NATOP charges stakeholders to adopt technology to boost travel industry

Players in the tourism travel industry have been challenged to adopt use of technology to advance the sector.

This is as the Nigeria Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) has canvassed for creation of a standalone ministry to properly propagate the tourism potential in Nigeria.

Various speakers at the 5th NATOP Annual General Meeting (AGM) with the theme: ‘Restarting Tourism in Nigeria: A New Template,” held in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State Capital, said that the use of technology in the advancement of tourism could not be over-emphasised, stressing that technologies have changed the way people travel and plan their movements.

According to some of the speakers, over 70 per cent of travellers plan their trips on the internet, while a few of the travellers still use travel agencies.

In restarting the sector, speakers said NATOP members should depend more on technologies to boost the sector in Nigeria and their businesses.

Mr. Akanimo Udofia, the Keynote Speaker in his presentation lamented that despite the numerous tourism attractions in the country, a few travel to Nigeria for tourism purpose.

Udofia explained that players in the sector needed to do more to showcase the tourism potential of the country, maintaining that if well-harnessed; tourism is bigger than oil and gas sector.

He mentioned Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as one of such countries that had developed and more pronounced due to much focus on tourism sector, stressing that Akwa Ibom State for instance was developing the sector through the construction of state-of the-art facilities.

He mentioned the ongoing construction of a modern teaching hospital in the state as one of the ways to attract medical tourism to the state, stressing that once completed; the number of Nigerians travelling out of the country for medical purpose would reduce, while the influx of foreigners into the country would increase.

He charged other State Governments across the country to emulate the push for tourism growth by the Akwa Ibom State Government.

He said: “Tourism is our future and its importance cannot be under-estimated, but we need an enabling environment for tourism to thrive. We need improved security that will attract tourism into our country.

“Akwa Ibom State remains the most peaceful in Nigeria today and our government is doing a lot to attract tourists into the state. For instance, we are constructing a modern teaching hospital in the state. When completed, it would reduce the numbers of people going outside the country for medical tourism, while more foreigners would also troop into Nigeria for medical purpose.”

Besides, the Guest Speaker, Catherine Afeku, the former Minister of Tourism, Ghana, also reiterated the call for adoption of technology to further advance the development in the sector.

She said that the industry was in a deep metamorphosis due to the negative impact of Covid-19 pandemic in the sector.

According to her, there are numerous extenuating factors against the sector in the world over, stressing that for tour operators to survive and remain in business, proper use of technology and not the improving processes or the tourism experience would be required.

Afeku, also charged NATOP to encourage patronage of local contents and showcase the country to the world through its activities.

She said: “Operators in the tourism sector should lobby for tourism incentives from the government. Also, the operators should promote more of local contents and show the country to the world through technology.”

Mr. Ikechi Uko, the Organiser, Akwaaba African Travel Market, in his presentation, mentioned leisure, religion, visiting friends and relatives, trade and business as some of the major drivers of international outbound travel and tourism in the country.

Statistics provided by Uko indicated that at least 559,430 passengers travelled out of Nigeria in 2019 to various countries.

According to him, 29 per cent of these travellers went to Dubai, while others travelled to London, Jeddah, Guangzhou, Medina, Johannesburg, New York, Istanbul, Addis-Ababa, Houston, Delhi, Nairobi, Beirut, Toronto and Abu Dhabi.

Uko emphasised that percentage of travels by region indicated that Middle East attracted 43 per cent, Europe; 27 per cent, Africa; 10.2 per cent, Americas; 10 per cent, while Asia attracted 9 per cent in the year under review, adding that 60 per cent of the total travellers were for leisure/shopping.

“So, Nigeria has the blueprint for developing tourism by using the indentified boosters,” he said.

Earlier, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Communication, Arts and Culture, lauded NATOP for propagating the course of domestic tourism in Nigeria.

Mohammed who was represented by a Permanent Secretary in the ministry called for change in the strategies by tour operators to attract more tourism destinations in Nigeria.

For survival in the new normal, he said operators should come out with innovations through digital tourism and called on private organisations to partner with the Federal Government to grow the sector.

He added: “All the tourism attractions we have in the country have the potential to grow the economy, increase Gross Domestic Product (GDP),create employment, peace and unity of the country.”

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