Unending Fumbling With Nigeria’s Tourism Policies

There has always been a glaring need to fathom some deep seated syndromes that have for long stagnated the charting of a clear, viable and sustainable policy direction for Nigeria’s Tourism development.

How else can one explain our long exposure to various tourism models and having the privilege of huge financial resources, with no shortage of those professing the know-how, yet being consigned to perpetual lamentation of the dismal performance of such a critical sector of our economy over many decades?

The recent convening of a Summit of tourism stakeholders was necessitated by the combined circumstances of a new political regime inheriting a faltering oil-driven economy and the urgent need for diversification through tourism development.

However the circumstance, it is the embarrassing debacles or whatever has been done wrongly – possibly reaching a vicious circle, are what should first be identified, analysed and decoded, even as we seek fresh ideas and solutions on the way forward.

Curiously, there are issues with the very methodology currently adopted in configuring such a highly technical agenda as charting a way forward for Nigeria’s tourism development.

It should be realised that the process for distilling policies and plans for a complex sector as tourism is not what should start from what is akin to a public forum, as such would remain as clouded as the tourism stakeholders are nebulous.

To draw analogy from Carl Jung, the famous psychoanalyst, the effectiveness of a “committee” is inversely proportional to its size; positing that “a committee of a hundred professors is akin to a mob, while a thousand would have the collective intelligence of an alligator”.

It could also be recalled that an Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria [FTAN] President had once called for a Retreat of the Association’s General Assembly in Calabar. In opposing the idea, it was reasoned that a retreat usually has meaning when a select few are sequestered to think for the whole, not a convention type scenario that is only ideal for sensitization.

With tourism stakeholders being so diverse in composition and numbers, to the extent of many being ignorant of the essence and connectedness of its many components, it takes the role of adept consultants to understand the real issues and to configure a roadmap that can coordinate and drive such a complex sector.

Therefore, for such a forum of stakeholders as recently convened, it is after the technical issues have been distilled by a core group of experts that the pre-digested policy options and plans, based on the synthesis of original ideas, are then proffered to such a broad based forum as this Summit, amongst whom are the usual hustlers and loafers.

The skills for in-depth policy issues as in a roadmap for tourism are not necessarily found amongst tourism administrators, whose roles have derogatively been described as file pushers. Like the contractors who are engaged for construction projects in other sectors through technical bidding-
experts who can think out of the box should be engaged from stages of conceptualization, design, engineering [even cultural] and production, while the administrators are there for communication, facilitation, coordination, monitoring and evaluation.

Beyond calling up stakeholders to share “free” ideas with tourism administrators, there seems to be the recourse to patronizing those who circumstances have positioned as “oracles” in a non-performing tourism sector – those who, incidentally too, have nothing serious to prove or show for their long involvement in the sector.

With so many professions in the tourism sector, a point easily confused is that while the vast majority of its stakeholders are professionals in their respective fields, they hardly qualify to be termed tourism professionals or experts.

Where there is need to engage tourism experts, the litmus test is in designing a transformational template for our community tourism development – such a project that can sync with the intent of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development [NEPAD] Tourism Action Plan for community based enterprises.

We must bear in mind the serious integrity deficits in our ecological and cultural heritage, along with the need for their regeneration and packaging by those with a flair for heritage design and socio-cultural engineering.

Reminds one of an editorial in Conservation Biology Journal, wherein there was a radical departure from their usual choice of professionals in the physical sciences. It was a paradigm shift for them to discover the need for sociologists and allied disciplines in understanding conservation challenges amongst diverse communities, not to speak of a multidisciplinary sector as tourism.

The relevance of practical sociology has been a huge oversight in such a highly creative and service oriented field as Tourism, in which culture plays a leading role.

To properly erect national tourism architecture, there is also need to inaugurate the Local Government Tourism Committees through a staggered and sustained seminal process that syncs with community tourism development.

There is much need to design and implement pilot schemes in tourism extension, such as would resonate at the grassroots level.

We are equally challenged by the need to put culture and tourism awareness in the educational curriculum from the primary levels. These are some of the fundamental issues in tourism development in this clime that are not what can be assigned to hoteliers, who have now positioned themselves to be more visible in tourism policy discourse.

The preponderance of our tourism leaders, not to talk of new office holders freshly coming on the scene, obviously cannot fathom this difference between professionals in Tourism and Tourism professionals. With such jumbled perspective, there are huge knowledge and coordination gaps, so the path usually seen taken is the convening of a motley crowd of stakeholders to brainstorm on a tourism roadmap, which when measured against the highly technical issues at stake, ends up being more of a parade of impostors.

For a very serious matter as a roadmap for tourism, reason demands that it is a select group of experts who should first be assembled to come up with positions papers on what are needed to jump start and drive the various subsectors in tourism, before the wider stakeholders would be brought in for sensitization and deliberation on the various policy options.

A process can be employed to synthesize the technical road maps from those that have the flair for the highly creative and complex enterprise of tourism development.

With a “call for papers”, the various viable intellectual properties would be acknowledged, documented, reviewed and tested, so that those that meet the practicable demands of the industry are adopted and the owners engaged for the needed consultancy services.

This is the only way to separate the wheat from the chaff among the bidders for consultancy positions or those to form a select group for configuring our various policy options. We cannot expect experts to think out solutions through an engagement process in which the parameters for selection are illogical or non-transparent.

It is meant to be a contest of profound thoughts and ideas that should start with those who have original submissions on a roadmap – not mere academic discourse, before wider stakeholders and hustlers are brought into the equation.

Importantly, it should provide rewards for creativity, since the easiest way to kill enterprise is not to attach value to the ideas from which they are developed.

This above formula is also what should have been used to determine how members of any select committee appointed to develop the outcome of such a Summit are picked.

To any keen observer, logic and transparency demand that the value of individual submissions or what were actually brought to the thinking process, are what can be used to decipher what each committee member has to offer.

In the quest to identify a process for receiving and evaluating submissions for such a tall order as a tourism roadmap, there should be an advertised provision for tapping from a wide pool of experts, not a selection from preconceived or biased knowledge about some persons.

While hoping that the Committee members are not merely chosen to safeguard the interest of certain constituencies, there is clear urgency that stakeholders do not have to wait for long to see if they will deliver on any serious practical results.

Moreover, it is the outcome of their work that is expected to set the Government on its new policy direction for the Sector and as such the outcome should make the public domain sooner than later.

The juncture we are in now is exactly where consultations also began at the commencement of the tenure of High Chief Edem Duke, whereby stakeholders were convened for brainstorming and at the end of the day there was neither a Roadmap nor any Action Plan to be sequenced within a realistic time frame.

Strident calls for this anomaly to be corrected was totally ignored and what ensued was a somewhat deceptive or dubious approach of leaving stakeholders with policy guesswork, while high profile “noisemaking with all motion no movement” aimed more at self-promotion, was the order of the day.

This act of flying blind has apparently become a permanent trait in our tourism leadership and experience. There is a high level of desensitization in the polity as the so-called informed stakeholders have hardly ever reacted to such grave anomaly in spite of the lone voices of dissent.

The vast majority prefer to coast along for the sake of political correctness, in the expectation of what drops off the table. We do hope the Honourable Minister will note this potential pitfall, as Nigeria’s tourism stakeholders have been more on this hypocritical route for long, only to later cast incumbents in the dustbin of history.

By Andy Osa Ehanire [Benin-Nigeria]

To be continued.

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