubt, afforded Nigeria opportunity, not only to tell its story beyond extreme violence and terrorism, but also to showcase its vast cultural potentials.
It was an opportunity for the country to market its rich cultural heritage to the world.
Over the years, stakeholders in the culture-tourism sector have pointed out that Nigeria’s vast and rich cultural heritage should be strategically repositioned to partner tourism as its driver to lift the Nigerian economy.
They note that tourism cannot effectively flourish without the cultural components.
They also say that the desire to position culture and tourism as the lever of Nigeria’s economic growth and development, however, rests with the Ministry of Information and Culture, as it must plan to mainstream both sectors into a monolithic entity to galvanise national economic development.
Although, delegates were not privileged to visit some of the numerous sites that defined Nigeria’s cultural landscape, there were, however, cultural products, exhibitions, dances and cuisines on display that could attract visitors to the country.
According to the President, Federation of Tourism Association of Nigeria (FTAN), Alhaji Rabo Salem Kareem, the forum was a good opportunity to showcase Nigeria as a leader in African culture.
To him, Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage remains its greatest asset and attraction. “It was an opportunity to showcase Nigeria as a leader in African culture.”
He added: “The meeting was an opportunity, not only for image laundering for the country, but also to showcase our rich and diverse culture to the world.
“Our rich cultural heritage is our main asset and attraction, and the performances during the event portrayed Nigeria as a country with robust culture.
“Also, the earlier impression that the entire country was ravaged by insurgency had been addressed.
“People now know that Nigeria is safe for business and leisure. The meeting was a good public relations strategy to see how the country can reposition the sector for greater benefits.
With 26 ministers of Culture and Tourism and 180 foreign delegates from across the world in attendance, the forum, according to the Minister for Information and Culture, organisers of the event, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, was a veritable platform to reposition Nigeria as a destination of choice.
Other dignitaries in attendance include, the Secretary General UNWTO, Zurab Pololikashvili, African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, Dr. Aman Abou-Zeid, organised private sector in culture and tourism, culture and tourism institutions as well as policy makers.
Nigeria secured the right to host the global tourism body at the CAF meeting held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2017, and since then, the Ministry of Information and Culture had worked towards a successful outing.
But beyond a successful hosting, the minister was elated that the resources and efforts spent on the event was not a waste. According to him, there was no better platform to sell Nigeria’s huge tourism potentials to the world than the forum.
Nigeria was also able to prove to the world that it is still safe for business and leisure in spite of the activities of the dreaded Boko Haram and Fulani Herdsmen in some parts of the country.
In one of the meetings with the media, the minister disclosed that he and his team have benefited immensely by listening to experts on tourism development.
According to him, it was encouraging to hear that Nigeria was on the right part towards tourism development.
For the private sector players, one of the benefits of the meeting was image laundering for the country.
Earlier at the opening ceremony, which was attended by top government functionaries, Nigerian government highlighted some of the efforts already put in place to ensure a functional tourism sector.
Represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, President Muhammadu Buhari told his visitors that his government has invested over $9 billion in power, roads and railway, which were necessary infrastructure for tourism development.
According to him, his administration has also provided attractive investment incentives for investors in the sector, such as minimum tariff on imported tourism equipment, amusement park equipment and materials for hotel construction and furnishing.
Others are dedicated transportation for tour operators and equipment for restaurants not manufactured in Nigeria, work permit for foreign workers with specialised skills within the industry as well as land allocation at concessionary rates by state governments to investors.
Mr. President added that his administration, having identified tourism as one of the pillars of its diversification policy, had equally invested in human resources and necessary infrastructure to position Nigeria as a choice destination for tourists.
His words: “In our efforts at diversifying the economy through agriculture, solid minerals development and tourism, we are investing heavily in infrastructure.”
He further commended the leadership of UNWTO, the Commission for Africa (CAF) as well as tourism ministers from all over Africa, for considering Nigeria worthy of hosting this event.
For the Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, the meeting, among other benefits, provided the country an excellent opportunity to discuss ways of promoting intra-Africa travels and tourism.
The UNTWO scribe, Zurab Pololikashvili was generally impressed with the organisation.
Describing the meeting as one of the most successful CAF meetings he attended since he took over from his predecessor, he, however, noted that a strong political will was required to bring promises of tourism to reality.
While commending Nigerian government for its hospitality, which he said, began on the eve of the opening ceremony, Pololikashvili noted that the meeting was the best avenue to showcase Nigeria’s culture and tourism to the entire continent.
He however expressed the crucial role of the media in the tourism development of any nation.
He also pledged to deliver on the newly adopted 10-Point Agenda for the development of tourism in Africa.
The agenda is a coordinated approach aimed at highlighting the continent’s potentials for tourism. These include connectivity, promotion of image and brand Africa, poverty alleviation, security, climate change, education, financing and skills development
“My mandate is four years and I will try within the period to achieve these. We have priorities and we have four to six months to make concrete plans. We need opportunities to create new jobs.”
For Abou-Zeid, statistic was the way to go if the interest of government and policy makers was to be drawn to the sector.
According to her, tourism industry stood at $160billion, accounting for 60 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Africa.
She said: “Tourism alone receives contributions from manufacturing and banking sectors and employs over 20 million people.
“Our priority on the continent is to optimise the role of tourism in Africa based on the aspiration of the agenda 2063.
“It is fully recognised that tourism is an engine for inclusive growth and sustainable economic development within the continent. We are all aware of the value of the tourism industry in Africa. The value of the industry now stands at $160billion accounting for 60 per cent of the GDP in our continent.”
Adding: Tourism alone receives the contribution from manufacturing and banking sectors. This industry accounts for more than six per cent of the total investments valued at $29billion and employs over 20 million people accounting for over six per cent of the total workforce in the continent.
“Tourism in the continent supports more than 21 million jobs or one in every 14 jobs. This is how important tourism is,” Abou-Zeid stated.
Although five per cent growth was projected for the current year, she was optimistic that the industry will grow beyond the forecast figure.
She therefore admonished continental government to address the growing security concern and other militating factors against tourism growth.
“Addressing safety and security concerns and swift response to prices by our African government and institution are paramount to the growth of tourism.
“Promoting strategies and improving African image in the global media platforms are also critical in ensuring tourism recovery
“During the next decade, we will continue to grow and in growing, we know that when tourism thrives, women thrive.
“In Africa, more than 30 per cent of tourism businesses are run by women. And 36 per cent of its tourism ministers are women which is the highest in the world.”
She went further to suggest firm links between tourism and other sectors of the economy, particularly agriculture, infrastructure, ecotourism and the medicals as a way to foster economic diversification.
Above all, she called for peace in the continent, stressing that every peace move would be supporting African Union’s initiative to silence the guns by 2020.
The meeting culminated in the visit to Eko Atlantic City in Lagos State. There was no doubt about the fact that it was an impressive outing both for Nigerian government and the visitors, who are likely to relish the memory for a long while.
It was also believed that having listened to experts dolled out statistics on the benefits of the sector, Nigerian government will subsequently treat culture and tourism issues, particularity, yearly budget and commitment, with the seriousness they require.
The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) is the United Nations agency responsible for the development of global tourism.
It comprises 158 members; six associate members and over 500 affiliate members that represent the private sector operators in culture, tourism and educational institutions.