Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed on Tuesday in Abuja said that Nigeria, despite having a population of over 170 million can only boast of two world heritage sites.
The Minister however called for a change in the nation’s visa administration to encourage tourists and investors.
Mohammed revealed this when he received Mr Jim Flannery, an International Advisor to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO).
The advisor was sent by UNWTO to assist in the review of Nigeria Tourism Master Plan.
The minister stressed that a new regime that allowed for easy access to visa for tourists and investors at point of entry was required for the tourism sector to grow.
He said he was glad that government had set up a committee on the ease of doing business which would look into it.
The minister also underscored the need for the nation to do away with bureaucracy and encourage full participation of the private sector in growing the tourism industry.
In his words: “We must begin to understand that tourism is the new oil that we have failed to discover and exploit.
“It is shocking that Nigeria with a population of about 170 million people and land mass of about one million sq km has only two world heritage sites.
“Whereas, Italy with population of about 50 million people has 51 world heritage sites.
“What that means is that people will not come to our country unless they see what they can be attracted to.
“That explains why France attracted 120 million tourists last year, while the whole of Africa attracted less than 50 million and why three out of five jobs in Italy, three are from the creative industry.
“This figure will show you the importance of tourism and Nigeria is the new tourists destination and we really need to work together to harness the potential in the industry,’’ he said.
The minister said he was glad to receive the UNWTO delegate whose coming was a fall out of his trip to the headquarters of the world tourism body in Madrid, Spain in July.
The minister recalled that during the visit, the UNWTO agreed to send an expert to help in the review of tourism master plan and to partner in revising the Presidential Council on Tourism.
He said the organisation also promised to assist in organising international conference with the theme; “Tourism as a Tool for Peace’’ in Maiduguri and train women on capacity building in tourism.
The minister urged members of the review committee to cooperate and work with Flanker for a successful review of the master plan.
He said in the course of his stay, Flannery would meet with major donours like World Bank and UNDP to exploit how they could assist the country in implementing the master plan.
Earlier, Flannery said the review of the master plan drafted about 10 years ago would not be a total jettison of the existing one.
“We are not here to write a new master plan, because we have a very expansive document before us that has never been implemented.
“This time, our attitude will be let us break it down to smaller steps and identify what can be done quickly to open new products and create new markets.’’
He said that unlike the manufacturing industry, tourism does not need special technical knowhow and huge investment to start.
He noted that tourism was a very viable industry that most countries were now realising and benefitting from and Nigeria would not regret the action taken to reposition the sector.