July 16, (THEWILL) – The Federal and State governments have been advised to prioritise environmental conservation by protecting and preserving Nigeria’s natural landscapes and biodiversity, through the implementation of sustainable practices, geared towards safeguarding the country’s tourism assets for future generations.
The Nigeria Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), gave the advice, adding that the Federal Government, through its relevant agencies, need to leverage the principles of sustainable tourism in evolving policies aimed at growing the sector in Nigeria.
National President, NATOP, Mrs Ime Udo, gave the hint during her welcome address at the opening of the Tourism Seminar/Conference organised by the body, which was held at the Bimbo Owolabi Hall of the Afe Babalola University, under the theme, ‘Tourism Green Investments in Nigeria.’
According to Mrs Udo, embracing the mode “will not only attract eco-conscious travellers, but will also contribute to the overall well-being and quality of life for our citizens.”
The seminar/conference was organised as part of programmes in the association’s 7th Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Friday, in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State.
The four-day event commenced on Thursday, July 14, and is expected to end Sunday, July 16, attracting members of the group, as well as other stakeholders in the industry.
Citing examples of countries which had planned their tourism development on environmental conservation, Udo said the South American nations of Costa Rica and Asia’s Bhutan, are some of the successful destinations where eco-friendly practices drive their industry’s growth and by extension, promote a green economy.
“Costa Rica stands out as a notable illustration, renowned for its commitment to sustainable tourism. By prioritising environmental conservation, investing in renewable energy, and promoting eco-friendly practices, Costa Rica has successfully positioned itself as a leading destination for eco-tourism. This approach has attracted environmentally conscious travellers and generated economic opportunities, creating jobs and fostering overall economic growth.
“Another inspiring case comes from the nation of Bhutan, which has embraced the concept of Gross National Happiness. Valuing the well-being of its people and the environment above all else, Bhutan has implemented policies that focus on sustainable tourism development. As a result, it has established itself as a high-value, low-impact destination, preserving its pristine natural landscapes and attracting discerning travellers seeking unique experiences and a deeper connection with nature.
“Now, let us turn our attention to Nigeria and explore how we can leverage the principles of sustainable tourism to grow our tourism sector. Nigeria boasts a wealth of natural and cultural attractions, from breathtaking landscapes to vibrant cultural heritage sites. By adopting a green economy approach, we can tap into this immense potential and create a thriving tourism sector that benefits both our environment and our economy.
“It is crucial for states in Nigeria to prioritise environmental conservation. By protecting our natural landscapes, preserving biodiversity, and implementing sustainable practices, we can safeguard our tourism assets for future generations. This will not only attract eco-conscious travellers, but will also contribute to the overall well-being and quality of life for our citizens,” Udo said.
The NATOP President further opined that investing in renewable energy can help reposition Nigeria’s tourism, which, according to her, could be a game changer, in addition to promoting and encouraging community-based tourism initiatives, which she believes ‘can unlock significant opportunities for local communities.
“By embracing clean energy solutions such as solar and wind power, we can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, minimise our carbon footprint, and create a more sustainable tourism infrastructure. This will make our destinations more appealing to environmentally conscious travellers and enhance the resilience and competitiveness of our tourism industry.
“By empowering and involving local residents in the tourism value chain, we can ensure that the economic benefits of tourism reach the grassroots level. This can be achieved through training, capacity building, fostering entrepreneurship, and creating platforms for meaningful engagement between tourists and local communities. By doing so, we can create a more inclusive tourism sector that spreads economic prosperity throughout Nigeria”, Udo said.
She urged her counterparts in the industry to equally ‘strive to prioritise the socio-cultural aspects of sustainability,’ which include, respecting local traditions and cultures, supporting local businesses and communities, and educating tourists about the importance of responsible travel.’
“By integrating cultural immersion experiences and supporting community-based tourism initiatives, tour operators can contribute to local communities’ well-being while offering their clients authentic and meaningful travel experiences.
“Promotion plays a vital role in the success of any green initiative that tour operators leverage for their marketing and communication channels. Raising awareness among travellers about the importance of sustainable tourism is key to driving positive change in our industry”, the NATOP President stressed.
Concluding her presentation, Udo maintained that the potential for tourism to drive a green economy is immense.
“By learning from successful examples worldwide and tailoring those principles to the Nigerian context, we can chart a course towards sustainable tourism development. Together, let us seize this opportunity to leverage the power of tourism, not only as a business venture but as a force for environmental conservation, economic growth, and the overall well-being of our nation”, she said.
Notable dignitaries who presented addresses at the seminar/conference of NATOP included the Ekiti State Governor, Mr Biodun Abayomi Oyebanji, who was represented by his Special Adviser on Industry, Trade & Investment, Mrs Omotayo Adeola, Director-General of NIHOTOUR, Alhaji Nura Kangiwa, and the Vice-Chancellor of the Afe Babalola University Ado Ekiti (ABUAD), Prof. (Mrs) Smaranda Olarinde.
Presentations were also delivered by various guests; Prof. Edem Eniang, a wildlife and conservation expert, in addition to the delegation from the Uganda Tourism Board, led by its Market Destination Representative, Mr Anthony Ochieng, Mr Ikechi Uko, a Board of Trustee (BOT) Member of NATOP.
A panel of discussants including Mr Obinna Nwaogu, who is the Country Head for Treepz Inc., Ms Bosede Kosemani, the Project Manager, Lekki Conservation Centre; Mr Mark More, the CEO of Motley Travel and Logistics Limited; Mr Ayo Aribidara, the Director General of the Ekiti State Development and Investment Agency; fielded questions by the moderator, Mr Seyi Adeyemo to round off the talk session.
Highlight of the event in Ado Ekiti was the presentation of certificates to new and existing NATOP members, as well as, special recognition awards to deserving Nigerians for promoting growth in the tourism sector in Nigeria.