I warmly welcome all the delegates to this 61st Meeting of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Commission for Africa (CAF) holding in our beautiful, modern and welcoming capital city of Abuja.
In particular, I welcome the Secretary-General of the UNWTO, Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili, the Chair of CAF, Hon. Najib Balala, my colleagues the Ministers of Tourism and other delegates from the 51 member states of CAF, representatives of international organizations, experts, stakeholders and gentlemen of the press from within and outside Nigeria. Thank you all for honouring us with your presence.
2. I wish to express my profound gratitude and appreciation to the UNWTO-CAF for the wonderful opportunity accorded Nigeria to play host to global and regional giants of the Travel and Tourism industry. I recall, with pride, that day, on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when the hosting right was given to Nigeria with acclamation. The standing ovation that greeted that award remains indelible in my mind. It was the culmination of the efforts that started in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, at the 58th UNWTO-CAF Meeting, and marked Nigeria’s full return to active membership after some years of lull.
3. The hosting of this meeting in Nigeria would not have been possible without the unalloyed support we have received from His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR. From the moment we won the hosting right, we had the total support of Mr. President. That we are all gathered here today, therefore, is to the eternal credit of Mr. President.
4. I am profoundly grateful to all the sponsors who helped to make this hosting a reality. My special gratitude goes to the Government of Lagos State. Their support for us is simply invaluable. We couldn’t have done this without them. I also wish to thank our other numerous sponsors, including the governments of Ogun, Ebonyi, Edo and Kano states, Heritage Bank, Dangote, First Bank, Eko Atlantic City, Sahara Group, Bolanle Austen-Peters Production, Yibs Ensemble and Transcorp. Thank you all.
5. After months of preparations, the moment is finally here! I thank all those whose dedication and commitment helped to usher in this moment: the members of the main committees and the sub-committees who made a lot of sacrifice, in terms of their time and comfort, to ensure the success of this event.
6. The theme of this year’s meeting, “Tourism Statistics: A Catalyst for Development,” is quite apt and timely as Nigeria is witnessing giant strides in the development of viable and sustainable alternatives to oil and gas. With its abundant natural resources, vibrant culture, interesting history, predominance of tourist products, large population and the hospitable disposition of her people, Nigeria is currently recognized as one of Africa’s leading economies and emerging market by World Bank.
7. Tourism has become an important sector of the economy for many member states, especially as an important source of foreign exchange earnings, employment generation and income creation, in addition to encouraging infrastructural development and poverty reduction. For us in Nigeria, it is one of the sectors we have identified as very key to our economic diversification agenda. The sustained growth of the tourism industry illustrates how this all-important sector, with its added advantage of infinitude, can assist member states’ economies to reap the benefits of globalization.
8. This meeting, therefore, provides an excellent opportunity to discuss ways and means to promote intra-Africa travels and tourism, leveraging on our vast and unique resources and our number, for mutual benefit to all member states. It is my expectation that this meeting will also serve as a platform towards establishing stronger linkages and functional collaboration among member states in order to realize the potentials with which the continent is endowed with.
9. On our part, as a country, we are doing everything possible to move the Tourism Sector into the mainstream of the economy. Realizing that modern infrastructure is critical to tourism development, we are investing heavily in the development of infrastructure. In the last two years alone, we have spent an unprecedented 9 billion US Dollars to build roads, standard railways and power. The investment is showing, as we have raised our power generation from 2,690 to 7,000MW, while road construction is going on in every of the country’s 36 states.
10. We are also improving our security architecture, because without security, tourism cannot thrive. As a matter of fact, four years ago, this meeting could not have been held here. Recall that Boko Haram carried out many attacks in this capital city. The UN Complex, the Police Headquarters, a newspaper house, bus station were all attacked.
Residents of Abuja could not sleep with their two eyes closed. Today, that is history. There is no clearer evidence than the fact that this event is being held here in the city.
11. This meeting has also provided us with the opportunity to test our Visa On Arrival policy, which is part of the efforts of this Administration to boost tourism in particular. Many of our delegates received their visas on arrival here in Nigeria. In this regard, we will like to thank, in particular, the Nigerian Immigration Service and all agencies at the airport that have facilitated the inward journey of our guests.
12. We are also providing enabling environment and incentives; Strong
public and private sector collaboration; Enabling laws for the preservation and protection of cultural heritage; Involvement of local communities leading to the overall economic development of the areas; Specific action plans including capacity building of the various stakeholders and development of tourism statistics and Tourism Satellite Account (TSA), among others.
13. We have also dusted up and updated the Nigeria Tourism Development Master Plan, which is currently being implemented. This document aims at achieving, among others, the restructuring of the existing Tourism Development Institutions for them to effectively deliver the benefits of tourism; Raising the awareness and understanding of the benefits of tourism in the society; as well as reviewing environmental degradation and protection of Nigeria’s physical and historical assets. The implementation of the Tourism Master Plan focuses on institutional capacity-building, product development, tourism facilitation/promotion and marketing, with a view to making Nigeria a preferred destination.
14. In the end, we have no doubt that our tourism sector will benefit massively from encouraging domestic tourism and intra-Africa travel.
After all, a popular proverb says ‘Charity Begins At Home’.
15. In the next few days, we will do our best to expose our guests to the taste, sight and sounds of Nigeria. Our rich culture and the creative imagination of our people, especially the youths, will be put on display. It will be a time like no other. Our visitors cannot afford to miss any of the shows we have lined up.
16. Last night, our guests were treated to the performance of the Seki Dance Drama. Spectacular as it was, it is only a tip of the iceberg, compared to other world class shows that await our visitors. Let me also say here that we are saving the best for last, as our Technical Visit to the Eko Atlantic City in Lagos will not only blow the minds of our visitors but more importantly announce loudly to the world that Nigeria is finally ready to claim its preeminent place in global tourism.
17. On this note, Your Excellencies, Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your kind attention, and I hereby extend my best wishes to all delegates for a successful meeting and a pleasant and memorable stay right here in Nigeria.
18. Once again, you are welcome. E kaabo, Sannu da zuwa, Nnoo.
19. I thank you all for your kind attention.