It is with great pleasure that I stand before you on this memorable occasion of the workshop on “Mainstreaming Tourism into the Economic Agenda of Government: Issues & Challenges”.
The theme of today's workshop cannot be more apt and timely, especially now that Nigeria is exploring other non-oil frontiers in its resolve to diversify the country's economy and harvest the gains arising there from.
As noted in the Manila Declaration on World Tourism in 1980, Tourism is an activity that is essential to the life of nations because of its direct and indirect effects on the social, cultural, educational and economic sectors of societies and on their international relations.
The uniqueness of tourism, as an important economic sector, is also evident in its ability to employ both the skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled manpower, while its resilience is proven by the fact that despite wars, political turmoil, natural disasters, medical scares, terrorist attacks, and economic and energy crises in various parts of the world, international trade in tourism services, has grown spectacularly since the 1980s.
Today, as the nation grapples with the daunting challenges of re-strategizing the gains of its democracy and also occupy its pride of place in the committee of nations, tourism has been identified as a veritable option for sustainable development.
Nigeria is determined to fully exploit its potential for Tourism as one of Africa's major tourist destinations.
The country with its vast land mass, and a population of over 170 million, is blessed with an abundance of both natural and artificial resources that cut across the length and breadth of the country; ranging from the beautiful, scenic landscape, the rolling hills, spectacular waterfalls, exotic wildlife and alluring beaches.
This is in addition to the wide and diverse cultural heritage in music, dance and festivals and the ever hospitable disposition of Nigerians.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, One of the major challenges facing Nigeria today is the urgent need to build a resilient and dynamic economy that is well placed to harness the country's abundant resource endowment.
The experience of the past three decades clearly highlights the shortcomings of a development strategy that placed premium on foreign exchange earnings from non-renewable natural resources, especially oil and solid minerals.
The economic and social dislocation, that has been the country's experience from the 1970s right through to the first decade of the century, had their origin from the collapse of the international oil market.
Our experience in the recent past, also clearly demonstrates, that oil and mineral resources that are non renewable, have very limited potential for addressing the development challenges that face the country today, over the medium and long-term period.
These include, providing gainful employment for the masses of school leavers and various categories of under-employed workers; addressing the challenge of poverty and tackling the environmental challenges, all arising from the high incidence of rural-urban migration, desertification, floods and other natural disasters.
It is pertinent to stress that Nigeria is not alone in the current awareness to take advantage of the potentials offered by the Tourism Sector. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) statistics, developed countries like Spain, France, China, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Turkey and the United States are among the world’s top earners on Tourism Receipts.
However, for the Tourism Sector to meet the country’s development expectations, the Government on its own part is determined to provide a more conducive environment for investors and potential tourists. In spite of all these, there is still room for development and improvement which requires the collaboration of both the public and private sectors. Some of these may be outlined as follows:
- Infrastructural development.
- Strengthening security to enhance investor confidence
- Establishment of a Tourism Development Fund (TDF) to serve as a pool of fund for the private sector for tourism development.
- The general lack of awareness of the socio-economic importance of tourism.
- High incidence of youth restiveness which undermines the country's tourism friendly posture.
- Environmental development in the areas of afforestation, mitigation of desert encroachment, flood disasters and development of national parks.
- Sustainable institutional framework for Public Private Partnership (PPP) to provide the required confidence for prospective private investors.
- Consistent Government policies as a framework on which private investors can base their short, medium and long term expectations and take informed decisions for their investments
- Functional collaboration among the relevant MDAs in tourism, and
- The establishment of a National Carrier.
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to assure you that Government is statutorily expected to provide unique opportunities and the enabling environment for the development of a consistent and long-term framework on which the private investors can base business decisions.
Moreover, the prevailing atmosphere of political stability, coupled with the current government policy of economic liberalization, diversification and the strengthening of institutional bottlenecks, give every cause for optimism.
I therefore enjoin you to use this platform to identify, deliberate and also articulate broad based solutions towards a sustainable development of the tourism sector in Nigeria.