How could diverse sectors of the economy collaborate to develop the tourism offering?
Tourism is a private sector activity, but in Nigeria it has been deemed the sole responsibility of the public sector. Goals can be best achieved in collaboration, and so in our first year we have reached out to almost everyone in the expatriate community. Never before has a director general visited state governments to declare federal government support. Domestic tourism is about the local customs, festivals, and cultures that are unique to Nigerians, and unless you meet the traditional rulers—the kings and custodians of our culture and traditions—you cannot fully experience the culture of the people. You find that the traditional rulers are enlightened and educated people, who, despite living in America or Europe, are sooner or later recalled home to serve as kings and queens. They are particularly informed individuals and have a keen grip on what tourism means in Nigeria. And we are not just collaborating with the diplomatic community and traditional rulers, but also with the state governance arm so that we can market on their behalf. We are also partnering with the banks and oil companies to source financing. Furthermore, we collaborate with other government agencies that support us with capacity building, such as the National Planning Commission. These governmental agencies understand what tourism involves and respond positively when approached. We are also partnering with the Nigerian Football Federation because we believe that the youth are key to our strategy. Some 70% of the Nigerian population is aged below 35, with sport featuring prominently in their lives. We have signed MoUs with private sector international companies in Nigeria that want to promote tourism with us. We have also signed a MoU to collaborate with the transport industry. This is the tourism value chain. Ultimately, tourism is not an isolated activity, but a centrifugal force that impacts other sectors. We suffer from terrorism in one or two small areas, but Nigeria has an area of over 923,000 sqkm and 174 million people, and terrorism is not peculiar to Nigeria and the government has been very proactive in managing it.
The majority of tourists appear to be unaware of just what Nigeria has to offer. Why should people visit?
There is such a wide range of factors that make the country a special destination starting with the fantastic year-round sunny weather, a real pull for visitors from the US and Europe. In terms of the state, we are a democratic nation run by a transparent government that came into power through a fair election. Regarding tourist sites, the country is divided into six geopolitical zones, and I have made an effort to visit states in each. If you go to the southwest, for example, you come to Ondo State among beautiful hills and amazing golf courses. In addition to our sights, Nigeria offers a whole spectrum of amazing regional festivals that underline the unique culture of the country.
Could you talk about domestic tourism as a means of creating a national identity?
This is my favorite topic, because domestic tourism means encouraging people to vacation in their own country. One reason is that we want to empower people at the grassroots level. Secondly, of the 170 million Nigerians, only 10% can afford to travel abroad. If you inculcate the culture of domestic tourism, people do not have to go far from home. If we develop tourism in a community and jobs come with it. There are three types of tourism: inbound, domestic, and outbound. We are hoping that the 10% that travels abroad will have experienced domestic tourism, meaning they will effectively be marketing agents for Nigeria when abroad. The domestic tourism market in Nigeria has a potential of $4 billion, but we just need to keep creating awareness and encouraging people.