The iconic National Theatre in Lagos State, Nigeria, will host global tourism players from around the world for a conference hosted by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) from November 14-16, 2022. "Linking Tourism, Culture, and Creative Industries: Pathways to Recovery and Inclusive Development" is the conference's theme. This is a positive development for Nigeria because it demonstrates the country's comparative advantage in culture and the creative industry, both of which are critical components of the tourism value chain. This point will be discussed further in this article, but first, let's look at some hard facts.

Some will agree that the Nigerian tourism industry is currently in disarray. Prior to the arrival of the current government, the tourism industry had its own ministry; however, tourism is now subsumed under the Ministry of Information & Culture, which industry players see as an anomaly because culture is an element of tourism; as a result of this mismatch, the Ministry's attention is geared more towards agencies under "information," with little attention being given to tourism-related agencies and, as a result, the tourism private sector.

Some practitioners in the private sector claim that there has been no industry-wide engagement with the Minister of Tourism since the government's inception more than 7 years ago, so hosting this UNWTO conference appears to be a misplaced priority. This is not entirely true, as some industry players confirmed that when they arrived, this administration extended hands of fellowship. A series of meetings with the private sector was held to discuss a path forward, but it appears that the private sector's leadership handled the gesture poorly, and we lost out. Perhaps an advocacy and lobbying posture would have been preferable to a daggers-drawn approach.

For two years, the Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on the travel and tourism industry, resulting in numerous business and job losses worldwide. Many countries' private sectors received government assistance to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, but the Nigerian government turned a blind eye to tourism practitioners in Nigeria, except for support to travel agents through the Ministry of Aviation. The Ministry of Information and Culture did form a committee to recommend palliative measures for the creative sector, which includes tourism once again, but the committee's report has been gathering dust in the ministry since its submission more than a year ago, with no implementation.

As a result of the lack of support, the industry is on the verge of collapse, with many job losses and closed businesses that may never reopen. Is it possible that the tourism private sector's position was not articulated convincingly in the report? We don't think so, because, in a time like this, both the creative and tourism sectors would have articulated their needs. The industry has been completely ignored by the government. These two issues are the primary reasons why Nigerian tourism private sector practitioners see no benefit in participating in a conference that the Ministry of Information and Culture is hurriedly bidding to host while its house is not in order.

However, in times of crisis, the wise men build bridges, and this UNWTO conference is all about doing just that—between the ministry and the private sector in tourism as well as between the private sector in Nigerian tourism and the international tourism players present. Home affairs are not discussed in public because every nation has some of its own problems.

To get the most out of this "first-ever UNWTO conference on linking tourism, culture, and creatives," all local players should lay down their swords. This conference will help us understand the connections between tourism, culture, and the creative industry, about which we have long argued in various forums. To grasp the significance of this conference for Nigerian tourism, consider the following:

  1. Through this conference, the UNWTO will promote Nigerian tourism on a global scale. It is the first and most powerful declaration of our superiority in terms of culture and creativity in the tourism industry. More than 300 different cultures exist here, and Nollywood is the third-best in the world. No other nation on earth can match the cultural diversity we have, and our films have a phenomenal global impact.
  2. This conference will attract attendees from all over the world and will significantly reinforce Nigeria's safety as a travel destination despite the security issues we are currently experiencing. Countless nations use hosting events to improve their reputation. This will make Nigeria, as a travel destination more competitive.
  3. The participants will make use of cabs, restaurants, and hotels that are all owned by individuals who belong to the various associations that make up Nigeria's private tourism industry. If we really want to speed up recovery, we should use this as a major reason to advertise the conference and attract businesses to practitioners.
  4. In order to put the conference together, event planners, audiovisual specialists, artists, and other professionals will be hired. Printing companies will also be hired to design and print banners, posters, and other conference-related materials. For participants to get to know Nigeria, there will be stage performances and pre and post-conference tours. Each of these suppliers is a part of Nigeria's tourism-related private sector.
  5. Last but not least, souvenirs from fashion designers will be sold by street vendors of arts and crafts. Hosting this event will bring about this benefit, however small, which is one of tourism's main advantages. Because it provides a means of livelihood for the women and rural poor who produce these souvenirs, as tourism is regarded as the lowest-hanging fruit.

Every circumstance has benefits and drawbacks. Even if we are upset, we don't have to throw out the baby with the bathwater and lose the benefits of the conference. Members of the Association of Tourism Practitioners of Nigeria (ATPN) are excited to receive visitors to our fascinating Nigeria!

What are your thoughts? We welcome constructive feedback in the comments section below!


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