Airlines & Tourism in Nigeria: Slightly Out of Tune

By Hani A. (Arikmetics)

Nigeria boasts one of the most eco-diverse environments on Earth.  It is a melting pot, a potpourri of over 250 ethnic groups, some of which tracing their origins to 200 BC.    It is blessed with a vibrant music and film industry, and is the defacto cultural heart of the African continent.  Despite these impressive qualifications, the Nigerian tourism industry is still in embryonic stages and has not yet assumed a significant position in Nigeria’s GDP pie.  Thousands if not millions of potential jobs remain just that – “potential”.  Equally disappointing is Nigerians’ own ambivalence, and at times ignorance, towards the country’s natural and cultural blessings.  For instance, very few Nigerians are aware that two World Heritage Sites are located in Nigeria (Sukur and Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove).  Idanre Hills is another candidate for enlistment.

Benin Mask. Nigeria is seeking to repatriate its looted cultural treasures. Photo courtesy of Ras Marley.


The issue is extremely complicated.  Pundits argue that Nigeria is bedeviled with incessant security challenges (Niger Delta insurgency, highway robberies, and ethnic clashes) rendering any discussion of Nigerian tourism, domestic or international, a futile one.  Cynics argue that Nigeria tourism is not even possible, owing to the lack of motorable roads, stable power supply, and a general sense of insecurity.  To complicate matters further, a legal framework guiding the development of the sector (for example, a tourism bill) is still inexistent despite recent efforts to formulate the necessary laws and establish institutions.   Nigeria’s tourist visa regime is rather cumbersome (for example, tourists such as myself required a letter of invitation).


Despite the above, not all is gloom and doom.  Nigeria with its abundant natural and cultural attractions managed to attract over 900,000 tourists in 2008 (However, the definition of the word tourist is not so clear).  Visa rules are being relaxed and Nigerian embassies are putting their act together.   The World Tourism Organization (WTO) has segmented tourists into distinct categories, with Nigeria being particularly strong in the areas of cultural, adventure, and eco-tourism.  Granted, tourists in pursuit of zebras and giraffes prefer such places as Kenya or South Africa (even though this kind of Safari experience is locally available in Yankari National Park).  Where Nigeria has a comparative advantage  is its vast number of ethnic groups, each with its distinct language, dance, and cuisine, in such a relatively small region.  Ironically, its under-developed tourism sector appeals to hard-core backpackers in search of hidden adventures and less traditional itineraries.

Idanre Hills, Ondo State. Photo courtesy of Selena Marie.

In my opinion, Nigeria’s tourism potential today is unrealized.  What I mean is that with today’s infrastructure and socio-political environment, Nigeria as a country can attract double, if not triple the number of inbound tourists.  Lack of awareness about regional attractions (outside Lagos) remains the single largest impediment to the sector’s takeoff.   Efforts of the NTDC, FMCT and other government agencies to promote everything positive about Nigeria abroad have been unfocused, uncoordinated, and lack seriousness and resolve.  I recall visiting FITUR (Madrid’s yearly global tourism forum, the third largest in the world)  in  2008.  It was attended by over 150 nations.  Smaller countries like Benin and Cameroon were present and aggressively promoted their respective destinations.  When I asked around about Nigeria,  I was told their team could not secure visas in time because they had applied last-minute.


Through this essay I wish to demonstrate how a pro-tourism strategy by Nigerian airlines can lead to increased tourist inflows.  This mostly applies to Arik Air, as the Nigerian airline with the largest international network to date, and growing.   The airlines themselves stand to benefit directly, flying additional passengers from intercontinental destinations and onward to regional tourism spots such as Calabar, Jos, Kano, etc.

A major asset recently added to Nigerian tourism is the country’s first ever Tourism Master Plan.  This comprehensive document provides general guiding principles for the industry, identifies areas of priority investments (both private and public sectors), and zones the different tourism spots of the country into clusters (illustrated below).  The airlines already have access to this Master Plan.  It is now a question of how serious the airlines are in fitting in their travel-solution into this overall framework of tourism development.  Providing safe, quick, and efficient means of transport is only one building block.  Optimizing a route by highlighting the beauty and intrigue of the destination is where it gets interesting.

