Tourism is an attractive development sector in many countries; however, despite its enormous potential in Nigeria, the industry has been neglected for many years. Part of the neglect can be attributed to Nigeria’s heavy reliance on petroleum since the oil boom of the 1970s. Regrettably, times have changed. And, despite recent efforts to diversify the country’s economy from oil, the tourism industry has received little attention.

Nigeria is a tourist haven with enormous economic potential. The country is home to over 300 ethnic groups and 500 distinct languages. From north to south, the country is endowed with a plethora of historical sites, monuments, and richly diverse cultural heritages. Some historical sites in Nigeria include the Slave Museum, the Miracle Well, and the country’s first storey building in Badagry. Other notable sites are the mystic warm spring in Ikogosi, Obudu mountain resort, Osun-Osogbo grove, Idanre hills, ancient Kano walls, Yankari games reserve in Bauchi, and many more.

Akwa Ibom and Cross-Rivers are homes to a rare species of chimpanzees and gorillas. Yet, with this wealth of resources, the country’s tourism industry remains stunted. Nigeria received 1.2 million tourists in 2017. ‘Africa’s Giant’ was behind South Africa and Morocco which had 9 and 10 million visitors, respectively, during the period under review.

Nigeria ranked 129th out of 136 countries in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2019 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, far behind African countries such as Mauritius, South Africa, Seychelles, and Egypt, which were ranked 54th, 61st, 62nd, and 65th, respectively. The benefits to Nigeria’s tourism sector would be enormous if it could get its tourism sector on track. Tourism is a significant source of employment as it creates jobs across several sectors and sub-sectors such as accommodation and hospitality, food and beverage services, recreation and entertainment, transportation, and travel services. 

Tourism is also a potential source of foreign direct investment and a source of foreign exchange earnings. It is a catalyst for development and rapid urbanization, not to mention its impact on environmental conservation. 

The way forward

The government should play an active role in developing tourist destinations throughout the country by providing adequate facilities and cutting-edge infrastructure. The majority of Nigeria’s key tourist sites are in the country’s rural or hinterland region, which is typically characterized by a lack of infrastructures such as a poor road network, a lack of potable water supply, dilapidated healthcare centres, and irregular power supply.

Some rural communities with tourist attractions have not had power in a long while. Premium Times recently reported on the decrepit state of the Erin-Ijesha Waterfall in Osun, where the host community lacks a reliable electricity supply and other basic amenities.

A lacklustre maintenance culture should be abandoned. While some infrastructure exists, they are in poor condition. Beyond election seasons, when ballot boxes reach even the most remote locations, government officials should visit these locations regularly to develop new infrastructure and monitor existing ones. Its long-term significance would be double-edged, in that while these sites generate revenue, the rural area will be rapidly urbanized.

The government should make the best use of the media for public awareness and high-quality publicity campaigns. For example, the annual Calabar and Osun Osogbo festivals are frequently graced by people from all walks of life, and an effort to make it more widely known would involve the media. The government also needs to establish national tourist institutions both in Nigeria and overseas to provide interested tourists with the information they need to plan a trip.

There should also be an institutional watchdog to curb financial excesses in the tourism sector. Almost needless to say, corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of society, and taming the wild beast is the only way progress can be made. The government should prioritize data collection through this institution to provide reports in the sector. These should include ticket remittance information and basic information such as the origin of visitors and the purpose of their visit.

Finally, insecurity must be addressed. Travel and tourism are built on peace and relaxation. People go on vacation to escape their hectic lifestyles. And if a tourist destination isn’t promising, they move on to a more pleasant climate. Because of the insecurity in Nigeria, the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) advised British nationals against visiting sixteen Nigerian states. Such restrictions discourage foreign tourists from visiting and impede tourism growth.

Written by Adekunle Agbetiloye

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