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Some Cultural & Traditional Limitations to Tourism Development in Nigeria

By Amb. Nneka Isaac-Moses

Tourism in Nigeria, with its rich cultural heritage and vibrant traditions, holds significant potential for development. However, cultural and traditional limitations often hinder the full realization of this potential.

Nigeria’s top tourism assets are deeply rooted in its cultural events, which have existed since ancient times. Each community boasts events that reflect their traditions, environment, and cultural identity. These events are the soul of the communities and serve as a convergence point for locals, both home and abroad.

While these events provide a foundation for domestic tourism, they often fail to reach their full potential due to several cultural constraints.

Community-Centric Organization

Most cultural events in Nigeria are organized by the local communities themselves. These events serve as a springboard for domestic tourism, drawing in large numbers of locals. However, these events often fall short in attracting and accommodating domestic and international tourists.
This is partly because the organizing committees typically lack tourism practitioners who could bring in professional expertise and fresh ideas to exploit the opportunities for financial gains. More so, the lack of professional event consultants/managers make most cultural events unattractive to corporate sponsors.

Case Study:

The Durbar Festival and Odo Festival in Ngwo Enugu State exemplifies how cultural limitations can hinder tourism development. This event attracts thousands of locals and people from across Nigeria, including foreign nationals residing in the country. Despite its popularity, the Durbar has not scaled up to accommodate a larger influx of tourists or generate expected revenue. Most big Durbar events still relies largely on support from the Emirate and state government, while the Odo is funded by individual and community efforts. One of the main reason is the traditional structure of the organizing committee, which in most cases excludes tourism professionals, event consultants and young people who could introduce innovative ideas.

Gender-Based Limitations

Another significant limitation is the gender-based restrictions inherent in some cultural practices. In Northern Nigeria, for instance, the voice of women is often not considered in the planning and execution of most cultural events. This exclusion means that valuable insights and ideas from female tourism practitioners, even those who are natives of the state, are disregarded. This cultural norm stifles the potential for inclusive and progressive tourism development.

Also, in some locations in Southern Nigeria, these gender-based limitations can have severe consequences especially for unsuspecting visitors. During a visit with Goge Africa team to Bonny Island in 2021, we discovered that a woman is not allowed to step on the King Perekule Rostrum (also known as Ikuba Square), a meeting point where the king addresses his subjects and conducts coronations.
Unaware of this restriction due to the absence of any signposts, I was arrested by the community when I posed for a photograph at the forbidden point. It took the intervention of the King and our host, NLNG, to secure my release.

Infrastructure and Visitor Experience

The lack of adequate infrastructure to enhance the visitor experience further limits tourism development. For instance, during Masquerade festivals in eastern Nigeria or the Durbar events, there are no designated seating areas for tourists. The available seating areas are usually occupied by locals and their friends, leaving no space designated for actual tourists who are willing to pay for comfort. This lack of consideration for tourists’ comfort and needs discourages repeat visits and diminishes the overall appeal of the events to both domestic and international tourists. It also robs the locals of revenue; for instance, residents who live along the parade route at Carnival Calabar set up tents with chairs, tables, and even refreshments, which they charge as much as 5,000 Naira per person. Even tour operators book such spaces for their clients ahead of the carnival

Tour operators should be involved in planning cultural events to enable them to create tour packages around such events. However, this necessitates a mutual understanding between the local organizing committees and tour operators.

Role of Tourism Consultants: Goge Africa

Involving tourism consultants such as Goge Africa, a tourism promotion and development company established in 1999, is crucial. Goge Africa combines extensive knowledge and a team of experts who have thoroughly studied the tourism landscape of Nigeria and Africa. They can offer effective strategies to scale up community festivals for financial gains and sustainability.

For example, according to Goge Africa’s report on the 2023 Durbar, several activities could be monetized to enhance revenue. These include:

  1. Monetized Seating Arrangement: Provide paid, designated seating areas for tourists.
  2. Monetized Tours: Offer guided tours of the palace, the Mosque, and the local market for a fee.
  3. Monetized Decoration Process: Charge tourists who wish to watch the intricate horse decoration process.
  4. Turban Tying and Dressing: Offer tourists the experience of being dressed like the horsemen, including having their turbans tied.
  5. Photo Opportunities and Horse Riding: Allow tourists to take pictures on the decorated horses and even ride them before the actual Durbar begins.
  6. Memorabilia Merchandising: Sell keepsakes, such as postcards, local arts and crafts to visitors. This is a source of revenue for local artisans and the community.

These strategies not only create additional revenue streams but also enhance the overall tourist experience, making the event more attractive to both domestic and international visitors.

Overcoming Cultural Limitations

To harness the full potential of Nigeria’s cultural events for tourism development, it is essential to address these cultural limitations. This can be achieved through several measures:

  1. Inclusion of Tourism Professionals: Integrating tourism practitioners into the organizing committees of cultural events can bring in the necessary expertise to scale up these events and attract more tourists.
  2. Youth Engagement: Encouraging the involvement of young people in the planning and execution of cultural events can introduce innovative ideas and modern approaches to event management.
  3. Gender Inclusivity: Promoting gender inclusivity in cultural event planning can ensure that valuable contributions from female practitioners are not overlooked, leading to more comprehensive and appealing tourism offerings.
  4. Improved Infrastructure: Investing in infrastructure to enhance the visitor experience, such as designated seating areas, adequate facilities, and clear information for tourists, can significantly improve the attractiveness of cultural events to international visitors.

In conclusion, while Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage presents immense opportunities for tourism development, cultural and traditional limitations pose significant challenges. By addressing these limitations and involving experienced tourism consultants like Goge Africa, Nigeria can unlock the full potential of its cultural events and position itself as a prime tourist destination.

© 2024 Nneka Isaac-Moses.

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