Early this year, when the naira started dropping in value to a dangerous low, I started dreading traveling abroad, especially to places like Great Britain. Since virtually all the airlines began to review their fares upward, occasioned by low naira exchange rate to international currencies, one really had no choice than to either stay at home or risk traveling and getting stranded in a foreign land. The situation worsened to a point when the exchange rate stood at N600 to £1 but there seems to be a moment of reprieve now. And this is coming from the exit of Britain from the European Union.
With the BREXIT, the almighty pound sterling started to tumble, falling to its lowest level in 31 years. Travellers (especially those who pay in Dollars) now earn almost double of what they used to earn as a dollar now exchanges for £1.2 after BREXIT. Before BREXIT, a dollar exchanged for £1.8. I experienced this during my last trip to London between 7 October and 24 October, 2016. I witnessed an unprecedented influx of passengers on the day I flew into London Heathrow Airport. Tourists, mostly from Asian countries, formed a long queue waiting for clearance at the entry points. It took me 40 minutes to get cleared, the first time I was experiencing such delay in recent years.
The falling pound sterling was the reason tourists poured like bees into London this year summer time. They hopped from one shopping mall to another. The British media had risen to the occasion. Like other businesses, they too exploited the slump in the pound to publish products that tourists couldn’t resist.
The Guardian of London of 11October, 2016, in a front page story anchored by Rebecca Smithers, wrote: “The UK has recorded its biggest month for tourist visits after the referendum .Related slump in the pound lured 3.8million people to British shores in July-the highest month ever for overseas tourists who shelled out £2.5bn, 4 percent more than last year, according to new figures from the tourism agency Visit Britain.
“This has turned the UK into a cheaper destination for millions of foreign travelers wanting to shop for luxury goods or visit attractions ranging from ancient monuments to the Buckingham Palace.
Many Britons are happy with this turn of events as Christopher Rodriques noted: “Tourism is a shining star in an uncertain world. As our fourth biggest service export, and one of our fastest growing sectors, tourism’s importance as a key economic driver and job creator is clear”
On the other hand, Simon Derrick, Chief currency strategist noted: “Though a weaker pound can boost exports and help re-balance the economy from being overly reliant on consumption rather than trade and investment, standard of living in the country could drop in coming months as inflation pushes higher.”
Against this background, one can deduce that the current recession in Britain engendered by BREXIT is a bag of mixed blessings as that decision has buoyed tourism, thus helping to stabilize the UK’s economy, in spite of the weakened purchasing power of many Britons. Members of one group who are not complaining are those selling wares, who are daily smiling to the banks.
Coming back to Nigeria, the story flips to the opposite side with Nigerians reacting to the gripping recession in the country by groaning, lamenting and blaming government for all their woes. But should they keep wallowing in dejection when others across the globe are seeing recession as a door to prosperity?. Britain is one country hit by recession and has been taking every step to earn prosperity instead. Rather than weeping and sulking, Britons are taking everything in their stride, turning their adversity into opportunity.
The lesson here is that Nigeria has a lot to learn from Britain’s private sector, the academia, tourism industry, the media and entertainment sectors, among others, which took up the challenge to lead their way out of recession. The government only sets the standard. But in Nigeria, people blame government for everything. We seem to conveniently forget that we elected the government and chose the leadership. We therefore, need to stop our penchant for blaming the government for everything not working well.
While conceding that the leadership needs to create an enabling environment –as in Britain – by providing adequate security and infrastructural facilities which would attract investors and tourists that could help lead the nation out of recession, we cannot absolve ourselves of part responsibility in efforts to resuscitate the economy.
The nation is in the grip of myriads of daunting problems .There are wars on all fronts, as the government battles the Boko Haram insurgency, militant groups in the Niger Delta, Kidnapping and restless Biafra agitators. In spite of all these problems, opportunities still abound in Nigeria for organizations and citizens to tap into.This is where focus on tourism comes in. Given the huge emphasis the government now places on diversification of the economy, those managing the tourism sector should be creative in exploiting the potentials of tourism in the country. They have the huge task of turning the sector into a money spinning alternative, using models successfully applied in places like United Arab Emirate; Dubai, Great Britain, Jordan, Jamaica and China among others.
I am happy to note the recent visit of the Minister Of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed to Marrakech, Morocco to attend United Nations Conference on Climate Change where ministers of tourism gathered to exchange ideas. Nigeria is blessed with many attractive tourist destinations, which have the potential to earn foreign exchange for the country if well developed and harnessed.
Some of Nigeria’s major tourist centres include; Ibeno Beach, Obudu Mountain Resort, Ngwe Pine Forest, Awhun Waterfall,the Tinapa Free Zone Resort, Sukur Cultural Landscape, the Yankari Game Reserves, the Osun Osogbo and others. I had visited some of these centers in the last few months. They are wonders to behold. Unfortunately, apart from Obudu Mountain Resort, the rest are not attracting patronage due to criminal neglect, mostly because of inadequate security, dismal maintenance and low publicity. Ultimately, the government will need to prioritize its economic diversification programme by placing more emphasis on tourism.
Olamiti, a media consultant, writes from Abuja.