Friday, 8th December 2023

How Nigeria’s Free Visas For African Countries Is Deepening Nigeria’s Tourism Potential

By Itunu Azeez Kareem & Chinelo Eze
12 November 2023   |   6:39 am
Nigeria recently announced a new visa policy that grants visa-free access to citizens of all African Union member countries. This significant policy shift has set the stage for a transformative chapter in Nigeria's tourism industry. However, as the nation opens its doors to a broader spectrum of visitors, concerns and opportunities emerge, both of which…

Nigeria recently announced a new visa policy that grants visa-free access to citizens of all African Union member countries. This significant policy shift has set the stage for a transformative chapter in Nigeria’s tourism industry. However, as the nation opens its doors to a broader spectrum of visitors, concerns and opportunities emerge, both of which promise to shape the future of Nigerian tourism.

Why the hassle about the free visas and doors being opened to other African countries? Rwanda just did the same recently, here’s a projection to why this calls for emphasis, on projection, Nigeria’s Travel and Tourism sector is expected to take in $2,953.00 million in revenue projected for 2023! And that’s not all – the country is expecting a 6.13 per cent yearly growth rate, hitting $3,746.00 million by 2027.

Guess which travel trend is leading the charge? It is the Package Holidays market, looking to hit $1,239.00 million in 2023. That is where the action is, where the free visas come in handy, and this is truly where the meat is, let us go a bit further, looking into the hotels, which cannot be separated from tourism as well.

Here, the country is looking at a cool 17,450 users checking in by 2027. User penetration is set to rise from 10.4 per cent in 2023 to a solid 12 per cent in 2027. And guess what each user might be spending? A sweet $126.80!

But here is the twist – a whopping 66 per cent of the total Travel & Tourism revenue will be raking in through online sales by 2027. We are surely going digital, it is the age of AI, after all and Africans should not be found wanting.

As expected, in the global scene, the United States is taking the lead, pulling in a jaw-dropping $190.40 billion in 2023. Nigeria’s travel game is on the rise.

Before we delve into the opportunities and reasons why the country’s tourism is a gold mine wasting away, here is what the journey has been from over five years ago, by using the money spent by tourists who have come through the free or not free visas scheme.

International tourism receipts represent the money spent by visitors coming into a country, including payments to national carriers for travel.

These receipts also cover any prepayments for goods or services in the destination country, potentially including same-day visitor spending. However, some countries might exclude receipts for passenger transport items. All data is presented in current U.S. dollars.

Now, let’s look at Nigeria’s tourism statistics:

– In 2020, the tourism receipts for Nigeria were $321 million, showing a significant 78.18 per cent decline from the previous year (2019).

– In 2019, Nigeria’s tourism receipts were $1.471 billion, indicating a 25.59 per cent decrease from 2018.

– The tourism statistics for 2018 amounted to $1.977 billion, reflecting a 24.4 per cent decline from 2017.

– In 2017, Nigeria’s tourism showed a remarkable increase, reaching $2.615 billion, which was a substantial 140.35 per cent rise from the year 2016. Tragically, meaning the country is losing touch of something, as analysed by macrotrends.

Currently, Nigeria’s passport holders have opportunity to explore 45 visa-free travel destinations worldwide, promoting hassle-free travel experiences. The list includes, countries such as, Barbados, Benin, Ghana, and Rwanda, allowing Nigerian citizens to venture without the need for a prior visa.

Moreover, 18 countries offer visa on arrival for Nigerian nationals, simplifying the travel process. Countries such as Bolivia, Lebanon, and Seychelles allow visa issuance upon arrival, enhancing accessibility for Nigerian travelers.

Sri Lanka is one of the countries where Nigerian passport holders can obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) before visiting. This digital travel document streamlines the entry process, reflecting the global shift toward efficient travel procedures.

The initiative to provide free visas to these countries contributes to the growth of Nigerian tourism by expanding travel possibilities, fostering cultural exchange, and potentially attracting more international visitors to Nigeria. This enhances diplomatic relations and supports the tourism industry’s economic impact.

However, it’s crucial for travelers to stay updated on specific entry requirements for each destination, as regulations may vary, ensuring a seamless and enjoyable travel experience. The free visa policy opens avenues for Nigerians to explore diverse cultures, fostering a sense of global connectivity.

The opportunities that awaits the country includes, but not limited to the following;

Economic Growth
The introduction of visa-free travel for African nations is expected to boost Nigeria’s tourism industry significantly. The country’s rich cultural heritage, vibrant cities, stunning landscapes, and diverse wildlife can now be more easily explored by travellers from across the continent. This influx of tourists will stimulate the economy by increasing revenue from hospitality, transportation, and related sectors.

