Olugbenga Adebayo is President and Chief Executive Officer of Gadeshire Travels and Tours Limited, whose tour company recently hosted a group of five tourists and investors from Malaysia and Indonesia.
In this interview with MARIA DIAMOND, he spoke about the challenges he faced in implementing the package and called on the government to introduce a seamless process from visa procurement to immigration control at the airport to make it easier for tourists to visit Nigeria.
What were some of the challenges you encountered in putting together this tour package?
The challenges are not uncommon, especially when putting together a tour for international tourists. Visa processing, visa fees and logistics were all part of the challenges. Our guests’ experience of obtaining visas has been staggering, so we still have to deal with the visa fee regime. that’s not encouraging at all.
One of the problems is the reciprocity of visa fees; we have to catch up on that. If the US charges Nigeria $150 (N69,000), specifically for a visitor visa, then Nigeria is expected to charge the same, uniform visa fees. I am sure if you go to Malaysian embassy in Nigeria the visa fee is no more than N20,000. So if a Malaysian comes to Nigeria and spends almost N200,000 to obtain a visa, there is no uniformity or reciprocity at all in this aspect .
Then how can this be resolved?
The Department of State and Department of Home Affairs needs to look into this because if we as a company and tour operator are putting our resources into marketing and promoting Nigeria and our government is not complementing those efforts then it is not good enough and not beneficial to us as you know the is Tourism sector shaped by the private sector.
In my organization there is a department called Visiting-Nigeria that performs ground handling services for visitors visiting Nigeria for business, tours, trade missions, MICE and others. It is also the department within our organization with primary responsibility for promoting Nigeria as a destination of choice for visitors around the world. We invest a lot of resources in marketing some Nigerian destinations that we know are viable.
We also mostly send our staff abroad to trade fairs, travel fairs, trade missions, conferences, studies and trainings to market and promote Nigeria’s tourist destination. But when we put in all these efforts and don’t see the government playing its part, it’s very frustrating, discouraging and disappointing.
When it comes to a visa, it is the prerogative of the government; we have no power or control over it. But that’s one of the ways government can support our businesses if done right. We are not asking the government not to conduct due diligence, but it should be done in a way that does not discourage visitors or make it difficult for them to obtain visas or permits to enter Nigeria. If you make it so difficult, it will affect our businesses and also negatively affect foreign direct investment (FDI), foreign exchange earnings, job creation and the sustainability of all job chains in tourism, as well as our national brands.
How do you think the Nigerian government should best deal with visa processing then?
We don’t have to do anything to discourage visitors from coming to Nigeria. For this tour, for example, it took us over three months to get to this point. The coordinator has to visit the Nigerian Embassy in Malaysia several times before he can get the visa for the group members.
We have had discussions over the years with our travel company partner in Malaysia about working together to promote Nigeria as a destination of choice for Malaysians, Indonesians and Singaporeans and how this should be done. Now imagine that the first tourists visiting Nigeria from Malaysia and Indonesia have to face this back and forth process for an entry visa.
The visa process needs to run smoothly to make it easier for visitors and us, especially for people coming for tourism, investment and business reasons. We look forward to welcoming over 200 visitors from Malaysia and Indonesia on trade missions and tourism in 2023 and participating in some of our local festivals.
Now imagine if it takes between three and four hours to process five foreign passengers at the international airport, how many hours does it take to process between 100 and 200 foreign visitors at the airport? These are some of the questions our travel partners in Malaysia have addressed during their visit when they need to come for these trade missions, tourism and attending some of our festivals next year.
What are the benefits of this visit to Nigeria?
Firstly, many visitors now have a very different perception of Nigeria than what they have read on the internet or heard from others. Visitors came with foreign currency and spend in Nigeria and we complain about tight foreign exchange and high exchange rate but these people come with foreign currency which would boost our economy and foreign exchange earning level.
You will be accommodated in a hotel and the government will generate revenue from those hotels as a result of this visit in the form of taxes and duties, Value Added Tax (VAT) and service charges and taxes from other suppliers or service providers.
They interacted with the locals and bought things from them; We have visited many places where we have to pay gate fees. Some of the people employed in these companies can keep their jobs thanks to the patronage. So these are the reasons why we want government policies to be encouraging for operators and business owners and for the sustainability of the sector.
It’s really disheartening at times when we have to deal with these issues that we personally have no control over and that’s why we find it difficult when they tell us that we should sell or market Nigeria as a tourist destination because if you look around If sales and marketing make an effort, you will find all these bottlenecks in the implementation that are not necessary or not necessary at all. It is easier for my organization to market foreign travel destinations than in Nigeria and the reasons for this are obvious.
I believe that the tourism sector of our economy needs proper attention as it has more capacity to boost and sustain our challenging economy.