What Nigerian Tourism Minister Should Do To Succeed, NANTA National President Reveals
President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Susan Akporiaye, has revealed what the Minister of the newly-created Ministry of Tourism in Nigeria, Ms Lola Ade-John, should do to succeed and revamp the money-spinning industry for the benefit of the country and her people.
Akporiaye disclosed this in an exclusive interview with REPORTERS AT LARGE at the just-concluded Africa Tourism Leadership Forum and Award held at Gaborone International Conference Centre, Botswana.
Recall after lots of campaigns by Tourism stakeholders for a separate Ministry of Tourism over the years, President Bola Tinubu on Wednesday, August 16, 2023, announced the creation of a stand-alone Ministry of Tourism and announced Ms Lola Ade-John as the minister. Since the pronouncements, stakeholders have continued to offer information and advice that could help the minister to succeed, thereby emboldening Nigeria on the map of Tourism nations in the world.
Akporiaye, who expressed optimism that Ms Ade-John must have received all the reports from the agencies under the ministry, the Nigeria Tourism Development Authority (NTDA) and the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOROUR), since there was no handover note for her because there was never a minister of tourism, emphasised the need for the minister to also get comprehensive reports from the private sector.
“Let her not depend only on the reports of the government. That one-sided report would make her decision one-sided. We have been suffering from that one-sidedness for a very long time. The government and the private sector’s reports, and her independent research, will produce a proper balance which would propel the expected overhauling and revamping of the Industry. Ms Ade-John must not listen to those people claiming to be ‘the real people’, the self-acclaimed ‘the voice of the entire private sector,’ because I also understand that politics play out even in the private sector. We are fighting our devils, politics is everywhere. I am a private sector person, and I have been in a leadership role in the private sector for a very long time. Some people are playing politics, people being very selfish as you see them running and pursuing personal, not corporate agendas. She should do her independent research to know which among these private sectors is making a huge difference.”
The National NANTA President said, having found out the real and influential bodies and individuals in the private sector, Ms Ade-John should call them to a private meeting, brief them about the government agencies’ reports and request theirs.
“Then, if she needs help, she can call the government and the private sectors to a retreat, and let both parties sit down at the same table to forge a progressive and sustainable direction for the Ministry and the Nigerian Tourism industry. I am sorry, without that we might have issues because tourism is more private than government.”
Akporiaye noted that the retreat should not be just a one-off, rather, it should be periodical and heart-searching which may result in clashes of opinions and perspectives but all in the good of the Nigerian tourism industry. She added that stakeholders should be allowed to be honest, and not just to be massaging someone’s ego in such retreats. “There should be no press or media attention so that people can be honest, open and sincere on their perception about the reality of the Nigerian tourism industry.”
While advising Ms Ade-John to lead such meetings without the mindset of judging, indicting or crucifying anybody, Akporiaye noted that participants in the meeting should respectively express their perceptions. This, according to her, will reveal the true state of tourism in Nigeria and help to prefer useful and sustainable solutions to the challenges in the industry.
“Just a 5-day serious-minded retreat in one hotel where the challenges in the industry would be discussed in the first two days, and nothing in the retreat should go to the public through the media – all players should sign an agreement that nothing discussed here would be made public and nobody would be victimized by telling ourselves where we went wrong – and the next three days are for the way forward; like a road map to success and prosperity. I am sorry for using the word ‘roadmap’, it is because I am used to the word as a tourism expert. Like Lagos’ roadmap of tourism, and Nigeria’s roadmap of tourism, I am tired of those roadmaps, what are we doing with them?”
Expectations from the Tourism Minister
The NANTA National President expressed optimism that Ms Ade-John success would be the fullest if the Minister could successfully organise meetings with the public and the private sectors to sincerely discuss the issues and prefer solutions to the many challenges in the Nigerian Tourism industry.
Reacting to the newly-created Ministry of Tourism, her expectations from it and the banking and technology background of the minister, the NANTA boss said “One good thing about tourism is that any profession can work in tourism; everything needed is the passion. I am a microbiologist and look at me here now. For you to perform well in Tourism, you don’t have to study Tourism in school; all you need is to make a difference.
“Almost everybody has an idea of tourism because they have travelled. A lot of people are involved in tourism activities without even knowing. Their tourism idea may be holistic, but they have an idea because they travel whether outside or within the country. I don’t share the school of thought that for the Minister of Tourism to do well, he/she must have studied tourism. I say a big “NO” to that philosophy. Funny enough, Ms Ade-John has been involved in tourism because the fundamental of TravelTech is technology. The saying goes that the future of tourism and travel is technology. She is a technology expert, invariably she is involved in tourism. She already has an edge in tourism because everybody is talking about the future of tourism in technology. She has the technology to bring on board and to help.”
Akporiaye, who noted that expectations from Ms Lola-John are high, said “I feel for her because we never had the Ministry of Tourism as an independent and separate ministry, so she may not have any form of reference. I think Lai Mohammed did more for information than for tourism.”
Meanwhile, the NANTA National President felt that the government should have made it a Ministry of Culture and Tourism, explaining that “because for us, it is our culture that we sell as tourism because that is the product that we have.
“The Ministry of Tourism is new in Nigeria, without any form of reference, unlike the Western world. For things to work in the industry, the Minister of Tourism and the Minister of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy, Hannatu Musawa, have to work hand-in-hand; they have to be best friends. They cannot afford to fight, and we have to just pray for her.”
Akporiaye added “I cannot say I am expecting much or less from her. I prefer to underpromise and keep the expectations low on a personal note. But the hopes are high for her, and as a woman myself, I am expecting a great relationship with her, while we keep our fingers crossed. There’s this saying that when women rule, everyone wins. We are hopeful that Ms. Ade-John will make a difference, if not she might probably give the government reasons to scrap the ministry again. This is the reason we are here to support her; this is not the time to fight our minister but to support her, give her all the ideas, and let her know what she needs.
“Most importantly, the choice is hers: if she wants to listen to us, or the other way around, it is her choice. She is the minister; she is my boss. She decides what to do, and we hope she works with the private sector.”
NANTA and the Public Sector’s Relationship
Akporiaye disclosed that “NANTA, as an association for travel and tourism entrepreneurs, used to have two fathers, but now that we have three ministries, aviation, culture and tourism, we have one father and two mothers. Of course, we cover all the areas, and we have relations with all the ministries. For us, it is to continue to build that great relationship with the government. We should continue to let the government know that we are here to inform on the best way it is being done. We will continue to push and establish relationships so that the private and government relations would be strong to enhance better policies for the industries. If we have good policies for travel and tourism generally, it would be easy for NANTA members to sell. Sometimes, it is the difficulty of policies that discourages selling. NANTA’s responsibility is to make sure our members have the opportunity to sell ‘destination Nigeria’. How do we do that? We will continue to build relationships with the government to make sure we have a good level playing ground for every stakeholder, and the right policies are in place for our members to sell.”