‘Nigeria has failed to embrace tourism as alternative tool for economic development’
Lolo Ngozi Ngoka is the Vice President, South East wing of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), with oversight functions for the organisation in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States. Just recently, the group hosted tour operators and journalists to a special tour of the region, where they visited some strategic tourist sites, including the Ogbunike Cave. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, Ngoka, who is also the CEO of Zigona Travels & Tours, spoke on the activities of FTAN in Southeast and the need for the region to harness its tourism potentials through collaboration.
What informed the decision to organise the tour of southeast?
Our focus is primarily to walk journalists and tour operators through the amazing historical and cultural sites in Southeast Nigeria, using well-researched sample itineraries that will appeal to both local and international tourists. Our hope is that the exposure will drive tourism traffic to the zone and help generate income for the communities where these tourism sites are located and ultimately boast the businesses of our federating members. Our members have businesses that cover the spectra of the tourism chain from transportation, accommodation/feeding to site seeing/entertainment. So, essentially, we explored the best ways to get to the Southeast; how to move around, where to stay, what and where to eat and what to do while you are there. It’s our hope that our invitees will help tell our story and highlight where government and private investors can come in and help provide infrastructure around the sites we have identified.
Aside the tour of Southeast, are there other activities lined up for the year?
Later this year, in the last quarter, we have concluded plans to stage the first ever Food and Fashion Fair, where attendees will have the opportunity to sample the amazing delicacies of the people of the Southeast; we have so many types of food that you can actually have a two-week menu without repeating a dish. We will also exhibit both the traditional, cultural and modern fashion of Ndi Igbo. The three-day event will also include trainings for the exhibitors on presentation and packaging. We will also have lawyers come talk to them about business start-ups and intellectual property, while bankers and insurance companies will be there to market loans and insurance packages as well as open new accounts.
FTAN Southeast will also showcase the tourism investment opportunities to the governments of the five states of the region, as well as to potential investors during our panel discussions. We will use the fair to emphasize our tourism selling points, properly package them for local and international markets, as well as improve on the experiences of visitors to the Southeast. We also hope to introduce discussions about drawing up a Tourism Development Master Plan for the Southeast. Due to its geographical configuration, the fact the we currently have three airports servicing the region and the relatively short distance between the major cities and tourism sites scattered all over the region, it is imperative that the five states of the Southeast harness their strategic tourism development plans. This has been my talking point in discussions with the various state governments; they need to have a common tourism board to sync their activities for maximum benefit.
As an expert in tourism developement, how do you think the region can harness its tourism potentials?
Southeast Nigeria is a tourism haven for so many reasons; the area is naturally endowed with many historical and cultural sites. It has local and renowned artists, lovely, enterprising and hospitable people, the best food in the world and, of course, everyone knows that the transportation business was made and perfected by the people of that make up the states of Southeast Nigeria. Also, the fact that the zone has common cultural practices for tourists to contend with makes tour planning and guiding easy; it makes touring experience stress free.
Now, think of what would happen if the State governments began to make optimal use of these already existing environmental resources in their general economic planning and include Tourism Development? With direct and strategic focus on improved road networks, standardisation of accommodation options, maintenance of existing tourism sites, institutional framework and proper legislation that would attract and protect investors in the tourism sector, inclusion of tourism and environmental protection in school curriculum from primary to tertiary levels…everything will change. These are the key areas that the government should pay attention to for tourism to thrive.
Countries like UAE, South Africa and Kenya are doing well with tourism, what have we not done right as a country to join that league?
I think Nigeria has failed to embrace the idea of tourism as alternative tool for economic development. It is for this reason that the private sector, through FTAN, is taking the bull by the horn with the hope that we can positively influence the tourism discuss, by showcasing how it can be used as a tool for poverty alleviation and strategic development of rural communities for economic empowerment.
So, what’s the way forward?
Successful tourism development is predicated on sustained attention to clearly cut out tourism development objectives and integration of these objectives into the National Economic planning for Nigeria. It includes involvement of local communities where tourism initiatives are sited or where they are naturally located; regional co-operation and integration of common policies by state governments and government facilitation of tourism entrepreneurship through tax reduction and subsidies for tourism startups. Like I mentioned earlier, tourism and environmental protection should be compulsory studies at primary and secondary school levels; that’s the way to go.
How can the tourism potentials of the Southeast be harnessed to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)?
I believe the advocacy that FTAN is currently engaged in, is a bold step towards achieving this objective. Investors usually research online, so, we have started working on our website: www.visitsoutheastnigeria.org.ng. When the site is ready, visitors will be able to download eBooks and journals about Southeast tourism and investor follow up systems. We want to know who is browsing for information about our region so we can target them in our social media marketing campaigns. We are also regularly uploading videos, photos and Podcasts to attract and educate potential investors about tourism in Southeast Nigeria. We also publish on portals like YouTube and ITunes and run promotions on social networks like Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. We have included a South East Tourism Investment Opportunity seminar in the program for the Food and fashion Fair coming up later in the year and we also plan to launch a book about South East Tourism written by Mr. JohnPaul Ezeani, our zonal secretary and an avid tour operator. We will also keep advocating at seminars and speaking engagements with business associations and embassies.
What is the level of awareness in the Southeast and how prepared are the people, especially the states, to support tourism?
It could be better, but we’re working really hard to improve on the current situation. FTAN Southeast has an education committee and they have covered most communities in Anambra through their traditional rulers. I have also, in my visits to traditional rulers and youth organisations, preached preservation of culture and cultural institutions.
Our presence in the Southeast is less than a year old. Since I took office at the end of June 2017, we’ve been trying to set up offices in all the five states. So far, we’ve succeeded in setting up in four states; I’m optimistic that the last state will be set up before June this year. Getting the governments to key into our programmes has not been an easy task because FTAN was not well known in the zone. Things are however changing for the better; three of the states are now regularly consulting with us on issues related to tourism. We are very optimistic for the future.
Why are you committed to championing this cause? I believe strongly that the only way to effect change in the tourism sector is to actively get involved. If we all sit down and remain elegiac about the situation, nothing will change. I’m an advocate of small collective efforts; every positive move adds up to a big change. It is also my way of contributing to a better Nigeria; we owe it to our children and ourselves.
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