Tourism as a potential driver of economic growth


Friday, February 16, 2018 /4:45  PM / FDC 

The oil price plunge which started from mid-2014, drove Nigeria into a recession as the Nigerian economy was largely dependent on oil. This prompted the government to intensify its efforts in economic di-versification. The diversification efforts tilted towards other sectors of the economy such as agriculture, tour-ism and hospitality, as well as support for small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs). These sectors, that have been long ignored, were believed to have great growth potential. We see particular potential for revenue generation in tourism (both domestic tourism and to a larger extent international tourism). In an attempt to capitalize on this potential, the government, with the help of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), rolled out a number of measures, including technical assistance, capacity building and the revision of the country’s Tourism Master Plan. However, these efforts appear insufficient as they do not address the prevalent infrastructure and security challenges.

To attain its potential, more work needs to be done in the tourism industry. The need to invest in infrastructure, service delivery, security and rebranding cannot be overemphasized. Essentially there may be not be a significant increase in the number of tourists unless key issues such as accessibility (both in terms of transportation infrastructure and affordability), hospitality, and security are addressed. Hence, a shift in focus to ad-dress these infrastructural problems is needed in order to realize its potential.

Challenges of Nigeria’s tourism sector
The deplorable state of Nigeria’s tourism sector is confirmed by the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index where the country ranked 129 out of 136 countries. Nigeria’s ranking, compared to other African peers such as Kenya (ranked 80th) and South Africa (53rd), shows that the nation’s tourism sector is highly uncompetitive and underdeveloped. A review of the sector’s contribution to GDP in the past decade has shown that its largest contribution was in 2008. At that time, travel and tourism directly contributed about 2.4% to GDP. Subsequently, the number has fluctuated between 1.5% and 1.8%. This decrease coincides with the insecurities associated with the violent terrorist group, Boko Haram. 

The insurgency has been a deterrent to domestic and international tourism as it led to security warnings from countries such as the US and the UK.

The tourism sector is also constrained by low income and inadequate infrastructure i.e. transport, logistics and accommodation. The number of Nigerians living in poverty stands at 112 million (62% of the population). This poses a strong challenge to domestic tourism as the average Nigerian considers it a luxury to travel within the country.

Furthermore, inadequate infrastructure and poor development of tourist sites are also constraining the sector. A typical example of this is evident at Owu Falls, located at Owa-Kajola in Kwara State. Despite being one of the highest waterfalls in West Africa, the resort is severely underdeveloped as it lacks an accessible road network. As a result, it hardly attracts visitors or generates revenue. In a similar vein, tourist attractions such as Zuma Rock and Gurara Falls in Niger State are largely undeveloped as there is barely any onsite accommodation. Ultimately this negatively influences tourism as tourists are forced to limit their stay.

The prospects of the sector
With a population size of 182 million, Nigeria has a lot of potential for domestic tourism. Similarly, with two sites (Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove and Sukur Cultural Landscape) already on UNESCO’s World Heritage list and 12 sites on the list for consideration, the prospect of international tourism is also high. However, actualization of the potential hinges on the collective effort of state governments, as well as the Federal Government. 

Periodicals and travel websites have, for example, picked up on Rwanda's ecological conservationism and rigorous security presence in wildlife parks—helping to alter negative preconceptions about the country's violent past and deliver rapid tourism growth. Like-wise, a poaching clampdown in Malawi got the country into fifth place in the top ten global destinations listed by a leading travel publication, Lonely Planet, in 2014.

Nigeria can achieve a similar feat by improving the country’s image. For example, the government can invest in high quality tourism publicity campaigns for its attractions e.g. Obudu Ranch and Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove. Furthermore, through Nollywood, Nigeria’s movie industry (the third most valuable movie industry in the world) the authorities can create more awareness for the nation’s at-tractions to potential tourists.

In addition, security challenges, e.g. the high crime rate, could be tackled through specific initiatives such as special tourist police officers who patrol areas frequented by tourists and safeguard hotels. Countries such as South Africa have had success bolstering tourism through this initiative. To this end, other countries with less of a crime problem such as Uganda have also begun to implement similar measures to boost confidence up general reassurance. These measures are positively noted in travel advisory websites.

While the tourism sector in Nigeria faces notable challenges, the growth potential is immense. The Federal Government through the ministry information, culture and tourism rolled out plans to develop the sector. Provided the authorities channel efforts towards tackling the constraints facing the sector e.g. infrastructure and security, the tourism sector would emerge as one of the major drivers of economic growth and diversification in the near to medium term. However, an attempt that fails to tackle the identified challenges will only amount to a surface scratch.

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