Steve Isokariari, Managing Director of Dial Travels Nig Ltd is a leading tourism practitioner in Nigeria. In an inclusive interview with The Vortex Newspapers, Isokariari who for several on World Tourism Day years headed the Nigeria travelling agencies Board of Trustees, spoke on how Rivers State can boost its internal revenue, create jobs for the populace and expand the economy through tourism .
Tell us about tourism generally. We don’t seem to understand this business of tourism. Are we doing tourism?
Yes. The world is doing tourism. But tourism in Nigeria, No. We do not do tourism in this country. If we are really doing tourism in Nigeria, every citizen in the North of the country will be surviving in dollars. We have many tourism natural destinations in the North, but we are not utilizing them and we are wasting opportunities to earn money in foreign currency.
Tourism generally is not a Nigerian affair. Maybe because we have crude oil. But there are other countries with abundance of crude oil who still promote tourism. Tourism can bring things that you never expect in terms of growth to the economy and creating opportunities for wealth and generally creating happiness in the lives of the citizens.
A man can come here on holidays and see where he can invest. Tourism is life. Because it affects and relates to every aspects of our everyday living. We were in Japan few years ago, and we saw that some communities in Japan don’t eat what everybody else eat. And the average man in that community is between 80 and 100 years. A 50 years old man is considered very young. Their Chief is 150 years. And they still look strong. How we eat, what we eat is tourism.
We (tourism practitioners) are working on a project to unite Africa through tourism. There is so much knowledge we can get from tourism. For example, we travelled to Egypt and discovered there is only one river in the whole of Egypt called the River Nile. Egypt is also described as a “Land of No Rain.” They have very ancient mosques. One has to pay 20-50 dollars to have a view of historical sites. We also have ancient mosques in Nigeria, in Kano, Sokoto and the likes but attention is not given to them so our ancient mosques don’t generate income.
We visit Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and other African Countries because they are safe and secure for visitors. The same cannot be seen of Nigeria especially in the North as Boko Haram kills scores of people and they are coming down to other states. People love to visit places with assurance of safety; where they can enjoy themselves and go back to their country when they like. They won’t come to unsafe or insecure places.
How can Rivers State benefit from Tourism?
If Rivers State is to truly benefit from the enormous potentials in tourism, the industry should be handed over to the private sector. The problems that has militated against tourism development in Rivers State has been overwhelmingly that of lack of political will. There is also lack of seriousness, professionalism, in fact, lack of vision and patriotism.
Tourism is acclaimed all over the world as the fastest growing industry. The potentials of tourism in Rivers State are much bigger than that of crude oil when harnessed. To benefit from tourism, we have to start creating the right environment, bring in professionals and put the right structures in place.
What is Rivers State losing from the tourism sector?
Rivers State is losing so much because we have not been able to build our systems to encourage tourism. We are losing treasures that should give us good fortunes in return. When tourists visit, they invest in their host economy, create wealth for the local populace and generally improve their host community as they do their business. They also pay tax to the government and thereby generate income for the state government and reduce social tension that leads to crime.
Compare tourism in Nigeria and South Africa.
There is no basis for comparison between Nigeria and South Africa. Nigeria is way behind South Africa in tourism. South Africa makes between $50 to $100 billion annually from tourism. Tourism is a highly competitive industry. It is done by creative presentation, packaging and persuasions. South Africa placed a ban on the importation of vehicles. This forced multi-national companies to begin the production of cars that are made in South Africa. With this, more persons have access to cheap cars that are made in South Africa.
The reality is that most of the authorities who are charged with our tourism matters have no real ideas or deep knowledge and patriotic intentions to develop the tourism industry. Until we change this narrative, we will keep missing out on the goals and broad prospects of tourism.
Thoughts on the financial benefits of Tourism?
If we are willing to develop our natural potentials, we can make more money from tourism in Rivers State. There are several tourists sites in Rivers State that are begging for attention. We must develop a tourism masterplan to ensure sustainable tourism development in Rivers State. We must remember that ideas are the root seeds of development and no matter the quantum of natural resources, attractions, endowment and potentials that a people may be blessed with, without the right ideas, nothing good would ever accrue to them from such endowments and resources.
State State Government recently approved the fund to revived the Port Harcourt Zoo
Tourism does not exist, because we have not allowed it to work for us. Tourism is beyond zoological garden and parks. If tourism is developed, we won’t be talking of unemployment because the tourism industry can provide many jobs for youths and even increase our internal revenue through taxes. It is saddening to see that despite the large tourism potentials in our state and country, we are yet to take advantage of them and benefit from them. Until those in authority open their hearts, minds and hands to accommodate creative and committed tourism practitioners, and join hands with them to sincerely develop the industry, we cannot make any progress in tourism.
At different times in the past, we have encouraged businessmen to visit Rivers State and invest. Many of our tourist associates across Africa, Americas and Europe have honoured our invitation and embarked on business trips to the state and all it required for them to put money is commitment by government. But they left frustrated as they could not even have the opportunity to see those in authority.
On the World Tourism Day celebration, I will be in Bayelsa where I have been invited to deliver a keynote speech on the development and value of tourism. Naturally I should be in my state to celebrate the day.