Nigeria's Tourism Clusters, as defined by its Tourism Master Plan

A pro-tourism policy can come at almost zero cost to the airlines. A sensory and visual experience of Nigeria’s tourist attractions can begin in the cabin in far-away destinations such as New York or London.  For instance, the airline can play exciting and colorful footage of Nigeria’s fauna, or endangered species, on the aircraft’s IFE (In-flight Entertainment) during boarding and before takeoff.  It may also present professionally taken images of Nigerian landscapes and towns, clearly identifying the site, and the nearest airport which the airline serves, to highlight convenience of access.  Traditional African patterns and motifs may be part of the cabin interior concept.  This could boost awareness of Nigeria’s beauty among the expatriate community, and would lure them to discover “Unbelievable Nigeria“. Curious to know more, they can be treated with simple pamphlets and wall-to-wall, post-card quality murals in the airline’s offices in Lagos and Abuja.  Overseas offices can also adopt sights and sounds of Nigeria in their visuals and communication channels, affirming Nigerian pride.

Wikki warm springs, Yankari National Park (photo courtesy of Emma & Andrew,


NTDC some years ago brought up the notion of serving Nigerian food items on board Nigerian carriers, to “help promote Nigerian tourism”.  Apparently, the NTDC does not fully grasp the idea.  Nigerian airlines could serve a select number of creatively-presented, organically-positioned, Nigerian snacks in order to promote the healthy and beautiful side of Nigerian cuisine.  This, in turn, could contribute to rehabilitating Nigeria’s image abroad, which would then boost Nigerian tourism.

The cabin experience of Nigeria should not end with food and imagery, but can also extend to other areas such as airline uniforms.  The marketing campaign of Singapore Airlines, one of the world’s most profitable airlines, revolves entirely on the Singapore Girl. The elegant batik uniform of the Singapore Girl, along with her friendly smile and charms, represent a sort of cultural ambassador.   Nigeria is world-renowned for her rich fabrics of vivid colors and array of traditional wears.  Nigerian airlines can promote the Nigerian sense of fashion by integrating these fabrics in cabin crew uniforms.  To help control costs, these flashy uniforms may be restricted initially to first and business class cabin crew.

Nigerian Fabrics (photo courtesy of Nomads and Housewives)

Calabar Carnival, Cross River

Arik Air and Nigerian Eagle Airlines have recently started offering their own complementary in-flight magazines.   This initiative should be sustained, and be directly tied with other tourism-related programs within the airline and other Nigerian entities.  For example, the magazines can feature a different Nigerian destination on a monthly basis, offering passengers hints about the best hotels, activities, and natural attractions in its vicinity. A strong emphasis on artistic photography would be most effective.  The quality and insight of the articles are more important than quantity.  Out-sourcing this sort of investigative & creative journalism to a local magazine or newspaper would make perfect sense.


Noteworthy are the airlines’ reluctance to offer any kind of tourist information on their websites.  One in particular claims to be ‘Nigeria’s flag carrier’ yet the only information offered on its website is vaccination information and some basic data.  This is hardly a healthy attitude for a company aspiring to be Nigeria’s ambassador.  An airline must recognize its website as a strategic channel to lure potential tourists.  Why would a Japanese businessman be interested in a side trip to Enugu? Jos?  What is there to experience?   Expanding an airline’s website to include more information on its destinations could trigger passenger interest and consequently traffic figures.  Hence, Nigerian airlines have the opportunity to accelerate the development of routes previously identified as ‘unviable’ by tapping into their tourism potential.


Partnering with hinterland boutique hotels (some of them already exist in such cities as Bauchi, Calabar, and Osun) could also boost the airlines’ traffic figures by increasing domestic tourism. A holistic travel product, inclusive of such amenities as car rental, organized tours, and transportation to/from the airport, is something which established carriers worldwide have offered for decades.  ADC Airlines, once a major airline in Nigeria, offered such services in conjunction with affiliated organizations and hotels.

