afrol News, 21 November - The tourism sector in West Africa's leading nation, encompassing tropical beaches, rain forest, savannahs, lively cities and rich cultures, has so far been in the shadow of the oil sector. New investment initiatives and efforts to increase security are now to change this.
Governor Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State was not in the mood of praising when he earlier this week paid a courtesy visit at the Abuja offices of the federal the Minister of Culture and Tourism. His small and picturesque state in the Niger delta is suffering from Nigeria's poor tourism record. Only very few foreigners had yet appreciated the Arochukwu and Azumiri blue river, which the Abia Governor sees as a major "tourism potential".
Mr Kalu told Tourism Minister Frank Ogbuewu that that the national tourism sector would continue to suffer a set back "unless the country addressed the issues of stability of electricity, security of lives and property and bad roads."
Given the weight of the Nigerian oil sector, potential tourism revenues had not been taken seriously so far. The Abia Governor pointed out that the situation is different in countries that are using tourism as their major foreign exchange earner. If these problems were not solved, Nigeria would "not generate revenue from tourism sector."
Abia certainly is not the only Nigerian state suffering from Nigeria's poor standards and even worse reputation. While the official 'Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation' describes the country as "the 'Giant of Africa' is richly endowed with ecological and cultural resources," Nigeria actually is a dwarf in tourist arrivals, when excluding those having to visit Abuja during the one of the ever more frequent conferences held in the capital.
Despite of the discouraging situation, the tourism industry in Nigeria actually has undergone a gradual but progressive evolution, which is reflecting its growing importance in the national economy. Studies showing Nigeria's great potentials for the development of the tourism sector has made federal government act.
In Abuja, Tourism Minister Ogbuewu thus was able to comfort Governor Kalu, telling his that the federal government now had seen "the need for the country and take tourism seriously." The government was aware of that "Nigeria would be making a lot of money" if developing the tourism sector "rather than depending solely on oil revenue."
The Minister also was able to point to facts. This very same week, he had announced that the federal government is now planning to set up a tourism bank "in order to encourage greater participation of both local and foreign investors in the tourism sector in Nigeria."
- It will be recalled that the slow pace of development of tourism in Nigeria has been attributed to the absence of infrastructure and loans facilities to prospective tourism practitioners, the Minister told members of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria. This "problem is soon to become a thing of the past," Mr Ogbuewu added.
The upcoming tourism bank is to become a financial institution with specific functions in the provision of soft loans to tourism practitioners. According to the Minister, the plan to set up the bank is now at an advanced stage.
While local leaders, such as Abia Governor Kalu, will have to wait for the realisation of federal government schemes to create "conditions to boost tourism," the modern federal capital is already profiting from Nigeria's growing political importance after the introduction of democracy in 1999. Here, one conference after the other is held and the hotel and restaurant sector is thriving.
Only this week, the local authorities announced that the Abuja International Hotels, Sofitel, would be ready for commissioning by 30 November, well ahead of the 5-8 Commonwealth Summit to be held in the city. Local authorities were afraid the hotel would not be finished by 5 December and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Ahmad Nasir el-Rufai, has been observed doing weekly inspections on the construction site.
The luxury Abuja hotel is being equipped with all possible facilities for the expected Commonwealth Heads of State, which also could include Queen Elisabeth II, and an enormous Media Centre. Also the city's International Conference Centre, the IBB Golf course and country club and several parks are currently getting a face-lifting, Minister el-Rufai informs.
As normally is the case, few participants of the Commonwealth Summit are expected to set their feet outside Abuja, however. "The richness and diversity of the Nigerian culture," as described by the Tourism Board, remains a destination only for the penniless and adventurous occasional backpacker.
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