Are We Ready for Tourism?

With all due respect for what Tourism Minister Edem Duke and the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC)D-G, Otunba Segun Runsewe, have actually done and the right noises they are making as Nigeria’s tourism salesmen to raise awareness about the need for tourism development in the country, my answer to the above question is a big ‘no’. As a nation, we are not yet ready to develop our tourism sites which nature has so bountifully blessed us with in order to grow our economy. At the political and policy level, we have been content with just mouthing sentiments about the huge potential we have in diversifying our oil-dependent economy through the development of our many tourism sites. I am afraid that beyond that, nothing concrete seems to have been done or is being done to actually develop the tourism industry. Today this industry is the least developed of all our economic sectors. How sad, given its potential to become a major revenue earner for the country.

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From what I see, I doubt if there is any tourism policy or master plan which has been drawn which sets out in a systematic manner what and what and what needs to be done in what order in order for the country to have a vibrant tourism industry. If such a plan or policy exists, one will see on ground evidence of deliberate efforts to develop roads, rail tracks and airports or air strips which would specifically link potential tourists to major identified tourism sites.

One would have also seen in evidence other tourism support infrastructure such as dedicated power supply to tourists’ towns and villages, their planned development as well as the provision of water and improved security in those specific places. The absence of a special attention given to them may be a reflection of the generally poor level of our development. But our people have a saying that a wise man uses money to catch more money as seen in the fact that the colonial masters paid special attention to places of economic importance to them.

There are many things that make a country become a major tourists’ destination but here I will concentrate on the state of our hotels with emphasis on the manpower that run them. I do so because hotels are a vital part of the tourism industry.

Without sounding churlish, I wish to state that less than one per cent of the personnel running our hotels is professionally trained to do so. Right from the reception to other areas of the running of a typical hotel or hospitality outfit, you see this in much evidence. As a member of the National Good Governance Tour team, we have had to lodge in hotels across the country. I am therefore speaking authoritatively about what I and millions of others have experienced and keep experiencing even as we are now talking.

I just wonder to myself why our people spend millions and possibly billions of Naira to build hotels yet there are no properly trained personnel to run them in a manner that would woo a lodger or user to come back another time. Most of the workers are rude, impolite, discourteous and very, very unprofessional and unethical in their conduct. In short, many of them have no business going to work in a place which requires courtesy, politeness, patience, hard work and ability to pet anybody. My conclusion, based on what I have observed, is that we are not yet ready to encourage tourism.

Apart from the poor attitude of hotel workers, there is also the problem of the actual running of the hotels. In a typical Nigerian hotel, you will see rooms where dead bulbs are not replaced; where the fans don’t work; where old air conditioners that need to be refilled with gas are not refilled so they hum and rev like jet engines but cannot cool the room; where the toilets cannot flush properly; where leaks in the sewer system are not sealed so the place stinks like an abattoir; where the water supply system does not function well and where a thousand and one minor things that ought to be attended to immediately for the comfort of the guests are not attended to which make you yearn to return to the comfort and familiarity of your home. Yet many of these hotels have the audacity to advertise their places as home away from home!

Now a tourist does not leave his home or his country thousands of miles away to come and listen to your agony stories about the insensitivity of the top management of the facility or of the development challenges facing your country. All he wants, or all he expected when he left his home, was to be ‘spoilt’ out there. Simple. That is his goal and he is not about to be apologetic about it. He wants excitement. He wants to be treated like royalty. He cannot be trying to escape the boredom of his familiar existence back home only to end up in a place that is short of even the basic necessities of life. He is not out for torture of any kind.

I am not a tourism expert but from the little practical experience I have had in my interaction with workers in the hotel industry, Duke and his team in the tourism sector need to do certain things very urgently. One, there is need for a national policy, or if one indeed exists, need to update it, placing emphasis on how to develop our tourism sites with the help of foreign investors. Two and most importantly, to have another policy for the training of personnel in the tourism industry ranging from tour guides to even the cleaner in the hotel facility. Even with the severe lack of development of tourism sites, properly trained or oriented workers can make some substantial difference. Right now what we have are like deploying agberos in the motor parks to go and play the role of masseurs in amenity facilities.

What we need are men and women who are trained to ‘spoil’ people who have laboured and want to have rest. Hotel patrons are very finicky and demanding people and to deal successfully with them requires enormous amount of time, patience and care. It is not a job for the untrained or the impatient or the lazy. But our personnel in the tourism industry seem trained, or rather untrained, to give annoyance through sheer ignorance of, or indifference to, the needs and cares of those who set out from their own homes to give themselves a treat and feel good that God has blessed them.

Runsewe’s NTDC needs to actually commence the classification or grading of our hotels and pleasure spots and insist that minimum standards in terms of facilities and personnel are maintained. Our hotels should only be manned by people who have undergone a specified course of theoretical and practical training. It should not be an all-comers affair as is the case now. NTDC personnel should be undertaking frequent and unannounced visits to our hotels to inspect and regulate their activities. I will love to see a situation whereby some which fail to keep to the required standards are sealed and only re-opened when they measure up to what is expected of them.

If you go round Nigeria you will discover that it is incredibly beautiful with places that look like the replica of the Garden of Eden. It is our duty to develop such places and tap the treasures there to grow our economy and provide places of relaxation and recreation for our people and foreigners alike.