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Adebayo: Nigeria needs to make it easier for tourists to visit

By Maria Diamond
24 September 2022   |   2:45 am
Olugbenga Adebayo is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Gadeshire Travels and Tours Limited, whose tour firm recently hosted a five-man group of tourists and investors

Olugbenga Adebayo

Olugbenga Adebayo is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Gadeshire Travels and Tours Limited, whose tour firm recently hosted a five-man group of tourists and investors from Malaysia and Indonesia.

In this interview with MARIA DIAMOND, he spoke on the challenges he encountered in executing the package while calling on the government to adopt a seamless process from visa procurement to clearing immigration at the airport to make it easier for tourists to visit Nigeria.

What were some of the challenges you encountered in putting this tour package together?
The challenges are not unusual, especially when you are putting together a tour for international tourists. Visa processing, visa fees and logistics were all part of the challenges. The experience of our guests in getting visas was harrowing, therefore we still need to visit the visa fees regime; it is not encouraging at all.

One of the issues is reciprocity in visa fees; we need to revisit this. If the US is charging Nigeria $150 (N69, 000), especially for a visitor’s visa, then Nigeria is expected to charge the same fees, uniformity in visa fees. I am sure if you go to the Malaysian embassy in Nigeria the visa fee is not more than N20,000, so if a Malaysian is coming to Nigeria and he is spending almost N200,000 for visa procurement, then there is no uniformity at all or reciprocity in that aspect.

How can this be resolved then?
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs needs to look into this, because if we as businesses and tour operators are putting our resources into marketing and promoting Nigeria and our government is not complementing these efforts, then it is not good enough and beneficial to us as you know that tourism sector is private driven.

In my organisation, there is a department that is called Visiting-Nigeria, which carries out ground handling services for visitors visiting Nigeria for business, tours, trade missions, MICE and others. It is also the department in our organisation with the core responsibility of marketing Nigeria as a preferred destination to visitors all around the globe. We put a lot of resources into marketing some of Nigeria’s destinations that we know are viable.

We also most times send our personnel to trade fairs, travel fairs, trade missions, conferences, studies and training abroad to market and promote Nigeria’s destination. But when we put in all these efforts and we don’t see the government playing its part, it is very frustrating, discouraging and disappointing.

When it comes to a visa issue, it is the prerogative of the government; we don’t have power or control over it. But that is one of the ways that the government can support our businesses if it is properly done. We are not asking the government not to carry out due diligence, but it should be done in such a way as not to discourage the visitors or make it difficult for them to obtain visas or entry permits into Nigeria. If you make it that difficult it will affect our businesses, and it will also have an adverse effect on direct foreign investment (FDI), foreign exchange earnings, job creation and sustainability of all tourism job chains and also on our national brands.

In your opinion, how best should the Nigerian government handle the visa processing then? 
We don’t have to do something that will put off visitors from coming to Nigeria. For instance, for this tour, it took us over three months for us to get to this point. The coordinator has to visit Nigerian Embassy in Malaysia several times before he could get the visa for the group members.

We have been having discussions over the years with our travel company partner in Malaysia on collaboration in marketing Nigeria as a preferred destination to Malaysians, Indonesians and Singaporeans and on how this should be done. Now imagine that the first set of tourists visiting Nigeria from Malaysia and Indonesia have to face this process of forth and back for an entry visa.

The visa process has to be conducted in a seamless manner to make it easier for the visitors and us, especially people who are coming for tourism, investment and business purposes. We are looking forward to receiving over 200 visitors from Malaysia and Indonesia in 2023 who are coming on trade missions, and tourism, and to participate in some of our local festivals.

Now, imagine if it takes between three and four hours to clear five foreign passengers at the international airport, how many hours will it take to clear between 100 and 200 foreign visitors at the airport? These are some of the issues our travel partners in Malaysia raised during their visit if they have to come for these trade missions, tourism and to participate in some of our festivals next year.

What are the benefits of this visit to Nigeria?
Quite a lot, first, visitors now have a different perception about Nigeria totally different from what they have been reading over the Internet or heard from others. The visitors came with foreign currency, and spend their money in Nigeria and we are complaining of scarce foreign exchange and the high exchange rate, but these people are coming with foreign currency, which would boost our economy and foreign currency earning level.

They are lodged in a hotel and the government earns revenue from these hotels in form of taxes and levies, Value Added Tax (VAT) and service charges as well as taxes from other vendors or service providers as a result of this visit.

They interacted with the local people and bought things from them; we visited many places where we have to pay gate fees. Some of the people working in these establishments are able to keep their jobs as a result of patronage. So, these are the reasons why we want the government’s policies to be encouraging for the operators and business owners and for the sector’s sustainability. 

It is really discouraging at times when we have to deal with these issues that we don’t personally have control over and that is why when they tell us that we should sell or market Nigeria as a destination, we find it difficult, because when you are putting in efforts at selling and marketing, then when it comes to implementation, you find all these bottlenecks that are not necessary or needed at all. It is easier for my organisation to market foreign destinations than in Nigeria and the reasons for this are obvious.
 
I believe that the tourism sector of our economy needs appropriate attention, as it has more capacity to boost and sustain our challenging economy.