Travel specialist Annabel Bonney is the founder of Travel Africa and Travevo Travel and Migration Agency. She is also a life coach with a background in lifestyle, fashion and TV presentation/production, who describes herself as a “serial” entrepreneur, spoke with ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA on several development and promotion of Nigerian tourism Excerpts…
How would you describe the current state of Nigerian tourism?
Very poor, and that’s sad because we have an extremely large tourist market and potential that we don’t pay attention to. Nigeria is blessed by Mother Nature with amazing landscapes, sites and weather conditions. Have you been to Obudu Mountain Resort in Cross River State? Oh my God, it’s such a wonder to experience. Then Ikogosi Warm Springs in Ekiti State where you have a light blue hot spring from the ground, then Mambilla Plateau in Taraba State, then Awhum Waterfall and Caves in Awhum State. Enugu and many more breathtaking places we have in Nigeria. No one cares to build something out of these places and maintain them. Nigeria is very obsessed with oil, what if the oil runs out? I wish Nigeria could treat tourism like oil, the product which I can guarantee has more potential to contribute immensely to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country. We have landscapes, just develop them, people will come. Consider countries like Dubai, they built everything in a desert with the harshest weather conditions, yet millions of people are coming together to spend billions which would contribute 11.6% of their GDP by 2026. Also consider the number of jobs that the development of our tourism sector can create? So the potential is really huge.
So what should the government do to accelerate the development of domestic tourism?
Start now, develop attractions, build resorts where we have these phenomenal landscapes. And for existing resorts like Obudu Mountain Resort, they are currently grappling with challenges beyond their control like electricity (power) generation. Obudu has been fighting the power issue for years, they try their best as a company but it’s not enough. Sleeping in the dark at a wilderness resort where you can have squirrels crawling into your bedroom or bed at night is cause for concern. Then accessibility is another challenge as Obudu is far away, about eight to 12 hours from Calabar and about five to seven hours from Port Harcourt. If the station had a dedicated carrier that could transport people from Calabar airport, Port Harcourt airport, Abuja airport respectively, it would significantly reduce the number of hours spent on the road and also worry about being kidnapped for ransom. This brings me to my next point, safety: we need to be able to drive interstate for weekend stays, and not be scared or scared like it was until 2015.
As a tour operator, what are some of the critical challenges hampering tour packages in the country?
I will take them one after the other. Bad Roads: Gone are the days of driving Uyo to Calabar or Uyo to Port Harcourt or Lagos to Badagry to enjoy drinks, delights, sights and sounds with friends and families. Right now you can’t do that anymore because the road networks are super bad. So in packing a tour, you have to consider the value of on-road driving. Poor maintenance culture: Many attraction sites fall into disrepair after the initial buzz subsides. The place is becoming a shadow of what it used to be because it is not maintained. Case study: Tinapa, Marina Resort, Obudu Mountain Resort; all in Cross River State and many other resorts and sites.
Lack of initiatives and incentives: Many tourist sites lack proper management that can create attractive tours and activities to explore. No reward plans too. So why would people want to go there?
Security: It is very unfortunate the state of insecurity in which we find ourselves as a nation. The pandemonium in the north, east and recently west is alarming. This is actually the main reason why we are not encouraged to promote local tourism because you are organizing a trip to Ikogosi or Obudu or Kajaru and your stress levels are increasing because you have to keep praying and hoping that your customers are not kidnapped for ransom or killed by unknown gunmen. It is a very sad state to live in.
What challenges do you face as well as packing for overseas travel?
Naira devaluation, affordability and high cost of travel: Between 2017 and 2019, travel was very cheap. You could accommodate more than 20 and 50 people traveling, people had money and could pay. Regional destinations like Kenya, Ghana and South Africa were not that expensive. You could take a five-night trip to Ghana for 250,000, but now return tickets alone cost around that price or more. In Kenya we could then build and sell a trip for 450,000 but now that destination is selling for over 700,000. The devaluation of the naira has contributed so much to the high cost of trips and rising ticket prices due to high cost of aviation fuel.
So how do you deal with these challenges?
Not everyone can afford these trips anymore due to affordability. Most families who used to travel between two and four times a year can now only travel once a year. So we do our best, we advise you on the most profitable destinations and offer the cheapest offers we can find. What is the future of tourism in Nigeria and are you well prepared to take advantage of it? Frankly, I don’t know, usually I’m able to predict trends but not with the way things are going now. I’ll watch it instead. The political climate is very tense now and the tourist potential will be determined by who will then run the country’s affairs. So until then, we watch and hope the best man who listens and acts wins.
What is your advice to the government to develop and promote tourism?
In the past five years, only Lagos State has managed to sell tourism to some extent, there is still a lot to do in terms of activities. Why don’t we have helicopter tours, zip line, bungee jumping, parasailing and paragliding? I know Lagos lacks the structure for most of these activities so they need to synergize with neighboring states that have high level mountains like Ondo State. Therefore, we need the government to create synergy with the players in the tourism sector and come up with solutions to most of these concerns. Because ultimately, we are working towards a common goal of creating a vibrant economy and creating jobs for Nigerians.