Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper
An anticipated boost in Nigeria’s tourism industry that the proposed African Union (AU) passport is expected to engender cannot come to pass without appropriate infrastructure and conducive environment for tourism to flourish. Tourism is a service industry with established global best practices. It does not thrive in a disorganised environment, where the tourist would not get full value for money or where insecurity is rife. The Nigerian authorities should, therefore, do first things first by ensuring that the right atmosphere is created for only then can tourists be attracted to Nigeria, with or without an AU passport.
Industry experts recently expressed high optimism over the launch of the AU passport, saying that the hospitality industry might overtake the oil sector by 2021 if the initiative is adopted by the country’s legislators. But mere adoption of the proposal would not translate to a boost for Nigeria’s tourism.
According to them, the pan-African passport would allow free movement of domestic tourists into the country and the opportunities presented by such a unified African passport supersede the threats.
While many industry experts are daily concerned about diversification opportunities to prevent the collapse of the nation’s economy, the hospitality industry has been identified as one with growth opportunity in the next five years.
Therefore, breaking the barriers of free travel for other African countries to come to Nigeria is a potent way of enhancing the growth of that industry.
By their calculation, there will be an increase in domestic tourism on the continent and this will pave way for increase in job creation. A 2015 report on travel and tourism industry in Africa, which indicated that the industry generated approximately nine million jobs directly with a growth forecast of 0.3 per cent in 2016 has appropriately been cited.
Besides, it is predicted that by 2016, the industry will account for about 11.7 million jobs directly in Africa, which is an increase of 2.5 per cent annually over the next decade. Of course, all these are comforting facts.
There is, however, too much talk about Nigeria’s tourism potential contributing much to GDP while the fundamentals are lacking. Countries that depend on tourism as a major source of revenue have the necessary infrastructure and are safe.
While tourist destinations like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt and South Africa might gain from the free intra-continental movement, the AU passport might only open the floodgate for indiscriminate immigration into Nigeria which could have far more negative consequences on the economy.
Truth is that at the moment, tourism in Nigeria is a joke. There is nothing on ground to attract tourists when compared to other tourist destinations in Africa. The West African unified passport for ECOWAS countries has done nothing to boost tourism in the country. If anything, an AU common passport would enrich only countries like Kenya and other tourist destinations.
Granted that Nigeria has the resources that could be developed into world-class tourist attractions, the required infrastructure is not available and the appropriate investments are not being made.
For example, the Obudu Cattle Ranch has no good transportation infrastructure to service it. The Yankari Game reserve and National Park, the Borgu Game Reserve and the Cross River National Park, among others, are hardly maintained.
Little is heard of the Nigeria National Park Service (NNPS), which has the responsibility of preserving, enhancing, protecting and managing vegetation and wild life in the parks. The animals are routinely poached while the trees are felled for fuel wood without restriction.
Nigeria’s airports are an eyesore. The four international airports in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt are ranked among the worst in Africa.
They brim daily with questionable characters who have no business going to the airports but only threaten the visitors’ lives. Tourism begins from the airport. Nigeria’s airports are scary to potential tourists and information desks are poorly managed.
There is no train connection as it is in other countries while the country’s road network is a death trap.
Hotels in Nigeria are among the most expensive in the world and their services are below standard. Not all the hotels are registered and graded in line with global best practices and there are no hospitality schools where professionals are trained.
There is also insecurity, which is a critical disincentive to a tourism industry.
Above all is the negative role played by the border officials, whose unfriendly conduct at ports of entry is inimical to tourism development.
There is also the need to relax visa restrictions as complaints about Nigerian foreign missions delaying visa applications or even demanding bribes before they do their job are legion.
How does a country build the tourism industry with this catalogue of inherent problems? All these must be addressed first and foremost before the AU passport can be of benefit to Nigeria.