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Buhari must prioritise tourism as alternative to oil and gas sector- Akpabio



 Mr. Ini Akpabio, the Group Managing Director, NANET Group, owners of NANET HOTEL AND SUITES, a leading hospitality firm in the country, in this interview with OREDOLA ADEOLA, urged the incoming administration to prioritise the tourism sector. He also highlighted the challenges facing the sector to include funding, security and infrastructure; he how
ever suggested that the government needed to drive the tourism industry through the setting up of Tourism Development Bank. Excerpts
What is responsible for the poor attention given to the tourism industry in Nigeria?
The down-ward trends witnessed in most sectors of the Nigeria economy was as a result of appointment offered to non-professionals. Most of the administrators appointed to head the various arms of the tourism ministry lacked the requisite knowledge required to drive the industry. Most of the appointments are based on party affiliations and friendship at the expense merit needed to grow the industry growth. If such maladministration is not corrected by Buhari, no sector of the economy will work because the right people must be appointed to man the right positions.
What is your advice for the incoming administration on the development of tourism?
President-elect, Gen. Muhammed Buhari must ensure that he appoint professionals to fill the various positions in the tourism ministry. As an alternative source of revenue generation, he needed to be committed to the growth of the sector by prioritizing the various activities that surrounds it. To start with, he needed to set up a presidential committee on tourism development which should be headed by him and must have other ministers as members; he must set up bank for tourism development to provide funds for investors. Priority must also be given to the development of infrastructures like electricity, roads and security this is because tourism cannot be developed in isolation. The insurgency in the North-west has affected the sector; it has got so bad that investors cannot reach out to their investments in some parts of the North.
Is there any state in the country where tourism plays a major role?
Yes there is, I am from Akwa Ibom state that is richer than Cross Rivers State in its share of Federal allocations, but I can tell you categorically that the economic impact of tourism is much felt in the later than the former. The average person on the street of Calabar is economically empowered than the other person in Uyo, this is because of the influx of tourists into the state. Although the Akwa Ibom state government has worked harder in creating enabling environment for sustainable growth through its road network and infrastructural development, it needed to work more in terms of tourism. Another state that had once pride itself as a tourism destination is Plateau State, but insurgency and social unrest has displaced it as a choice destination in Nigeria. It used to be foreigners’ favourite due to the attractiveness of its weather and the various destinations in the state, but the crisis in the state has taken its toll on the tourism industry. Some of these states with huge potential should be given major boast. This is why the incoming government must do something reviving this great potential.
What is your take on the abandoned historical sites in the country?
The incoming government must demonstrate commitment to revitalising some of the abandoned historical monuments, government-built hotels and tourism sites across the country. There are lots of abandoned government hotels, monuments and tourism sites that are not in good condition.
What step must the incoming government take to stimulate in the growth of the sector
The new administration must ensure that it diversify the economy through taking advantage of the opportunities inherent in the hospitality industry. This is the only sector that does not pose much hazard to the environment unlike the oil and gas sector. Hospitality sector is the third employer of labour after agric sector and civil service. It is the only sector that is capable of employing more than a million Nigerians annually, thereby, reducing employment challenges in the country.
The industry has the capacity to help increase the nation gross domestic earnings by 50 per cent while also helping to alleviate poverty.
What is the guarantee that the government can properly manage tourists in the face of insurgency in some parts of the country?
 Security is a very important factor needed to drive tourism but it appears that we have over flogged it in this part of the world. It is unfortunate that we have not been able to manage the crisis in such a manner that would encourage Foreign Direct investment- FDI. We need to know that Nigeria is not as bad as it is being misconstrued; the crisis is concentrated in just few states compared with other parts of the country. We need to initiate creative ways of selling destinations that are not affected by the crisis to the international community. Take for instance, South Africa, tourists are always warned not to go to some part of that country. Even in Chicago, tourists are cautioned not to visits some places because of security concerns. Nigerians must learn to manage its crisis in such a manner as to project a positive image of the country.
What then must the incoming government do to partner with the stakeholders in the sector?
Apart from making Nigeria a friendly environment for all to live, unlocking challenges of infrastructure and instituting better regulations, stakeholders in the tourism sectors need a Bank of Tourism, that would facilitate the issuance of soft loans to investor. The idea is to encourage stimulate more investment in the sector. Such funds would also help to build more hospitality and tourism schools across the country to train more professionals for the industry. If agriculture is the first employer of labour in the country, then tourism is the next greatest employer of labour. If there is intervention fund for agricultural development, what is stopping government from replicating similar things for tourism sector? If you look at all the major cities in Nigeria, you will discover that out of every five buildings in country, one of the buildings will be offering services that are associated with the sector.  If you notice, Adetokunbo Ademola through Aminu Kano Street in Abuja, restaurants and hospitality centres are built along all these streets. In trip round all the major cities across the country, you will definitely find a night club, restaurants and hotels in strategic locations.
Don’t you think offering money as incentive to the operators would encourage corruption?
We are not asking the government to give us money, our demand is for them to create long-term funds for investment, it could stretch for fifteen years. Nollywood and textile and industry have been supported by the government through intervention funds of this magnitude. Tourism is an alternative source of revenue against the backdrop of the fallen global oil price. In Kenya, the tourism sector is the second largest foreign exchange earner. This can also be replicated in Nigeria if the government gives the sector all the supports it required. There are so many destinations in the country, that must be developed and it takes Public Private Partnership to get all of these destinations to function all full capacity.
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