NIGERIA (eTN) – Tourism industry stakeholders body, the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), has expressed reservation on the recommendation of the Presidential Panel on Rationalization and Restructuring of Federal Government Parastatals, headed by former head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mr. Steve Oronsaye, to scrap or merge the only public training tourism institution in Nigeria with another agency in the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation perceived to be barely delivering on its mandate.
The committee, it was gathered, recommended the merger of National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) with the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) with the latter elevated to a commission and would be charged with marketing, promoting, and regulation, as well as training.
The committee noted that it was wasteful to continue to allow NIHOTOUR to operate as a separate parastatal in its wisdom since “it has not been able to justify its existence as the capacity-building arm of the tourism industry.”
The prescription to effect alludes that NIHOTOUR’s existence amounts to sheer waste, and amounts to government funding an institute that claims to provide capacity for hospitality and tourism services when, indeed, there exists many private firms providing same services. It reportedly felt that an enlarged tourism commission would be able to handle the functions performed by NIHOTOUR, including regulation.
The committee’s recommendation, it was gathered, apart from lacking any merit, was reached without due consultation with the private sector who are at the receiving end of the recommendation, if implemented.
Apart from the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism being the only such institution in Nigeria, its mandate has more urgent attention than that of the NTDC.
Across the country, the so-called private institutions are run by people who are not even qualified to do so themselves, and as a leading travel and tourism journalist in Nigeria, I can confirm that almost all the establishments do not recognize those qualifications.
As aptly put by the President of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), Chief Samuel Alabi, who also doubles as Hospitality Personnel Services Employees Associations (HOPSEA) President, said government may look at cost to say some parastatals or agencies be merged; the government also has a social responsibility to create jobs and opportunity for its citizenry.
He said that for whatever reason and wisdom, the rumored merger is called for and noted that for the necessity of the travel and tourism industry, he would say no to such a move, because there is no way NIHOTOUR can be merged with NTDC.
Again, there is nowhere in the world that a tourism agency is made a commission, much more a country that has no structure, foundation, and lacks human capital, among others, to run and manage an efficient and effective tourism industry.
Just like most practitioners have noted and advised, a critical review of the sector and the NTDC 1992 Act does not empower it to do training by its statute. On what is the position of the tourism private sector, which he represents, on the proposed merger, Alabi says it is an emphatic no.
To go ahead with the proposal, according to him, is like the popular Tiv dance of one step forward and two steps backward.
He also noted that the Tourism Master Plan Implementation Committee, of which the tourism federation is a member, provides for a training college or university and that FTAN’s position was, since there is in existence for well over 20 years a training institute, referring to NIHOTOUR, it should be upgraded to that college or the university that was to be created and that the position of the federation remains so.
Alabi wondered why a country where over 85 percent of the travel and tourism workforce are untrained, would have its only institution merged with another agency.
Also advising Nigeria, Mr. Tejan Nyang, Director of a Gambian leading travel and tourism training institute, noted that Nigeria needs training schools from which their certificates would be accepted across West Africa and beyond, and according to him, NIHOTOUR is just the best platform.
There is no doubt that the institute has been facing a lot of challenges, but the management has been able to weather the storm over time.
NIHOTOUR, established in 1987 through a tripartite agreement between the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), International Labor Organization (ILO), and the federal government, saw the commencement of training activities in 1988. In the beginning, though, where there was critical man-power shortage, the institute was made a department and the training wing of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation before it gained autonomy in 1998.
Thereafter, the mandate of the institute has been widened to provide technical skills and vocational manpower need for the hotel, catering, and tourism workforce in Nigeria.
Most critically, the institute has also trained and served as one of few centers for International Air Transport Associations (IATA) examination in Nigeria and has prepared thousands of Nigerians that now work mostly with travel agencies, tour companies, and even airlines.
Without being myopic, NIHOTOUR, since it became a fully-fledged parastatal, has performed fairly well than the NTDC that is to be elevated to a commission and which must not be.
In Kenya, Utalii College, National Tourism Institute of Tanzania based in Arusha, and Rwanda Tourism University College, to mention but few, are some of such public colleges and institutions across Africa that run side by side with their national tourism board or authority; and one wonders why Nigeria with over 150 million people and 40,000 hotels and hospitality establishments alone should not have a professional college or university.
