Ecotourism is rapidly becoming the largest sector of many country’s tourism industry, particularly as a means of stimulating economic development. DOYIN ADEOYE writes on the need for Nigeria in its bid to diversify the economy, to see ecotourism as a viable sector, among other issues.
Since its conception, many countries in the developed world and particularly in Africa, have embraced and encouraged ecotourism as a means of attracting foreign investment and exchange.
Originally conceived in response to declining environmental and economic conditions throughout the developing world, ecotourism and other forms of sustainable travel not only have low impact on the environment, but also contribute to the economy.
However, Nigeria despite its rich biodiversity and extensive ecosystem is unfortunately yet to actually tap into this economy boosting venture, unlike its other African counterparts such as South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia, among others, who inarguably enrich their economy through wildlife based tourism.
Globally, ecotourism generates $77 billion in revenue and makes up five to seven per cent of the overall travel and tourism market. It is one of the fastest growing sectors in the travel industry, with a growth rate of 10 to 30 per cent.
Tourism itself is the biggest sector of business in the world economy, responsible for over 230 million jobs and 10 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) worldwide. According to TIES, 83 per cent of developing countries rely on ecotourism as a major export, while others such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nepal, Kenya, Madagascar and Antarctica, rely on ecotourism as the major contributory factor in their GDP and employment level calculations.
Considered a leader in ecotourism in Africa, South Africa affords numerous opportunities for sustainable lodging, wildlife viewing and touring, while Kenya on the other hand, which is home to approximately 11 per cent of the world’s avian species, and has about 54 national parks and reserves, generates a lot of revenue from its wildlife.
There are various national parks and protected reserves across Nigeria and according to the Nigeria National Park Service (NNPS), the seven national parks are the Kamuku National Park in Kaduna; Gashaka Gumti in Adamawa/Taraba; Kainji Lake in Kwara/Niger; Oyo Park in Oyo-Old; Okomu in Edo State, Chad Basin in Borno/Yobe-Chad Basin; and Cross River.
The eighth, Yankari Game Reserve was upgraded to a national park in 1992, although it was later handed over to the Bauchi State Government in June 2006.
Responsible for preserving, enhancing, protecting and managing vegetation and wild animals in the national parks of Nigeria, the NNPS is a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of the Environment.
Some other tourist attraction sites in the country include the Obudu Mountain Resort in Cross Rivers State; the Azumini Blue River in Umuahia Ibeku, Abia State, where a fascinating blue river flows from the southern part of the state towards the edges of neighbouring Akwa-Ibom State. The uniqueness of the Ikogosi Warm Springs in Ekiti State is in the flow of its water, where both warm and cold spring flow side by side, each maintaining its thermal properties.
Others include the Birnin Kudu Rock Painting, the Olumirin waterfalls and the Sukur Cultural Landscape, among others.
With these, Nigeria has a potential to be a leading ecotourism country in Africa if the necessary attention is given to the sector.
Former Director, Zoological Garden, University of Ibadan (UI), Dr Olajumoke Morenikeji, noted that there is a need for more investments by the government for our tourism industry to thrive.
“Government is not very interested in this area and this is very sad. There is a need to redevelop these attraction sites so that they can be in good shape, because ecotourism is a revenue generating sector. When foreigners visit a country, the money paid is not only for the locals, as it also reflects on the economy of the country. Many people travel to Kenya majorly because of the wildlife; it is a beautiful place to see.
“So we need to shift our gaze off oil and focus on other aspects. Ecotourism is a good sector to invent in. Our tourist sites must be developed and made appealing for people to travel down to see. There are so many beautiful sites in Nigeria, but unfortunately the government is not doing enough to draw attention to those sites, and even the existing ones are not well maintained. There are quite a number of indigenous animals here that people would travel down to Nigeria to see. So if we can invest in our wildlife, there is a lot to gain from it,” she said.
Dr Morenikeji also noted that the issue of security is also of utmost importance, as no one would want to come down to a place where he or she would likely be kidnapped.
“So the issue of ecotourism is hydra-headed. So many things must be put in place for the sector to thrive,” she added.
In the same vein, Director General, Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), Mr Adeniyi Karunwi, opined that the sustainability aspect of our national parks is very low.
“The fact basically is that government is not interested in ecotourism. It has focused so much on the oil sector and as such, every other thing has been neglected. Many African countries today rely basically on ecotourism. Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and the likes for instance, derives a lot of revenue from ecotourism; they have lots of national parks that are well catered for.
“We have seven national parks in the country which unfortunately are not well maintained. So the question is can we really call them tourist attraction sites? Are they worth travelling down to see? How well are the visitors catered for? How safe are they? How good are the roads that lead there?
“These and many more are the issues that need to be addressed to have a sustainable ecotourism sector in the country.”
Besides the political will, a lot of issues still need to be addressed for ecotourism to thrive in Nigeria.
An environmentalist, Mr Shola Adeleke is of the opinion that like many other sectors in Nigeria, fitting round pegs in square holes is a major setback for the growth of ecotourism in the country.
“Even if government invests in the sector, as long as those managing it are not fit for the position, it will not thrive. Ecotourism goes beyond a beautiful site; it has to do with hospitality, and doing all you can to ensure that the people who visit want to stay.”
“A British friend of mine who is also an environmentalist once visited Nigeria and I took him to a waterfall in one of the states in the South West. Unfortunately, the young man who was supposedly the tour guide did not even attend to us. I tried to call his attention to something and all he said was we should move around and leave as we could see every other people doing. That was really embarrassing,” he lamented.
Adeleke therefore added that “There is need for better management, better implementation, monitoring and evaluation of our ecotourism sites. And government also needs to invest more in the sector and develop a more stringent set of standards and regulations regarding the practice of ecotourism.”