I must confess that I was highly surprised to learn from a colleague that one-way airfare from Lagos to Abuja is thirty thousand naira (N30,00). It seemed outrageous to me.
"You mean thirty thousand return, don't you?" I asked.
"Ah, madam, I can see that you've not been up there for a while. Thirty thousand naira return? That was ages ago. It's thirty thousand to go, and thirty thousand to come back. That was what I paid last week."
"That's too high for a one hour flight within the country! Why, if you triple the return fare of Lagos/Abuja, you can get a return ticket for a Lagos/London flight. That means it's becoming cheaper to go holiday abroad, than within the country. That's sad!"
"Of course, it is, madam. Aren't high airfares, part of the reason that tourism is virtually non-existent in the country, and Nigerians shun local tourism, preferring to go get their money's worth by holidaying abroad? Add high airfares to very bad roads, high rate of unrest and attacks, criminal activities, poor electricity supply, poor sanitation, and would-be tourists from abroad and within the country, are turned off. We have great sights for tourism, but conditions within the country keep tourists away, even those of us who live here."
"You're right. I've always had a desire to be able to tour all nooks and corners of Nigeria, and get to savour our rich culture, historical sites, landscape, and mix with people of other ethnic groups. This was actually my dream many years ago while a pupil in the northern parts of the country.
Travelling by train then to Kaduna and Kano from Oshogbo or Lagos, and seeing the view transit from the Rain Forest with its lush vegetation and thick forests, to the open Savannah grassland where you can see as far as the eye can go, was fantastic. It was exhilarating going on long haul travel then, that could take two days confined to the train, but it was safe even if you got to your destination in the middle of the night."
"Madam, that must have been one tedious journey! Fancy spending two days on a train! These days that wouldn't be safe at all. Miscreants would get on board, even in the day time, and passengers would be totally at their mercy. It was a relief when buses were introduced to the routes that the trains used to ply.
One wants to get from point A to point B by a fast-moving and pleasure means. That's why airlines will continue to do good business here in spite of the constant hikes of fares. If only the authorities would look into the aviation industry, and make things easier for operators, so that we the passengers can get some relief!
I understand that scarcity/high cost of aviation fuel, and other sundry charges by FAAN, and high costs of aircraft maintenance are responsible for fare hikes, and that's why operators are leaving the field. Cheap fares would attract good business for Tourism.
I agree. Transport is a big issue we have to address if we want our country to be reckoned with in the Tourism business. Some countries in Eastern and Southern Africa thrive on tourism - e.g. Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia; and in West Africa, Senegal and the Gambia have their own fair share to boost their countries' earnings..
Where does that leave Nigeria? Nowhere, and it seems no-one really wants to address this important issue, or perhaps, those who can do something do not have the necessary support from the authorities, who knows? Yet, we have greater sights - nature and historical sites - than some of those countries.
There's so much to be gained when we have a vibrant Tourism. It would create much needed jobs for our young people of all professions. We all would benefit from it as there would be increased sales of our products, both local and imported, as people come here to spend their money. Increased sales means more small-scale industries would be set up to cope with demands. We've been told that Nigeria has to explore other avenues of revenue in future, as our oil and gas will not last forever.
Now, if we pay good attention to Tourism and lift it to a very high level, it will become a steady source of revenue that will not be exhausted if we maintain high standard. But we have to meet international standard and even exceed it if we can, in order to stay on top of things.
First, our transport system must be overhauled to make it safe, efficient and affordable. Our international airports are very busy by our own standard. In Lagos, for example, every day, tens of full load of planes come and go.
Everything about this airport is claustrophobic. All the halls need extensive expansion with modern facilities/gadgets to make them healthy, pleasant and safe. Power supply need to be good and stable. On no condition should activities at an airport be halted because of power failure. Standby generators should automatically come on if PHCN fails.
Planes should arrive and take off as scheduled, and it should be easy to transit to local flights on arrival. Airport taxis should be clearly marked and supervised by airports authorities. They should have a stall within the airport hall where there would be a well-kept register for all the trips they make.
In our big cities, government buses should have their own time of arrival too, so that commuters can plan their day and bus travel. This means that efforts should be made to de-congest the traffic build-up which is prevalent in big towns, and get people moving on.
Tour operators who provide transport and guide for visitors around town and to historic sites, should be registered with the government and well guided and supervised, to prevent their duping their clients. Next is the issue of bad roads which prevails in all parts of the country.
These should be rehabilitated/repaired on a regular basis, and the network of roads/buses, clearly defined for easy travel plans. Next is the hospitality industry. All hotels, guest houses, family bed and breakfast outfits everywhere should be registered by the state government and their facilities inspected from time to time to ensure that they meet good hygienic conditions. There should be a directory with all relevant information about Nigeria, including facilities and services offered.
The issue of security is a global one, and no country is totally free of criminal activities, still, we should make a huge effort to see that unrest and criminal activities are greatly reduced, so that citizens and visitors feel safe to a certain extent.
Let's face it, no-one would want to go spend his vacation and precious money where he has to sleep with one eye open, on top of services that don't work and a filthy environment.
It goes without saying that sites for tourism should be well-maintained and with adequate and well-informed staff.
I'm convinced that we have a lot to attract tourists to this country. It's left to us to put the right things in place. Seriously.