I recently read about a senior Nigerian executive who, rather than spend his hard earned income on a summer trip to the United Kingdom, United States of America or some other exotic foreign destination, chose to explore the opportunities in Nigeria last year.
By his own testimony, which he shared in the article I read, he had the money to travel but just saw no sense in the erratic rate at which the naira was plunging to the dollar. He felt a lot of this money could be put to more judicious use.
So he shared his vision with his family members, who being used to annual vacations abroad, felt initially dissatisfied with his proposition. But after a while, he was with the help of his wife, able to convince the three children on the need to see what Nigeria offered.
At the end of it all, the executive, who lives in Lagos said that it was an experience his family would cherish forever and are willing to repeat. What I find most curious about this man’s account is the fact the he did not take his family beyond the south west zone- the same zone they reside in.
At the beginning of the trip, the family drove down to Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State. On arrival, they checked into one of the new hotels in town, one whose ambience the family loved instantly.
For four days, this family was concealed in the comfort of this hotel, savouring the buffet menu, exploring the world class swimming pool and watch the sun rise or set. They also went to visit the ancient Olumo Rock as well as the magnificent Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library. At the end of the four days, the children needed more than mere persuasion to depart.
But more wonders awaited them at their next destination which was the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, the Oyo State Capital.
THE IITA COMPOUND
Now, you will need to visit this site to understand its attraction, not only for children but for the entire family. The serenity of the IITA compound located right by the ever bubbling University of Ibadan, would make you pinch yourself for reassurance that you are still in Nigeria.
Here is a more than 1,000 acre stretch of virgin flowers and animals, which present an ideal venue for the research purpose for which it was set up decades back as well as a perfect escape for peoples who desire a home away from home.
This is accompanied by decent accommodation, dinning comparing with any standard elsewhere in the world and an opportunity to leisure around a 500 acre land area of plants, trees and animals still largely in the idyllic naturalness, some of these actually extinct outside of the IITA haven.
I have gone through all this trouble to explain the enormous potential available in tourism as our government talks about its determination to diversify the nation’s economy.
And when I speak about tourism, I do not talk about having a swarm of foreigners trooping in and out of our country daily, I am talking about the need to deliberately begin to develop the potential of our country to hold a sizeable number of its holiday makers back in the country.
In doing this, our country would not only earn money, we would provide employment for our people and have less strain on our foreign exchange capacity since demands for the currency would reduce significantly.
Tourism remains a most effective driver of growth and development. It is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and one that has been noted by world leaders as having the “potential to spur global economic recovery.”
This is why I marvel at the never ceasing lamentations from our state governors about the financial handicaps that they suffer. Each time I hear any of these complaints, I sympathise with their situation but ask myself if anyone is really laying any foundation that would engender future prosperity in the state.
I do not think there is any state in the country that cannot turn its fortunes around through the exploitation of its natural endowment or the innovation of tourism opportunities. And as I have said elsewhere, as far it concerns tourism; visionary leadership does not just depend on natural endowments. It goes the extra mile to innovate and create more attractions that nature presents.
We can learn a few lessons from what the Calabar Festival has become within the space of just one decade that it was created by former Governor Donald Duke.
Duke envisioned making Cross River State the tourism and hospitality hub for the continent and the dream is closer home just twelve years after. This was the dream that also birthed the Tinapa Resort, which unfortunately is now stalled. Were it seen through, these two would have shortly permanently taken the south- south state to level unimagined.
Note should be taken of what Lagos State has started to do with sports and entertainment in the past couple of years. Every state in Nigeria needs to look inwards and explore the limitless opportunities that tourism presents.
I also think the Federal Government should make the development of domestic tourism its top priority. In collaboration with the state, the FG should intentionally inspire the desire in Nigerians to travel and holiday within the country. By this, we will not only be getting them to know the country better, we will also be promoting inter-cultural cooperation in addition to all the economic accruals.
With all its accomplishments in the tourism sector, South Africa currently feels unaccomplished on the domestic tourism fronts. But this is understandable. Until the end of apartheid, a little over two decades back, states in the country lived in mutual suspicion and so it was impossible to get people to travel around the country. Now, South Africa is working hard to develop that aspect of tourism.
Even if we have occasional ethnic tensions in the country, we have ample lessons to learn from the South African examples. We should also understand that as the sky is wide enough for all birds to fly without accident, so are there limitless opportunities in tourism for all states without one hampering the chances of the other to succeed.
Tourism isn’t just about traveling to destinations for leisure; states can similarly create opportunities for business, eco-tourism, cultural tourism, sports tourism, adventure tourism as well as paleo-tourism.
Again, South Africa is showing example by opening up new vistas for tourism. In 2009, wine tourism was said to have contributed an estimated R4.3 billion to the country’s tourism revenue. In the same breath, efforts are on to develop medical tourism. Plastic surgery is already a source of attraction into the country but she is also looking at increasing revenue in the areas of organ transplants, cardiac medicine and orthopedic medicine among others.
There are opportunities that our governors can explore, cashing in on individual advantage and planning to complement each other. With this, we will be setting the states on a path of shared prosperity for the future. A future where, recession will have no hold.
Bankole is president of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agents (NANTA)