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Can we awaken the Nigerian tourism sector? Yes, we can!

A few weeks ago, a friend and I decided that she visits Nigeria while I am in the country to celebrate the festive period. Given that she would be travelling from the United Kingdom as a tourist, she had to obtain a visa.

To our dismay, the Nigerian tourism visa application fee for British nationals is a minimum of £160 (Approx. N80,000)”. This reality led me to look into Nigerian tourism visa fees, particularly towards the so-called advanced nations and the most travelling countries.

My findings were disappointing. To this end, this opinion piece argues for the need for Nigeria to reduce its tourist visa fees to embrace the opportunities embedded in its potentially loaded tourism industry. I will further suggest a collaborative measure that can aid in achieving this goal.

According to Jumia Hospitality report of 2019, travel and tourism remains one of the key growth drivers of Africa’s economy. It contributed about 8.5% (or US$194.2B) of the GDP in 2018. And by Brookings Institutions’ estimates, by 2030, consumer spending on tourism, hospitality, and recreation in Africa will be close to US$261.77 billion (Approx. N953B).

However, despite its vast landmass and scenery with beautiful views, in utter disappointment, Nigeria is presently tapping only US$17.2million (Approx. N6.3B).

The top five countries mostly reaping this industry’s profits in Africa are Mauritius, South Africa, Seychelles, Morocco and Namibia. Nigeria is not among the top 20 countries of those African nations most visited for tourism.

However, The Nation projected that the Nigerian travel and tourism industry is worth about $3-4billion. Thus, it begs the question of how can Nigeria translate these figures into meaningful impacts in the lives of everyday Nigerians? Firstly, I firmly think the Nigerian government needs to strategically lower the current unnecessary expensive tourism fees towards mostly travelling countries.

These countries include Finland, the USA, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Canada, Australia and France. Much more, we can potentially target the European nations on this list because of its proximity to Nigeria.

Perhaps one apt indicator of the effectiveness of no-visa policy for tourists is to take a look at the tourist visa policies of the top five African countries dominating the African tourism industry.

For each of them, no visa is required for tourist visits for the top ten countries that travel the most. Away, from the continent, a similar trajectory is the order of the day in our Asian counterparts such as Thailand, Cambodia, India, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, Myanmar and the Philippines.

From personal experience, I think that this proposed strategic visa policy will be effective, especially because of my generation, the millennials and generation Z or the post-millennial generation. We are often categorised as the folks searching for deeper meaning in life.

As an undergraduate and graduate student in South Korea, I had several European and other Asian nationals in my respective universities who were in the country as exchange students. I was surprised at how incredibly teeming these students came to the country.

A common thread among these students is the innate desire to explore beyond their geographical locations and see the world for themselves. Fortunately, they also have the financial capability to live out this dream. Thus, such visa policy will be an appropriate match for a generation thriving on a quest for world exploration.

Indeed, we must ask a question: will a reduced visa fee necessarily increase the earning potential of the tourism industry? After all, there are other factors which must be in place.

An appraisal of the model countries listed above shows that merely lowering tourist visa fees is not enough. As every public policy reveals its complexity as time goes on, other measures must be in place to sustain the benefit of low or no visa fees.

Consequently, I suggest that a concerted effort termed ‘Visit Nigeria 2021-2023’ is developed to magnify the benefits of the no-visa policy for these strategic countries. A sister example is ‘2016-2018 Visit Korea Year’, an initiative launched by the South Korean government to attract foreign tourists to visit various destinations in the country in a more convenient way.

It included varieties of facilities, events and activities for the tourists to benefit from. Overall, based on the increase of foreign visitors to the country, it’s been largely deemed a successful programme. Nigeria can tremendously emulate such initiative to initially advertise the strategic low or no visa policy suggested in this piece.

There might be a counter viewpoint that the safety of Nigeria might hinder the success of the proposed “Visit Nigeria” project. However, the Philippines, which is consistently ranked lower than Nigerian in the Global Finance ranking of World’s Safest countries, is reaping a substantial economic benefit from the aggressive promotion of its tourism sector.

For example, similar to the initiative “Visit Korea 2016-2018”, the Philippines launched “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”. The Philippine government used this social marketing mechanism to attract as many tourists as possible. Since it’s launching in 2012, the numbers of visitors have consistently increased. For example, as of 2011, the number of inbound visitors was only 3,917,454. However, as of 2018, it’s climbed to 7,127,168 visitors.

Also, it might be argued that the potential touristic spots in Nigeria are underdeveloped. As such, it will be tough to attract maximal visitors. However, a historical look at the Philippines explained above points that its touristic spots were not as developed either. However, through the initial drive of attracting folks to the country, it gradually stepped up the facilities needed to consistently maximise the economic benefit of this sector.

Since the founding of Nigeria, there has been a huge promise by successive administrations at diversifying the Nigerian economy. The Buhari-Osinbajo led administration upon its inauguration on May 27, 2015, made a similar promise. Factually, no serious effort has been made yet towards diversifying the economy. Tourism stands as one of the best bets at achieving this national goal. Nations that have taken it seriously are reaping the benefits. Given its beautiful landmass and incredibly hospitable people, Nigeria is strategically and historically placed to tap the dormant benefits in the tourism sector.

I call on Honourable Minister Mr Lai Mohammed, the Federal Minister of Information and Culture, Honourable Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, the Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs, to collaborate in tasking the Nigerian Tourism Development Board. I request that you tap this largely unknown agency to expand the scope of the ongoing ‘Tour Nigeria’ project to accommodate the proposals suggested in this article. Our country is a force to be reckoned with in the African tourism sector, and it is high time we take our place to contribute to the administration’s promise to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty over the next decade.

Aanuoluwapo Afolabi is the Co-Founder of Fraser Foundation, an NGO focused on creating opportunities for personal and Africa systemic development. He is an alumnus of the Korean Government Scholarship Program and a graduate of Graduate School of International Studies, Korea University in Seoul, South Korea.


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