Cultural Exchange
One of the benefits of free visa access is the facilitation of cross-cultural exchanges. Visitors from other African countries will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in Nigeria’s traditions and customs, thereby promoting intercultural understanding and fostering international friendships.

Investment Opportunities
The hospitality and tourism sectors in Nigeria will likely see increased investment from both domestic and foreign sources, as the demand for infrastructure and services grows to accommodate the anticipated surge in visitors. This could lead to job creation and the development of new businesses in the sector.

Challenges, Concerns
Security and Border Control: The opening of borders to visitors from all African Union countries poses challenges for border security. Ensuring that entry is restricted to genuine tourists and business travellers while preventing illegal immigration or other potential security risks is a complex task.

Infrastructure Readiness
While the increased tourism is expected to drive economic growth, Nigeria must ensure that its infrastructure is prepared to handle the influx of visitors. Transportation networks, hotels, and other tourism-related services must be expanded and upgraded to meet the demand.

Overcrowding, Environmental Impact
Popular tourist destinations may face issues related to overcrowding and the potential environmental impact of increased tourism. Managing this influx sustainably will be vital to preserve Nigeria’s natural beauty.

Economic Disparities
There is concern that the economic benefits of increased tourism may not be distributed equitably, potentially exacerbating income disparities and leading to the exploitation of certain regions for tourism purposes.

A Balanced View
The move towards visa-free access for African countries presents Nigeria with an excellent opportunity to unlock its tourism potential and drive economic growth. However, to maximize the benefits while addressing potential concerns, the government must focus on the following:

Investment in Infrastructure: Nigeria should invest in upgrading transportation networks, accommodations, and attractions to ensure that visitors have a positive experience while preserving the country’s cultural and natural heritage.

Security Measures:
A robust system of border control and visa issuance procedures is essential to maintain national security while allowing legitimate tourists and business travellers to enter.

Sustainable Tourism:
Implement sustainable practices in popular tourist destinations to prevent overcrowding and minimize environmental impact, protecting Nigeria’s natural resources for future generations.

Inclusivity and Fair Economic Growth:
Policies should aim to distribute economic benefits more equitably to ensure that the benefits of increased tourism reach all segments of the population.

Lastly, and to further make it easier, Nigeria’s current positioning at 129th out of 136 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index reveals significant room for improvement, especially when compared to African counterparts like Mauritius, South Africa, Seychelles, and Egypt. These countries secured higher rankings at 54th, 61st, 62nd, and 65th, respectively.

Unlocking the full potential of Nigeria’s tourism sector could bring substantial benefits. Beyond job creation in areas like accommodation, hospitality, food services, recreation, transportation, and travel, tourism offers avenues for foreign direct investment and foreign exchange earnings. Moreover, it acts as a catalyst for development and urbanization, with positive implications for environmental conservation.

To propel the tourism sector forward, the Nigerian government must take an active role in developing tourist destinations across the country. This involves providing essential facilities and modern infrastructure. Many of Nigeria’s key tourist sites are located in rural or hinterland regions that often lack crucial amenities such as reliable road networks, clean water supply, functioning healthcare centers, and consistent power supply.

Addressing these challenges requires a departure from a lackluster maintenance culture. While some existing infrastructure is in place, it is often in disrepair. Government officials should extend their visits to these locations beyond election seasons, focusing on both developing new infrastructure and monitoring the condition of existing ones. The long-term impact would not only contribute to revenue generation but also facilitate the gradual urbanization of rural areas.

Nigeria’s decision to open its doors to fellow Africans is a significant step towards continental integration and economic growth. Additionally, establishing an institutional watchdog is crucial to curb financial excesses and address corruption. This entity should prioritise data collection, providing reports on ticket remittances, visitor origins, and purposes of visits.

Finally, tackling insecurity is paramount. Travel and tourism thrive on peace, and people seek destinations for relaxation. Insecurity issues in Nigeria have led to advisories from entities like the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), discouraging visits to sixteen Nigerian states. Addressing insecurity is vital to attract foreign tourists and foster sustainable tourism growth.

To make the most of this new opportunity, a balanced approach that addresses the concerns while seizing the benefits is essential. As Nigeria’s tourism industry embarks on this transformative journey, the nation stands poised to showcase its cultural richness, natural beauty, and hospitality to the world, while simultaneously reaping the economic rewards.