Tourism Potentials Are Limitless With Our Population – Mbanefo

Sally Mbanefo, Director-General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation [NTDC] leads the federal government agency for marketing and promotion at this most difficult and complicated economic environment. In this interview with Lucky Onoriode George, Editor, African Travel Times Magazine she bares her mind on the future of the industry in Nigeria.

What is the state of the tourism industry in the country?

The sector is an important part of our economy, but unfortunately, the planners of our national economy have failed to accord the sector the attention it deserved.

Though attempts have been made in the past to make tourism as one of the preferred sector of the economy, regrettably it was never backed up by action and funding, which is a major challenge that is robbing the sector its pride of place at the national, state and local level across Nigeria.

However, now we have the right opportunity to push tourism up in the ladder of our industry priority to create jobs now that there is even more reason to diversify our economy.

Globally, the tourism industry has created community empowerment opportunities through
participation of people in rural areas where most attractions are located.

Here in Nigeria, most of our attractions are in rural areas, and if properly developed by the
various state governments and with support investments by the private sector, we will be
competing very soon with top destinations in West Africa with favourable fame that our
festivals and carnivals, especially Carnival Calabar that is among the most sought after
Africa enjoy.

You said the states should develop attractions in their domain, what do you mean?

Across Africa, there are indisputable evidences that initial investments in the major successful destinations on the continent, were made by governments of those nations before the private sector moved in because of the huge financial requirement as well as the long gestation period that tourism investment takes before it matures.

Here in Nigeria, the history of the hospitality sector started that way. Hotels like Federal Palace, Eko Hotel, Transcorp Hilton, Sheraton Abuja, and Hotel Presidential in Port Harcourt that is still owned by the Rivers State Government were conceptualised by government before they were privatised.

Attractions and events like Obudu Mountain Resort and Carnival Calabar were all initiatives of the Cross River State Government.

Lagos State is doing an amazing job in this regard and we at the federal level are excited about partnering with them to replicate their blue print at the national level, our minister who is a good friend of the state has taken a bold step to initiate this process with the governor and we at NTDC are pleased about that.

Who benefits from tourism in a nation?

Globally, everyone benefits. The tourists pay tax that goes to the government on their international air ticket, accommodation among others.

However, tourism accounts for one in every 11 jobs globally, in Nigeria there is insufficient data on the number of people currently employed, however the large numbers of people working in the over 11,000 hotels and close to 30,000 restaurants nationwide of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour force are pointer to the power of tourism to provide the aforementioned.

Other success stories of tourism include its power of inclusive growth; where tourism business thrives and this has created a vast range of business opportunities.

Another area is Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) growth that is the fastest with tourism, because 95 per cent of tourism businesses are small scale, if our tourism industry is well developed it will address social inequality.

Despite the presence of international hotel chains managing various sizes of hospitality outfits in Nigeria, boutique hotels or mid-size property that have dominated the hotel business across Nigeria.

Tourism goes beyond the economic benefits alone, it also has social and health well-being benefits; tourism is a major driver of citizen diplomacy as nationals meet for conferences as we have in Abuja and sporting activities which help people share experiences, build relationships and mutual understanding.

What are your major challenges?

The major challenges faced by the NTDC is that of funding which regrettable did not start today, but even more difficult now because of the economic situation we now face in Nigeria.

In spite of paucity of funds that has stopped us from participating in some regular international travel fairs, we hope to resume our presence and also double our efforts in promoting domestic tourism that I have been championing since I resumed.

For clarity purpose, the NTDC can only market and promote attractions that are ready and developed within the country locally and internationally because people get confused about the role and responsibilities of the NTDC.

Our mandate does not cover building projects, but marketing and promotion of such when ready alone.

Why has tourism received least attention over the years?

Without mincing words, “statistics” Data that can show how much tourism is contributing to the Gross Domestic Product [DGP] of Nigeria are not available. Because tourism is a value chain that touches every sector, we cannot say it’s not contributing; it is contributing. The most important contribution of tourism is employment. It has been creating employment consistently but there is no statistics to back up the claim.

What is the way forward?

The way forward for the tourism sector is for state governments and the private sector to invest in the industry with the federal government providing enabling environment.

However, infrastructure and facilities must also be developed not just for the expected international arrivals, but for the over 170 million people to grow domestic tourism that I have been championing since I came into office.

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