In the last 12 years, the NTDC has not added any value to Nigeria’s tourism development, marketing, and promotion efforts, rather, the leadership has always been a burden on the sector in general.
From one director general to the other, it has been a house of division and deception. As a marketing and promotion agency for the tourism ministry, the NTDC has done nothing to justify its existence; this has nothing to do with the quality of man-power available in the corporation, but lack of credible and qualified leadership at the top.
I have been to all the travel fairs around the world where Nigeria’s delegation was led by the NTDC leadership; where other African countries that we should compete with are selling and promoting their countries with good and colorful brochures, while Nigeria’s officials serve food, as if the tourists can be wooed with mere bowls of amala or pounded yam.
Credit to Chief Samuel Alabi, FTAN President, who noted what some of us had noticed long ago, that Nigeria’s stand at every international event is usually filled with journalists and civil servants, while in some cases what you have on display are pictures of hotels.
These journalists, who are friends of the NTDC, return and begin to feed Nigerians with candies of lies. One such incident was saying that Nigeria came in at the top as best exhibitor at the 2011 ITB-Berlin International travel fair in Germany, when in actual fact it came in 13 out the 15 African countries that participated at that fair.
As for NIHOTOUR, the training services it renders cut across training the trainers; Basic Certificate and Professional Management Courses; Mobile training workshops; and consultancy services in hotel, catering, travel, and tourism specialized operations.
Since its inception, the institute has produced well over 5,000 skilled and crafted trainees servicing the various sub-sectors of the Nigerian travel, tourism, and hospitality industry.
For those who conceptualized the institute idea, it is meant to provide improved and quality service in the hospitality and tourism industry by introducing professional, technical, and specialized training, as well as post-graduate courses in the travel, tourism, and hospitality fields, to provide short- and long-term managerial and supervisory training for the development of specific skills, as well as to enhance the quality and efficiency of senior functionaries in the hospitality and tourism industry and to cooperate with relevant bodies to organize and facilitate staff development programs for teachers and supervisors in polytechnics and the tourism industry.
Others are to cooperate with relevant bodies in developing and updating national training curriculum for all levels of personnel in the industry; to provide a forum at which representatives of both public and organized private tourism sectors and tourism institutions could exchange ideas and information on development in the industry; keep and maintain a register of travel and tourism training institutions, their training programs, subjects, locations standards, durations, and type; and to develop a learning resource center for the production of audio visual aids, collection and dissemination of learning materials, as well as to source funds and technical assistance for the promotion of its objectives.
Presently, NIHOTOUR offers courses in Post Graduate Diploma in Tourism and Recreation, Post Graduate Diploma in Hospitality Management, Diploma in Tourism & Recreation, Diploma in Hospitality Management, and Diploma in Transport & Travel Management;
Other courses offered are Professional Diploma Tourism & Hospitality in Data Processing and Information Technology, Diploma in Travel and Tourism Management (IATA/UFTAA Foundation), and Certificate in Tourism & Hospitality Data Processing and Information Technology.
Apart from the aforementioned activities and responsibility, the institute has a good relationship with FTAN and its 12 registered associations as full members, namely the Nigerian Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), National Association of Nigeria Travel Agents (NANTA), Association of Nigerian Tourism Journalists and Writers of Tourism (ANJET), Nigeria Hotel Association (NHA), Association of Tourism practitioners of Nigeria (ATPN), and Nigerian Hotel and Catering Institute (NHCI).
Others are the Africa Travel Association (ATA), Nigerian Youth Tourism Organization (NYTO), Hospitality Personnel Services Employees Associations (HOPSEA), Hotel Owners Forum of Abuja (HOFA), Travel and Tourism Lawyers Association (TATLAN), and Hospitality and Tourism Management Association of Nigeria (HATMAN).
The author, Lucky Onoriode George, is National Publicity Secretary of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria and the only Nigerian winner of the prestigious European Commission Lorenzo Natali Prize for Journalists Reporting Development, Human Rights, and Democracy, as well as Publisher of African Travel Times magazine.