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Saturday, 23 August 2014

Read what Sally Mbanefo , DG , NTDC said about President Jonathan !

Jonathan has done a fantastic job on the transformation agenda —NTDC DG
 24.Aug.2014  DISQUS_COMMENTS  
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The Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Mrs Sally Mbanefo, was at the Tribune headquarters on a courtesy visit in Ibadan on Thursday. She spoke with ABIODUN AWOLAJA on her vision for Nigeria in the tourism industry, President Goodluck Jonathan’s transformation agenda and allied issues. Excerpts:
ONE of the things you were saying when you come came in as NTDC Director General was that if we were talking about tourism, we Nigerians ourselves needed to understand and appreciate what is here…
How did you come about that concept?
Well, it is from the point of view of being a simple Nigerian who believes that patriotism is the beginning of everything.  If you look at a country like America, a president got to be president without ever leaving America. You find out that domestic tourism has thrived in a country like that where the people are so proud to travel within their own country, and that is enough to satisfy them, and they need not go out.
Of course, other things can take you out there to broaden your horizon but the fact is that a country like America has boosted and developed its domestic tourism to the extent that people are proud to live within their country and explore it with pride, and go out and talk about it to other people. Then, you export your culture. That is what drives it. For example, today, we are talking of Sango festival. Sango has been exported to 43 countries of the world.
Are you sure about this?
I am telling you. The Alaafin of Oyo sent emissaries to me twice, a whole delegation, to talk to me about the importance of the Sango festival to the Yoruba people, and that is why I am here today (Thursday) to come and open the event. They said they would not open it until I showed up.
Now, my reaching out to all the local governments, state governments and traditional rulers is paying off because they are embracing my visits.
Never has somebody from the Federal Government come to show respect. I don’t just come to attend the festival, no. I come to show respect and to recognise them as the custodians of our tradition and culture. And if we are talking about domestic tourism and I want to encourage Nigerians to visit Nigeria and spend vacation Nigeria, it is important that we go and visit the people who are the custodians of our tradition to tell us exactly what is available.
What has been your experience while, meeting with them?
The experience has been wonderful. It’s been an amazing experience for me personally as a Nigerian and as the DG of the NTDC. I’ve been able to learn so much about different parts of Nigeria because I’ve been to the North, South, East and West.
In a year, I touched all these areas. It’s been very enriching; highly educative. But at the same time, it has also given me a very good idea of what needs to be done. Every state I go to, they are very eager to show me, “This is where we need you to help us to develop.’’
Like when I went to Osun, the Ooni of Ife, the Tourism commissioner the local government chairman brought me to the shrine of Moremi which no longer existed. They said “we need you as a federal agent to help us to develop it.’’
Last night, I was also talking with the chairman of the tourism board of Oyo State and he was telling me about a very famous woman from Oyo. She’s like the equivalent of Moremi, very revered…
Efunsetan Aniwura?
Yes. He spoke to me about Efunsetan.
So, these visits highlight to me what they need, because in some of the states we go, they are quite well developed, but then, they have some things that they are very passionate about and which nobody has been able to recognise. They need us to support and help them to develop them.
During the 2013 Mare Festival in Ondo, you were saying that the NTDC would partner with Ondo State to promote tourism sites. What is the update on that?
The update on that is that we are now doing sensitisation and advocacy. The most important thing about tourism is awareness. And that is where we need you, the press, to practice what you call developmental journalism. Cable News Network (CNN) is carrying only our slums; you have never seen CNN showing our skyscrapers.  You have never seen these beautiful offices that we have. The  University College Hospital, Ibadan, I understand, even has a state-of-the-art geriatric section for old people, and so many other things.
 Ondo State has a fantastic medical tourism platform. Nobody talks about these things. Why should we go to India for medical treatment? Why should we go to India, why should we go to America, and why should we go to South Africa to have our children? I had all my three children in Nigeria and they came out perfectly well. I know somebody who went to America at the same time I went to deliver in the East. She spent 38 hours in labour. I spent one hour in a Nigerian hospital and was home the same day.
So, you find that Nigeria has so much to offer and we need to be able to talk about them.
Nollywood is going all over the world. Is NTDC partnering with it?
Absolutely. Six months ago, I had to give a talk to the Nollywood team. The truth of the matter is that Nigeria is quite successful in three major areas. One of them is religious tourism, the second part is business tourism.
Why religious tourism with all these Boko Haram attacks?
People don’t care. There are safe parts; the South is very safe. Lagos is safe, Ibadan is safe. I slept with my windows open last night. I don’t have any fears.
Isreal has its own Boko Haram, but you know that Israel has the best religious tourism in the world today. Countries that are sophisticated—Isreal, America, United Kingdom—and even Egypt, Kenya and South Africa have challenges. With all their sophistication, technology for security, they’ve been dealing with terrorism for years.
In 1946, Israel began to deal with terrorism when the first hotel in Jerusalem was bombed. The United Kingdom, for good 25 years, has been dealing with terrorism. America, with all its sophistication, was shocked when the twin towers were bombed.
So, can anyone really be prepared for terrorism? Yet, tourism continues in those states; they have what you call tourism police. That’s our job: We work in collaboration with Immigration and the Nigeria Police.
What do tourism police do?
They would be the ones to guide and let people know the right areas available for tourism.
Any plan to have that in Nigeria?
We plan to have that. You see, the first six months after I came into office, the most important thing for me was collaboration, building bridges, mending burnt bridges as well as creating partners for things like this. We are partnering with aviation.
In fact, the new aviation minister has already asked that a space be provided for us as an information desk, within 24 hours of meeting with him.
You were talking about a talk you gave to Nollywood people. What about it?