Airlines have also started to partner state governments.  In demonstrating that an airline can have a direct role in attracting tourists, rather than assuming the passive role of providing efficient air transport, state governments have an incentive to purchase additional seat blocks and hence increase their subsidies.

Kano Durbar (Photo courtesy of Iris,


The notion of stimulating domestic Nigerian tourism can also be strengthened through sponsorship programs.  A variety of events dot the nation’s Tourism Calendar, such as the Carnival and New Yam Festival in Cross River State,  the Argungu Fishing Festival, Abuja Carnival,  Kano Durbar, among numerous others.   In return of assuming certain costs on behalf of organizers (communications, PR, transportation of staff, etc.), the airlines as ‘official carriers’ are guaranteed higher patronage.  They may also derive higher revenues through advertising some time-limited promotional offers that last the duration of the event, the effects of which are sustained year-round.  These may be publicized on the airlines’ websites.

Separately, certain non-profit conservation organizations are on the brink of collapse due to shortage of donation.  One of these is CERCOPAN.  Established in 1991, its purpose is to save a number of indigenous Nigerian primates from extinction.  Well-run by a dedicated staff of Nigerians as well as expatriates, it has grown to become Nigeria’s most prominent wildlife preservation initiative.  Unfortunately and due to the global financial crisis, it can no longer afford basic expenses such as rent.  Airlines such as Arik Air have a strategic opportunity to sponsor CERCOPAN or other non-profit entities, affirming their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and concern for environmental issues.

Cross River Gorilla, an endangered species in Nigeria

Sponsorship opportunities transcend conservation agencies.  The list of under-funded, high-potential organizations include museums and art galleries.  Facilities at the Museum of Traditional Nigerian Architecture (MOTNA)  in Jos are in dire need of overhaul, to bring them to international standard.  By aligning themselves with non-profit initiatives, the airlines can fulfill their societal duties in a manner that stimulates the tourism industry.  This would ultimately enhance their load factors.


Air fares in Nigeria remain relatively high, for a variety of reasons better not delved into.   The average tourist who would be interested to visit Nigeria today simply cannot afford to travel around the country by air.  The hazardous state of many roadways connecting Nigerian state capitals means the vast majority of them simply stay away.  One possible solution to this problem is a ‘Nigeria Airpass‘, emulating the Brazilian Airpass.  A promotional air fare of 25,000 Naira can be advertised for a 3 stop round trip flight, in condition that the passenger originates from outside Nigeria.  For example: Lagos-Calabar-Abuja-Kano-Lagos sectors covering a 2-week holiday can be considered a Nigerian Airpass.  Most airlines today would charge an exorbitant fare for the same routing, deterring eco and adventure tourists who are typically on a shoestring budget.  This type of promotional fare might also appeal to Nigerians living abroad.


When it comes to foreigners in Nigeria, few are aware of what Nigeria has to offer beyond business opportunities and the shelter and comfort of their housing estates.  In an attempt to address this problem, the NTDC has inaugurated information booths in Abuja and Lagos Airports.  Ill-equipped and under-funded, the booths are often unmanned and do not show any enthusiasm or passion in delivering the message.  Foreigners react to what captivates them, and captivating the NTDC booths are not.   The airlines can intervene, and working with FAAN (Federal Airports Authority) can secure space for their own Travel Point in international arrival halls.  To give them the proper angle and credibility, they could partner world-renowned travel guides such as National Geographic Traveller, Time Out (already covers Abuja and Lagos), Conde Nast, and others specialized in non-traditional eco-tourism.  This would ensure the highest standard of information relay through highly trained and friendly staff, dynamic workstations, free wi-fi for the airline’s passengers, etc..  Additionally, the airline’s Travel Point can readily refer passengers to the local attractions, through traditional media or downloadable PDA applications.

