Tourism development: It’s integration or nothing at all!

The more one thinks about development policies currently being put in place or, in some cases, already operational, the more it is apparent that there is need for better integration and cross sectoral cooperation in the development of new policies. In fact, no sector’s role is useless (no matter how marginal) in deriving a new policy on several development issues.

This point, which I have made severally on previous occasions, was buttressed by a brief ‘chance’ discussion I had with the head of a tourism development agency recently. During the discussion, I shared with him the ‘Save the Port Harcourt Zoo’ campaign which began back in 2003. Following a brief discussion about the state of the Zoo, he indicated that (he learnt) there are plans to improve the state of the Zoo and a memorandum of understanding may have already been signed.

After a brief moment of silence, I questioned him about his tourism development strategy. I didn’t quite hear his response, but I heard something like: ‘people are unaware of the importance of tourism’ and something else that sounded like ‘a massive media campaign.’

My first reaction is that a tourism strategy should not be a standalone framework. Secondly, if truth be told, a media campaign, by itself, cannot attract tourists to any country or region. There are several other elements which need to be addressed in order to drive up tourist numbers. These include: security, a fairly reliable transport system (be it air, road, rail or sea), reasonably priced decent hotels and respect for strangers, among others. I mentioned this last point because in many of our places people will attempt to con you once they realise that you are a stranger. You might be made to pay twice the price and sometimes even more for services and this is even worse if your skin colour or accent stands you out. Yes our cultures may welcome strangers, but truth is these things happen much more than we think.

To return to the subject of integration, the aforementioned areas of importance for tourism development are certainly beyond the job of any tourism agency and require the cooperation of various Government Ministries. Some such Ministries include: housing, works, transport, education, urban renewal, information and the security services.

A good tourism development strategy must take infrastructure, security and other such factors into account. There must be clear thinking and identification of critical areas in this regard where investments will have the effect of driving up tourist numbers. Infrastructure is not just crucial to tourism; it is the heart of tourism. Just imagine a far-flung tourist resort with no motorable roads leading to it. Chances are people will only go there on a ‘need to’ basis.

An integrated tourism development strategy therefore transcends a good media campaign (no doubt this is relevant and important). It involves paying attention to critical areas of investment in the affected society. Such investment will evidently improve lives by creating means of livelihood, new jobs, and allowing people to learn about other cultures. A good tourism strategy must also contribute to improving relevant social indicators such as – education (for example learning at the zoo), employment, leisure time use and health.

The tourism agency in question could also pay a closer attention to the Port Harcourt Zoo. In the short-term, the agency and the Zoo authority should urgently provide improved medical care for the animals (on my last visit there in March  2012, one animals was injured but still remained in its cage). In addition, steps should be taken to clear the area surrounding the zoo of broken down vehicles and traders, including a possible relocation of the abattoir! The signs on the animal cages should be made more legible and explanatory, and staff should be better trained to provide guided tours. If these tours are to cost an extra fee, it should be explicitly stated as an addition to the standard zoo entrance fees.

In the long-term, I have proposed the development of a Zoo Investment and Renewal Strategy (ZIRS). At the core of ZIRS is the need to establish a Zoo Renewal and Investment Fund, to which the private sector, donor agencies and individuals can contribute in support of the zoo. These funds could be used to support a range of programmes at the zoo, including fellowships for students who are studying at the University of Port Harcourt Conservation and Wild Life Management department. In addition, stipends could be provided to encourage young people to volunteer at the zoo as part of a proposed Students Zoo Volunteer Programme. My experience in 2003 shows that such a fund is possible to establish, and the funds generated could help position the Zoo as a premier tourist attraction in Nigeria.

Let me reiterate my initial position. No tourism development strategy, can have an overall effect on people’s lives and drive up tourist numbers except it works in synch with complementary strategies. The tourism development strategies nationally and at state level can only achieve the intended results of driving up tourist numbers, marketing our cultures and improving the quality of life in our communities, if they are consciously implemented in relationship with other similar strategies.

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