[By VICTOR NZE]
Former Governor of Cross River State, Senator Liyel Imoke, has tasked governments at all levels to provide stimulus for operators in tourism in order for them to effectively drive development of the industry for improved contribution to the country’s economy.
This is also as he insisted that the industry in Nigeria must be private-sector driven, in line with global standard practice, with the government only working as an enabler.
The former governor, credited with growing Cross River State as a tourism destination brand, especially the iconic Calabar Carnival, noted that the providing incentives to operators remains the only way to, not only realistically grow the sector, but also to enable it contribute meaningfully to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country.
Imoke said this during his Keynote presentation at the just-concluded 25th Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Tourism Conference of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), in Abuja.
Speaking on the theme of the conference; ‘Nigeria Tourism: The way forward,’ Imoke outlined challenges and prospects in the industry, as he noted that though tourism is private-sector driven in most parts of the world, ‘in Nigeria, the government ends up being the mover rather than the private sector.’
According to him, the negative trend has greatly hampered the growth of the sector in the country.
He, therefore, called on the government to look critically into its role and focus more on providing different forms of incentives for the investors and operators who are inclined to growing the sector.
“It has to be private-sector driven, with the government as the enabler but sometimes the government becomes the mover, while insisting that the government must create incentives as one of the mandatory roles otherwise we would not grow the industry,” the former governor said.
He explained that Nigeria has all it takes to have a vibrant tourism industry, advising that ‘the disagreement between the government and the private sector should not define the industry. The industry is bigger than all of us and it will continue to grow.’
Imoke, who sees data and statistics as key factors in setting the pace for practical tourism, attributed challenges posed by lack of it to inability by government to plan and determine actual contribution of tourism to the economy, the unattractive nature of Nigerian tourism.
According to him, other challenges include; lack of a tourism culture among Nigerians, insecurity and cultural beliefs.
“The greatest challenge I find is insecurity and access to tourism, which the government has to provide and when the government fails then the investors and operators too fail.
“These are critical issues that we must address. Why is the tourism budget shrinking when we have a sector that we want to grow? How and when do we create capital for the industry? Is tourism a luxury good or is it a necessity? All of these are part of the challenges that we face,” Imoke submitted.