Argungu Fishing Festival, Kebbi

I was very pleased with the tourist facilities already available in such places as Calabar and Obudu.  It is unfortunate that none of the 3 major airlines which ply the Lagos-Calabar route offer any information on tourist attractions in the area (the drill monkey reserve,  Afi Mountain Canopy walk, Tinapa, and Obudu) let alone package deals.


A situation where stakeholders in the travel industry, from airlines to hotel and tour operators, act independently, remaining isolated from one another, can no longer persist.  If they cooperate and offer their customers a holistic travel product, they are bound to imbibe the Nigeria option as a viable alternative to other holiday destinations.  The sum would be greater than the parts.

In the face of underperforming government agencies, it is sincerely hoped that the airlines would take matters into their own hands and at the very least, boost awareness of Nigeria’s breathtaking landscapes.   Doing so would most certainly contribute to improve the country’s image abroad, and would complement Nigeria’s efforts to rebrand.


I prepared below a list of Nigerian significant attractions, listed by nearest airport.  Feel free to contact me to improve and expand on it.

Abuja: Aso Rock, Zuma Rock, Millenium Park, Millenium Tower (under construction), Nike Arts Centre, Arts and Crafts Village, Gurara waterfalls, Farin Ruwa waterfalls, Abuja Zoo

Akure: Idanre Hills

Bauchi: Yankari National Park

Bebi: Obudu Mountain Resort, Nigeria’s only cable car, honey farm, dairy ranch

Calabar: Calabar Carnival, Cross River National Park & rainforest, Marina Resort, Old Calabar, Old Residency Museum, CERCOPAN, Pandrillus, and numerous others.

Ibadan: IITA, Botanical Gardens, Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove

Ilorin: Central Mosque, Kwara Farms

Jos: NOK ancient civilization, Plateau Rock Formations & savannah, colonial buildings, MTNA

Kano: The Durbar, die pits, old city walls (to be restored)

Katsina: The Sahel and desert landscape

Lagos: Badargy Slave Route, Bar Beach/Resort (under rehabilitation), Oba’s Palace, Banana Island, Nike Arts Centre, Olumo Rock (Abeokuta)

Yola/Maiduguri: Sukur Cultural Landscapes

Benin City: Oba’s Palace

Ibadan: Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove

Uyo: Le Meridien Ibom Golf Resort, palm wine tours, Tropicana Resort

Sokoto: Argungu Fishing Festival (also through Kebbi air strip)

Trekking tourists in Obudu



Filed under Environment, Market Segments, Marketing, Network and Destinations, Strategy

29 responses to “Airlines & Tourism in Nigeria: Slightly Out of Tune

  1. This is a brilliant essay. It’s something that’s been going around my mind recently having spent part of my holiday in Calabar and Uyo.
    I’m staying at the Le Meridien Ibom Hotel and Golf Course and what pains me the most is that it needs a lot more people. Right now, it’s quite empty. They tried throwing a New Year’s party last night…I think I saw a maximum of 6 people participating. The hotel is beautiful not to talk about the surroundings (Honestly, I’ve never seen so many palm trees in my life) The little I’ve seen of the golf course is fantastic, I’m not a big golfer but I hear it’s the largest in Nigeria.
    However, I also noticed that this is the same plight of Tinapa. It’s bursting at the seams with potential but like this hotel, it’s quite empty. And the thing is, Tinapa doesn’t only have to power to push tourism forward in Nigeria, it has movie studios! Nollywood! Where are you?
    You may have heard that the Six Flags theme parks are making their way to Calabar ( I hope that it follows through and hopefully by then, the parties you’ve mentioned in your essay would have stepped up their game.

    Sorry for the long comment…

    • Dear Pusoro, thanks for your comment. Sure I have heard of the Six Flags project in CRS and hope it will materialize. I think it would certainly add interest and reinforce the tourism circuit in that corner of Nigeria. I mean domestic tourism, since international tourists want much more than an amusement park. Those kinds of facilities are available in their countries. Tourists want to see what Nigeria has to offer, and I believe that was the essence of my thesis: Nigeria can highlight its uniqueness through partnerships with the local airlines and their active participation.
      I’m surprised about Ibom Meridien party’s low-turnout. You would think the people in the state itself would be interested. Keep me posted please.

