FTAN elects new leadership to steer tourism on the front burner as Onung emerges president

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There is excitement across the Nigerian tourism circle as the country’s private sector tourism made the right choices of leadership at a just-concluded Annual General Meeting and election in the passing week.

Yes, respite because the Nigerian tourism sector needs vibrant leadership, innovations and proactive team to speed its recovery from the impact of the pandemic and also, the fact that tourism is private sector driven, you need good hands to truly turn things around for good.

These were the grounds members of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), the umbrella body of tourism practitioners and businesses in Nigeria, decided to get it right for once at their 24th Annual General Meeting.

At the AGM, which held at Rockview Hotel Royale, Wuse II, Abuja, on Thursday, July 8, 2021, the delegates from the federating associations put their heads together to fight for a common interest-vibrant leadership to steer them to greater heights in business and contribution to the economy of the country.

The intrigue is that the election was all about block votes by each of the federating associations for the candidates of their choice. While the federating associations presented five delegates each, the delegates had to vote in block and in line with the choice of their respective associations.

At the end of the peaceful and keenly contested election, Nkereuwem Onung, founder and chairman of Remlords Tours and Car Hire Services, emerged the winner and new president of the association.

Onung represented the Nigerian Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), and was the immediate acting president of FTAN, following the untimely death of Rabo Saleh, the former president, while in active service early this year.

Onung, who is also the chairman of the Board of Trustees of NATOP, emerged winner with a landslide victory. He got 71 votes to beat Ayo Olumoko, his rival, who secured 22 votes. Olumoko contested under the Institute of Tourism Professionals of Nigeria (ITPN)

Aside Onung, other officials elected at the AGM include; Lawal Sahid, as membership secretary 1, Okon Emenu as an internal auditor, Kolade Tunde Julius, vice president South West, Yunusa Mohammed, vice president Abuja, Wale Olapade, public relation officer South, while candidates for other positions were returned unopposed.

In his acceptance speech, Onung, an ex-banker, on behalf of the executive council, thanked associations of the federation for giving him and his team the mandate to serve in the next two years in various capacities, and he also celebrated the leadership of the federation for building up FTAN in the last 12 years and bringing it to the level it is today.

Noting that the future of FTAN is greater than its history, Onung said, “I also appreciate our members who are also elected with me. We will give our best, we will serve with humility, focus and commitment”.

The new FTAN president also promised to resuscitate the Nigeria Tourism Investors Forum and Exhibition (NTIFE), an annual gathering of investors in the tourism Industry and also engage with the stakeholder regularly and more meaningfully.

But a seeming drama played out when Olumoko, the rival in the presidential election, conceded defeat, embraced Onung and pledged to work with him.

But as Onung rightly pointed out in his acceptance speech, the elections would not have been possible and successful without the support and understanding of the members. In this regard, special thanks go to Samuel Alabi, chairman, board of trustees of FTAN, for his steadfastness, open-mindedness and commitment to the federation, and also, Badaki Aliyu, director-general of the campaign that brought the federation peace this far.

As most industry stakeholders rightly observed, FTAN leadership really did a great job to ensure peaceful election and succession.

The stakeholders were also satisfied with the quality and capacity of the newly elected leaders, and are also committed to work with them for the common goal of the federation and tourism at large.

Prior to the election, talks and presentations by some notable tourism experts from both government and private sector pointed to the need for the stakeholders to collaborate in growing the sector as a veritable tool for job creation, huge revenue earner for the government, as well as the lowest hanging fruit for economy diversification, especially now that oil revenue is not sustainable.

In her paper presentation titled, “Constitution review as it affects tourism development in Nigeria”, Chinenye Miriam Oragwu, a notary public, reviewed the 1999 Constitution and how its provisions have impacted tourism development in the country.

Having noted the challenges, she made some recommendations, top of which are “The Nigerian federal and state government needs to take concise and visionary steps in the industry’s strategic planning.

“The process of developing a long-term strategy requires the adoption of a clear vision for tourism. It should be built on an open discussion with all stakeholders and should bear in mind the need to involve all relevant ministries to achieve a comprehensive cross-government response”.

In his goodwill message, Nura Sani Kangiwa, director-general, (NIHOTOUR), insisted that it is about time the government, like in other tourism-focused countries, provides the right investments to make Nigeria attractive tourist destinations. Considering the challenges tourism industry practitioners face in the country, he noted that the Nigerian governments should consider incentives such as deferred payments, cut taxes, launch business support grant funds, make low-interest working capital loans available to businesses, and give import duty exemption on tourism-related equipment.

But Olusegun Runsewe, director-general, Nigerian Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), carried on with his clarion call, which he started during his days as the director-general of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC). As always, Runsewe told members of FTAN to raise their game in the tourism business because crude oil is exhaustible while tourism is inexhaustible.

He called on Nigerians to support tourism and boost the economy by patronizing local destinations, wearing local fabrics, embracing our exciting cultures, art and craft rather than outbound trips, shopping for foreign brands and paying so much in foreign exchange. “Let us look inwards, patronise our own, oil is exhaustible, tourism is sustainable”, the director-general concluded.