OBG talks to Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General, World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO)

Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General, World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO)

Interview: Taleb Rifai

What are the major priorities for Nigerian policymakers to boost tourist arrivals?

TALEB RIFAI: Nigeria is today one of the most visited countries in sub-Saharan Africa, receiving more than 1.5m international tourists in 2010. Yet considering the country’s wealth of natural and cultural resources, there is surely huge potential for further tourism development. Nigeria has been implementing a Tourism Development Master Plan, developed with the support of UNWTO and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which focuses on a number of priority areas. Key among these are capacity building, increasing support for small and medium-sized enterprises, simplifying the visa regime and encouraging local community participation. As is the case for many destinations, Nigeria faces the challenge of misperception. There is nothing one can do to avoid negative news, but there is much that one can achieve in communicating the positive stories.

In what ways can business tourism support growth in the number of leisure tourist arrivals?

RIFAI: Business travel is often a prelude to the highly profitable leisure segment, with both markets relying on similar facilities and infrastructure. Restaurants, hotels, transport and many other components of the business tourism value chain also service the needs of leisure travellers. Nigeria is well endowed with conference facilities and has made a name for itself as a conference destination, especially within the region. Indeed, UNWTO’s meeting of African tourism ministers, the UNWTO Commission for Africa, took place this year in Calabar. Many delegates attending the commission took the time to explore Nigeria as leisure travellers and, through word-of-mouth, more will no doubt follow. UNWTO recently published a study on Chinese outbound travel to Africa which found that while the number of Chinese visitors to Africa currently accounts for only a very small percentage of the Chinese travel market, the rate of growth is significant, with the number of Chinese outbound departures to Africa rising from 59,000 in 2001 to 322,000 in 2008. Nigeria was the fourth-most-visited destination in Africa by Chinese tourists, the majority of which travelled for business. This will no doubt result in a growing number of leisure travellers from the region over the coming years.

What recommendations do you have to further develop the tourism industry?

RIFAI: Crucial to tourism development is support from the government. At UNWTO we have found that without support at the highest level of decision making, tourism is unable to fully deliver on its employment, economic and development potential. In this regard, the government of Nigeria has taken commendable steps over the past years, recognising tourism as an excellent means of diversifying the country’s economic base. This support should now be translated into strong and forward-looking national public policies, with increased investment in sustainability, infrastructure, marketing and strengthened public-private partnerships. We trust that the implementation of the Tourism Development Master Plan will be an important step in this regard.

What contribution can tourism make to eradicate poverty in Africa over the next five years?

RIFAI: The potential of tourism to lift people out of poverty in Africa, and in other regions, is huge. The figures speak for themselves: 50m international tourists travelled to Africa in 2011, generating $33bn in receipts. Moreover, the number of international tourist arrivals to Africa is expected to more than double between now and 2030. These tourists flowing into and around the continent provide vital foreign exchange, investment and know-how, with a significant multiplier effect on many other areas of the economy. At the same time, tourism is an extremely labour-intensive sector and offers an entry point into the workforce, especially for women and young people. As such, it provides opportunities for fair income, gender equality, personal development and social inclusion for the most vulnerable.

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The Report: Nigeria 2012

Tourism chapter from The Report: Nigeria 2012

Cover of The Report: Nigeria 2012

The Report

This article is from the Tourism chapter of The Report: Nigeria 2012. Explore other chapters from this report.

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