President Muhammadu Buhari declared yesterday that Nigeria is safe and secure for tourism, citing improved security and the country's burgeoning economy as basis for his verdict.
Speaking when he received, the Secretary-General of United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Mr Zurab Pololikashvili and other delegates at the presidential villa, the president said it would have been inconceivable to host an international tourism conference in Abuja four years ago because of security concerns.
A statement by his senior special assistant media and publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, quoted Buhari as saying: "I am pleased that the country is now sufficiently safe and secure, and the message should go out to the world for all tourists and business travellers. The first thing tourists look out for is security and I am happy we have it now.
"Minister Lai Mohammed has been trying to convince the world that Nigeria is safe and has great potentials for tourism and investment. I am glad that you and your team have come here to see things for yourself".
Highlighting the nexus between tourism and sustainable development, the President told the UN tourism chief, who is in Abuja for the 61st UNWTO Commission for Africa (CAF) conference, that Nigeria would not be left behind in ensuring that communities and businesses benefit from tourism development.
In his remarks, Pololikashvili commended Nigeria for the successful hosting of the conference, which brings together African Ministers of Tourism, principal executives of the global tourism body and other stakeholders in the tourism sector.
The UN tourism chief told the president that Nigeria has huge potential to develop the tourism sector considering its large economy.
Pololikashvili said, "We can do it in Nigeria, we can create, convert Nigeria to the main tourist destination in Africa. There is a huge potential here. Culture, nature, food; you have everything here.
"You are investing in agriculture, improving seamless travel through visa-on-arrival programme, reforming the economy and doing so much on security. Nigeria is safe".
Also speaking, the Information and Culture Minister said 166 delegates, including 26 tourism ministers from Africa are attending the UN tourism conference holding from June 4 to June 6 in Abuja.
Also, Pololikashvili described the ongoing 61st Meeting of the UNWTO Commission for Africa (CAF) in Abuja as one of the most successful events of the global body.
The secretary-general made the remarks in Abuja yesterday at a joint press conference with the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
He said the UNWTO will leverage on the success of the meeting to promote Nigeria to become a top tourist destination in the world.
He commended the minister for putting Nigeria on the global tourism map.
"Thanks to the Minister that is pushing Nigeria as a new tourist destination. We are here to support Nigeria to be the most important and most attractive place to come to visit to enjoy the culture," Pololikashvili said.
He said the commitment shown by the President to tourism development has motivated the UNWTO to renew its interest in Nigeria.
He, particularly, commended the administration's visa on arrival policy, which he said has made Nigeria one of the most accessible countries, just as he urged other countries to emulate the policy.
The UNTWO secretary general said the ongoing meeting in Nigeria has provided a veritable platform to discuss and articulate concrete steps towards the development of tourism on the continent.
"We had very interesting discussions with ministers and we made very concrete decisions on how to continue and how to work with African Continent, which has full support from our organisation, and we are very glad that we are going in the right way. We have an ambitious plan. We want to promote Africa as one of the main and most important tourism destinations in the world," he said.
In his remarks, the Minister of Information and Culture, Mohammed, said he is satisfied with the conduct of the meeting so far.
He said, "I know it is for our guests to assess the event, but I must say that I am quite satisfied with the way the meeting has gone so far - the impressive attendance, the quality of contributions, the spectacular nature of the social events and, in particular, the passion and commitment of the Secretary-General, who has attended all the key events.
"Without being immodest, let me say that we are very proud of the hosting of the 61st Meeting of the UNWTO CAF. We are very proud of the role played by the UNWTO and CAF. We are happy with the attendance of delegates and we are happy with the events overall".
Mohammed thanked the UNWTO Secretary-General and his entire team for their support and guidance during the three-day event, which is due to end today.
Over 500 delegates, including 26 Ministers and 166 foreign delegates from 34 countries are attending the meeting.