Three wishes

HR-shutterstock_390164131Nigeria has so much more to offer than barrels of oil, according to our business columnist Nkem Ifejika

I write this as I travel around Nigeria, experiencing the famed nightlife of Lagos and the ancient traditions of the Benin Kingdom.

One of the big stories here is a scarcity of foreign exchange, since the fall in the price of oil. As crude oil is Nigeria’s main foreign exchange earner, there are fewer dollars available for businesses to buy and maintain equipment that they have to source from abroad. With a country as rich and diverse in culture as Nigeria, there’s no reason why tourism shouldn’t be a major foreign exchange earner. Lagos is one of Africa’s top ten most visited cities, but whenever I’m flying there, I’d guess less than three per cent of passengers are tourists. They’re usually diaspora or business passengers.

One of the most pleasant holidays I’ve ever had with my family also required the least effort to plan. We booked a cottage on the north coast of Northern Ireland, and hired a car when we arrived at the airport in Belfast. We had the option of eating out, but we also bought supplies from a local supermarket and cooked some food ourselves. The only conventional tourist activity we did was to visit the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent the rest of the time driving on the long winding roads while admiring the countryside, stopping for meals at pubs, creating our own entertainment as we went. No doubt others had done this before us, as several businesses had sprung up to cater for tourists just catching the sights. Sometimes it was gift shops, other times it was restaurants that could cater for large groups. They’d emerged organically and without necessarily receiving some kind of diktat or plan from government.

Tourists come in various shapes: some like luxury, some don’t mind slumming it. But in all my travels, I can’t say I’ve been to a country that had nothing to offer at least one kind of tourist. And those tourists will find you. However, in my estimation, there are just three things you must offer.

First, a simple visa process is very important. It is impossible to overstate how an arduous visa application procedure puts off potential tourists. Second, road infrastructure within the country makes a huge difference to the tourist experience. How easy is it to get a coach from one town to another? How does one get around in a big city? Can an outsider come in and find their way around? These are all questions that require positive responses. Third, and perhaps most crucial, is safety. Nobody wants to visit a country where they won’t feel safe.

Very often, many of these concerns are a result of perception and reputation. Without naming names, some countries aren’t half as unsafe as is perceived, and most visa application processes are much more straightforward than they ever were. Abide by these three rules, and watch them come. People just want ease and safety, as they can usually handle any other issues thrown at them.