Yes, first things first. We have to first lay the foundation; we can’t jump and start promising people, “come and see Nigeria,’’ and when they come here, they are disappointed. It is wrong. Marketing externally is the last.
First, you market your own people; we would be our own guinea pigs and test our own tourism sites. If we are enjoying  them, they ( foreign tourists) would come in naturally.
Talking about Nollywood, I gave a talk to them and one of the things I said was that religious tourism, business tourism, entertainment tourism and Nollywood are our most successful tourism assets.
But it has been organically developed; nobody in government made an effort. But we are lucky in that the current president has supported them financially. He has made available, a pool of funds. That is a very practical approach by the president.
But they say that it is difficult to access the funds. How do you react to that?
The documentation and paperwork process has to be done properly. You have to ensure that the funds are used for the right things. What we’ve discussed in Nollywood is that by the time we have improved on our tourism sites to the level that it is good enough to invite external people, we would like Nollywood (practitioners) to shoot their films at our tourism sites. They would go and shoot in Tinapa, go and shoot in Ondo at the Mare festival etc.
Is that for export?
Of course it is for export. Apart from just selling our culture, you are selling our tourism assets, because the culture is from the movie itself and the location is our tourism site.
We also want the musicians to do the same: shoot their videos at our tourism sites. Right now, they can shoot, if you go to Enugu, if you go to Ondo State. Yesterday, we went to a beautiful park here in Ibadan, Agodi, an amazing park. I mean, I, properly, was in Ibadan in the 80s. This is a revolutionised Ibadan. Ibadan is modern.
Are you saying that we do not appreciate what we have?
We don’t yet, because awareness has not been created. That is why I am harping on domestic tourism. How many Nigerians can afford to travel abroad? Out of 170 million people, less than 10 per cent can afford to travel abroad. Tourism is not for the elitist; it is for the grassroots. And why are we talking about domestic tourism? Three, four or five reasons. One, we want to empower the grassroots. Two, we want to create jobs in the local communities. If five people are working in a tourism site, and people come from outside the locality to explore the tourism site, you have to employ more people to attend to them. So, automatically, jobs are created. You know what I mean.
Then, that would reduce rural-urban migration. We want to reduce urban migration. If you reduce urban migration, what are the people going to the cities to do? They are going there to look for jobs, but if you can create jobs for people in the local communities, then, there is no need for people to run around.
Foreigners bring in money. How do we generate money in domestic tourism? Is it that we have enough money to go around within Nigeria?
What I want to say about money right now is that I would like to talk about the transformation agenda of Mr President. He has done a fantastic job on the genda. One of the most important, mind-blowing achievements is the power sector. The power question is directly responsible for the cost of hotels in Nigeria. This is the first of its kind in the history of Nigeria, with the conversion of power through the whole value chain from the public sector straight to the private sector has been finalised and concluded.
Nigeria is the first country to do it; there’s nowhere in the world where it has been done like that. Now, what is the effect of that? This is what I call the tourism value chain. The tourism value chain means that tourism is not on its own; everything touches tourism. If the president improves on power, the cost of hotels would crash. Everybody asks me when I go for interviews: “Why are Nigerian hotels more expensive than those in the rest of Africa? That (power) is the reason. The hoteliers are buying diesel and pass the cost to the customers. That is one reason.
Transportation is part of the value chain. The roads are working. Even the rail is working. The rail from Kano to Lagos is working. When did it last work? Transportation is key to tourism. You find that we must key ourselves into the transformation agenda. Look at the airports. Airports are the first touch point for tourists. For 52 years, no airport was renovated in Nigeria. Kano Airport has now been renovated, Enugu Airport has been renovated, Owerri Airport has been renovated. These are things being done to prepare infrastructure for us to do our work.
So, the transformation agenda is going on very well and it is helping us in what we are doing.
What are you doing at the lower school, that is primary and secondary school levels, to let youngsters know about the potentialities in tourism?
As a matter of fact, I got an award from Yoruba youths, because we have been reaching out, going to schools and talking to them that we want tourism to be part of their curriculum. As part of subjects that they must pass, let the youths go on bus trips. We would be part of it and the private sector would be communicated with to provide the funding.
So, that is what we are talking to them about. The Yoruba youths have given me a very big award; even the Delta youths. Again, advocacy and awareness are what is important, and we need the press to help us to do that.
Tourism involves things that may not immediately bring in money, but the private sector people always like to put their money where they can quickly make more money in return. What have you discovered in trying to link up with the private sector?
Thank you very much. In fact, that is a fantastic question, because you are making me put the private sector on the spot. You know me: I am a private sector product. In oil and gas, I spent three years; in banking alone, I spent 22 years. In manufacturing, I was a director in Coca Cola, I was a director in Lafarge Cement. So, I’ve been a product of the private sector.
Recently, I held a meeting with Aliko Dangote. What was my value proposition? ‘I would like business moguls like you to adopt one tourism site. Once a major private sector player can adopt and develop one tourism site, the whole of the private sector would key into it.’
I told him: “You as a key player in the private sector, choose one tourism site in the North or South and invest in it. Develop it for us. As an important private sector operator, we want to follow your lead.”
So, these are the discussions that are ongoing now. I am approaching major players in the private sector, to get them to be involved in developing tourism sites, because our vision in the  the next two or three years is that we must have at least one tourism site in each zone. A place like South-West can have three or four, compared to others. The South-West is very enriched in tourism sites.
We want to be practical. If a tourist comes, we want to say: “Okay, for this zone, this site is fantastic.” We are starting with this business mogul (Dangote) just to demonstrate what can be done. That is what we are doing now.
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