The good news; the growth potential for tourism in Nigeria is enormous. There is a lot to be done and tourism can generate income for tens of thousands in the industry and more in the supporting sectors (food & beverages production, technical & logistical support), as well as substantial tax income for government
The bad news: Nigeria can only be competitive short term on the domestic market but this still means a multi-million dollar business volume. Nigeria has a number of serious drawbacks and strong competition on the international market, which will be hard to overcome short or even mid-term.
Tourism can only flourish in a conducive environment. Nigeria has a number of touristic sites, but these are not very well known (nor promoted) beyond the borders. A number of them are not in a good condition, despite being of historic and cultural significance. This is caused by the fact that tourism is the portfolio of the states of the federation and the priorities (and funding available for tourism) greatly vary depending on the vision (or lack thereof) of the politicians at the helm.
Nigeria’s bad reputation in terms of security (generalized and not entirely justified) in the whole world will deter most foreign tourists. Nigerians are more familiar with the actual situation and willing and able to deal with it. Foreigners are not able to differentiate between different African countries, let alone regions within a country. This means that certain areas of Nigeria may be safe enough for tourism but the guests will not recognize it and consider the whole of Nigeria as dangerous.
Tourism requires good infrastructure and a welcoming culture. Getting a visa to visit Nigeria is an expensive, time-consuming and discouraging venture for non-ECOWAS-visitors. Other African countries, where tourism is flourishing make all this a completely different experience. There it only requires a valid passport, a smile and sometimes a small fee upon entry. Mohammed Murtala International Airport seems to be designed to frustrate and deter the facilities as well as the frustrating experience passing immigrations and customs and general poor service mentality.
When recently stepping out of the plane at MMIA after a trip to Bangkok and Dubai, I initially thought I had missed the news about a terrorist attack at the airport. The warmth of the un-air-conditioned facilities soon made me realize again that the missing and broken ceiling panels and other broken parts are “normal” and are part of the “Nigeria-experience”. Kotoka International Airport in Accra sets new standards in all aspects only a few hundred kilometer away, and Ghana’s GDP is only 1/6 of Nigeria’s GDP.
Who should be driving this development to make tourism a main source of income for the country? This should, without a doubt, mainly be done by private sector specialists and entrepreneurs with the objective to generate profit. Only if profit is generated, will the facilities continue to be maintained and operated at the required standard and tax income will flow to secure the actual touristic sites, thus making the development sustainable.
Though some interesting initiatives were launched by governments/governors, these were often ignored once the ruling party changed. Promising projects are in a state of demise (e.g. Obudu Cattle Ranch). Politicians love to cut ribbons and need to have successes to show for, but this often rules out long-term strategies which will only show results after a longer period of time or ensure sustainability of a project. An entrepreneur who invested his own money will continue as long as there is profit (-perspective) and will maintain the project in order to make his investment worthwhile, compared to a politician who has spend tax payers money and cannot be held responsible.
Travelling within Nigeria remains a challenge and this hampers tourism development. Bad roads may make it difficult to reach touristic sites. Only Lagos and Abuja receive substantial international flights, so visitors will need to use domestic air lines to reach other destinations. This is a struggle and time-consuming. Domestic air travel is often also unreliable, though Ibom Air is showing that operations can be punctual and reliable. There is a clear task for the public sector to improve this enabling environment.
Public Sector on federal level will have to officially make tourism development and especially tourism marketing a priority, which should go beyond political statements and include actual infrastructure improvements aimed at supporting tourism regions. The federal concept of Nigeria is -in part- preventing actual efficient work and development to take place, as there is a constant battle among states to get a “slice of the cake”. Government should take advice from impartial international experts on which areas and sites to prioritize.
Nigeria’s “neighbor” Ghana (with several functioning tourism-related agencies) was very successful in putting itself on the tourism map in 2019 “Year of Return” with a determined and well-financed marketing effort. It is sure that this costly campaign has a lasting impact on the inflow of foreign tourists nto Ghana. Nigeria has some similar slave trade related sites (South-East Nigeria was a main source of slaves) but there was no effective campaign to benefit from “The Year of Return”………
When a state insists on investing tax-payers money into actual tourism facilities, such as hotels etc. they should work according to private sector principles (-> objective = profit) and get advice form experts. There are several examples of substantial investments in prestigious hotels, where financial failure has set in or is to be foreseen. It means that money is wasted and projects will turn into embarrassments, which could have been avoided.
The Nigerian consumer mentality towards hospitality & tourism has to change as well. Whilst Nigerians spend top dollar in Dubai and other foreign destinations, their only concern when informing themselves about a hotel or resort in Nigeria is “discount”. Even some high-net-worth-individuals refuse to accept that operating a facility at a consistent high-quality level and with good service comes at a price. Fortunately, a few high-end hotels have managed to make it clear that quality comes at a cost, but the majority of the sector are struggling to achieve reasonable prices. That means that there is not sufficient money to attract quality staff or maintain the facilities. The same guests will be the first ones to complain that service is bad or facilities are not well-maintained. The effects of this attitude are visible all over the country in mediocre hotels which are poorly maintained and provide poor service that is nowhere near international standard. Consumers should not focus on the highest possible discount but on VALUE and look at getting “Value for money”.