By Niyi Akinnaso
Strictly speaking, tourists are those who spend time away from home, within or outside their country, usually in pursuit of recreation, relaxation, and pleasure. Although tourism has antecedents in ancient times, it has increased in scale and scope due to modern social arrangements, aided by recent developments in technology; transport infrastructure; and hotel, shopping, and entertainment facilities.
Today, there are tourists for whom leisure is secondary as they travel primarily for certain specific purposes. Indeed, the list is open-ended, when the focus of tourism is on a specific type of activity. It includes business tourism, medical tourism, sports tourism, ecotourism, agri-tourism, garden tourism, hunting tourism, literary tourism, wine tourism, wildlife tourism, religious tourism, heritage tourism, and cultural tourism.
In many cases, tourists often save up for their tours and spend the bulk of the money on purchasing goods and services from the tourist destinations for immediate or delayed consumption. Today, tourism is big business because of the sheer number of tourists across the globe and the huge amount they spend every year.
According to the World Tourism Organisation, international tourist arrivals at border posts across the globe crossed the one billion mark in 2012. In 2014, the 10 most visited countries, measured by the number of international travellers are: France, 84 million; the United States, 75 million; Spain, 65 million; China, 56 million; Italy, 49 million; Turkey, 40 million; Germany, 33 million; the United Kingdom, 33 million; Russia, 30 million, and Mexico, 29 million.
However, the US leads the top 10 tourism earners for 2014, by grossing a whopping $177.2bn, representing both domestic and international tourism earnings. Others are Spain, $65.2bn; China, $56.9bn; France, $55.4bn; Italy, $45.5bn; the UK, $45.3bn; Thailand, $38.4bn; Australia, $32bn; and Turkey, $29.5bn. Macau and Hong Kong, both in Asia, which made $50.8bn and $38.4bn are not included in the list, because they are not independent countries as such.
The above figures show that tourism brings in huge amounts of income into a local economy by way of payments for the goods and services needed by tourists. The goods typically bought by tourists range from souvenirs and local artwork to food and clothing. Similarly, transport, hospitality, and entertainment industries benefit immensely from tourism. Even more importantly, tourism also creates opportunities for employment, especially in the associated service industries. Indeed, it is estimated that tourism alone accounts for 30 per cent of the world’s trade of services.
It is against the above backgrounds that tourism must be repositioned in Nigeria as one of the alternatives to petroleum, especially in the face of the dip in oil prices and the pressure on the government to diversify the economy. There is no state in Nigeria that does not have two or more potential tourist attractions. Yet, none has been developed well enough to attract a stream of local or international tourists.
As usual, Ondo State took the lead last week by hosting a cultural event at which the state’s cultural ambassadors, led by King Sunny Ade, were unveiled. They are required to be the faces of Ondo State to the outside world, using their artistic talent to propagate Ondo and its tourist attractions, including Idanre Hills; Igbo Olodumare; Eboni Lake; Iho Eleru; Oke Maria; Owo Museum of Antiquities; and a maze of rivers, creeks, and lakes.
The major limitation to this venture was the theme of a lecture delivered at the event by Prof. Kole Omotoso. I summarise the lecture below, while also elaborating on it. Omotoso highlighted three major problems that must be overcome in order to have an effective and income-generating tourist industry. First, the necessary infrastructure must be provided: “…to make tourism and culture replace petroleum, we must create the enabling environment for these products. We need roads and bridges … We need consistent supply of electricity and of water”. To these, one might add hotels, restaurants, movie theatres, and sporting venues for physical exercise.
Second, the staff needed to provide the necessary services to tourists must be trained, beginning with the staff at border posts, motor parks, hotels, petrol stations, and other service centres throughout the country. In particular, the staff providing hospitality and entertainment services must be well trained, especially on how to welcome (international) visitors and make them feel comfortable. This includes workers in hotels, resorts, night clubs, movie theatres, shopping malls, and, of course, the tourist centres.
Third, the arts and crafts industry must be developed to produce cultural souvenirs that tourists might want to purchase as memorabilia.
Fourth, the tourist centres themselves must be properly developed. It is not enough to have a list of “potential” tourist attractions. No tourist centre will attract anyone, if it is left undeveloped, unkempt and unsafe. For example, of what use is the information that Ondo has the longest coastline, when there is no single resort or hotel along the coast and no one can even camp there? The point is that each potential tourist centre must be developed as if it is the only one that exists.
Finally, Nigerians must develop a culture of leisure and recreation as well as an enquiring mind. They must be curious about the natural wonders not only in their immediate environment but also in others. They must stop deifying such natural wonders by turning them into worship centres. This, of course, requires a lot of public enlightenment at federal, state, and local levels.
What this means is that tourism must be viewed seriously as an industry, more or less like a car factory, if it is to produce profitable “goods” that could generate income. This requires adequate investment in infrastructure and capacity building for the tourist staff. It also requires a lot of publicity.
It also requires a change in attitude toward leisure, relaxation, and, above all, the unknown. This is necessary because any tourist industry is often developed first for domestic tourists before international tourists are attracted. If investment is deployed in the development of the tourist industry and Nigerians don’t even visit the tourist centres, how do we expect international visitors to patronise them?
Niyi Akinnaso is a Public Policy Analyst.