By WOLE SHADARE
THERE has been a debate on whether Nigeria is a preferred destination for tourists. The debate has further led to questions as what has largely affected the country from being ranked as a top tourist destination in the world.
The proponents of the argument that Nigeria was indeed a preferred tourist destination hinged their fact on the numerous tourism destinations that abound in the country.
This issue however, came to the fore at the recently held aviation summit organised by Travel Business Magazine in Lagos. Managing directors of Six Continents and HRG Travel Agencies, Yomi Jones and Adefemi Adefope posited that the question of whether Nigeria was a preferred destination should not have arisen in the first place.
The duo, highly respected in the burgeoning travel industry, noted that the country had a lot of destinations to market and had done exceedingly well in that area. Jones, a former managing director of the liquidated Nigeria Airways, said the influx of foreign tourists to some tourism destinations signifies growth in the industry. He reiterated that he was not unmindful of some problems like erratic power failure, bad road network and insecurity, which he said were not limited to Nigeria.
He listed New York, South Africa, Kenya and so many other countries as worst in terms of security, adding that these countries have done tremendously well in the area of tourism, contributing heavily to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of their countries. He noted that the influx of foreign carriers (one of the great factors in promotion), readily shows that Nigeria is indeed a force to reckon with in tourism, if the sector was properly developed.
Mrs. Fatimah Garbati, head, Consumer Protection Unit (CPU) in the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), said what the tour operators needed was to organise themselves very well, adding that "there are so many tourist sites to explore."
It is a well-known fact that the development of tourism could lead to non-dependence on oil, just like Dubai has done. Dubai has long stopped to depend on the black gold, but has channelled all its resources into tourism, which is the highest revenue earner for the economy, and trade, pushing oil to a distant third place.
Dubai is fast becoming a contender in the worldwide tourism industry. It is already one of the world's favourite travel destinations, and the region continues to develop innovative and imaginative projects to keep tourists coming. The three Palm island projects, The Palm Jumeirah, The Palm Jebel Ali and The Palm Deira are to become one of the world's most iconic housing and tourism projects, each offering a host of villas and apartments for sale, as well as stunning resorts. They will be the world's largest man-made islands.
Tourism is essentially the industry of providing tours and services to tourists. Another key component of this industry group is attractions, which offer visitors a chance to explore the sights, facilities and wonders of their destination. Attractions generally include historic sites, heritage homes, museums, halls of fame, art galleries, botanical gardens, aquariums, zoos, water parks, amusement parks, casinos and cultural attractions.
Francis Ayigbe, a travel journalist, however differed. He said the fact that foreigners come to Nigeria does not make the country a preferred tourism destination. Tourism in the country is at a low ebb, not only because of the economic hardship, but because of "all the ingredients like a national carrier, good hotels and others that make for a preferred destination are not there."
His words, "Lack of consistency in policy has militated against Nigeria becoming a preferred tourism destination. For tourism to flourish, there must be high concentration of internationally acceptable rated hotels. South Africa has about 60 five-star hotels in Johannesburg, Durban, Pretoria. Lagos has just two, Sheraton and Eko Hotel."
According to him, insecurity and perennial conflicts have further added to the problem of tourism in the country. The Director-General of the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, however disagreed. According to Runsewe, "there is no country in Africa that can compete with Nigeria in terms of tourist attractions to offer. I can tell you that countries like Ghana, Gambia, South Africa that make a lot of money from tourism don't have close to probably 30 per cent of the tourism destinations (attractions) we have in Nigeria."
Runsewe noted that though there are problems of infrastructure in the country, this is being handled by the government. He said apart from the infrastructural problems, people often allude to the issue of insecurity in Nigeria, stressing that "the country is not as bad as other countries on the continent" as the issue of security should be that of everybody.
He explained that from the statistics at the disposal of the corporation, it shows that 53 per cent of those coming to the country stay in hotels, noting that the corporation has concluded arrangement with the biggest registration company in Europe called AA to classify the hotels in the country.
Turnkey Software Projects, a firm saddled with the responsibility of rating countries based on array of attractions they offer, in 2006 rated Croatia, China, Argentina, United States, Italy and Costa Rica as top travel destinations, while Kenya, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand also got mentioned.
Croatia is known for its beautiful coastline. Other attractions are cathedrals, churches and museums, the medieval architecture of Dubrovnic and the ancient Roman ruins at Split, which include the palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, built in the fourth century A.D.
The United States has many tourists attractions. From historic buildings and museums to amusement parks and immense natural beauty. The country has an amazing variety of tourists of all ages. The White House, Capitol, Pentagon and Supreme Court Buildings in Washington D.C. The statue of Liberty in New York harbour, the museums and skyscrappers of New York and Boston.
Others are the glamour of Hollywood in Los Angeles, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the energy of Las Vegas, the amusement park at Disneyland, the wonders of Mount Rushmore and many others. Driving across America is a journey of discovery.