      • I don’t think they marketed the event to people outside the hotel which would, in part, explain the low turnout. The hotel is quite out of the way too.
        But speaking of Uyo, I’m sure you’re aware that Arik has indefinitely suspended their Uyo flights, any idea why?

      • That would make sense. By the way, I read somewhere that the hotel is supposed to be officially open in March, any truth in this?
        About flights to Uyo, I don’t know why Arik is suspending, but their booking engines suggest there’s a flight today and on the 7th to Lagos, both fully booked. There are speculations about the runway condition, as well as factors relating to the Akwa Ibom state govt.
        Did you try asking Arik directly? It would be unfortunate, if this is true. You would think they would deploy a smaller aircraft (e.g. Dash 8-400 or CRJ-900) if the load factors are too low, but Arik chose to start the route with 737-700.

      • Yes, on the Le Meridien website it says the hotel is scheduled for a February opening. That would possibly explain why they haven’t started offering the Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints yet. Within the past 6 months at least, I know people that have stayed there so I’m not sure what’s going on exactly.
        And about the Uyo flights, I didn’t ask Arik directly but I got quite a few theories about why that happened early last week, taking each of them with different pinches of salt. They were efficient in providing bus services from Uyo to the Calabar airport for people affected .

  2. paul taylor

    great post on the possibilities for Tourism in Nigeria and I will be bookmarking this for my own reference . Your knowledge of Nigeria is incredible Hani .
    You also write one heck of a great deal better then I

    • Kachi

      Hi Hani, this is incredible reading. You’ve really just put it together nicely – my thoughts, hopes and concerns for tourism development in Nigeria. It would be a shame not to share this with whose who really should be reading it, but in Nigeria, such people have no business with the internet. My suggestion? Contact me and I’ll see about getting you published in a print magazine or newspaper so that the message is not wasted on the wrong audience. Brilliant work!

      • Thanks Kachi. I totally agree that the ideas above needs to be shared with the right people in Nigeria. Any ideas? What publications do you suggest? I have approached most newspapers in Nigeria, and none have replied, let alone published my article.

  3. Nat

    An interesting read and insightful !!
    Stumbled here by way of and Asorock post.

    To increase tourism, Nigeria need to fix its visa requirements ASAP. I doubt the powers that be have any clue. But it is in the interest of Arik and other airlines to force the govt. to liberalise visa requirements. American and EU passport holders should be able to apply for visa at the entry airport as it is done in DXB.

    When I want to vacation host of countries are on my list. The ones with the least visa requirements are at the top and those with the most requirements are eliminated. And guess who gets eliminated? As you rightly pointed out, do I need a letter of invitation from my destination country to spend my own money? What happens if I know no one there as is always the case.

    Your ideas of 2 or 3 Nigeria destination stop package is great. I hope ARIK is listening!

    I look forward to flying ARIK someday very soon. Hope they keep improving the product/service offering.

    Oh, a suggestion to ARIK: why not offer your fares thru travelocity and expedia. You gain much broader exposure than arik can possibly do on its own allbeit at a lower markup/yield.

    • Nat, I also hope Arik Air is listening! I also agree 100% about the tourism visa regime being hostile to tourists. It’s very ironic, given the repeated declarations about ‘need to diversify economy’ etc.
      About travelocity, etc. There are other more pressing needs like IOSA certification, which I’ve been told is ongoing at Arik Air. Also their flight schedules on OAG and Amadeus are oudated (at least 8 months old).

  4. Very nice info.
    Thank you,

  5. Caribb

    Wow, after reading your excellent article I looked up a couple of the festivals you mentioned, Kano Durbar and the Argungu Fishing Festival on Flickr and they both look absolutely amazing. I live in Montreal and know little about West Africa as a whole other than the countries, some history and some singers like Youssou N’Dour and Akon etc.. I never knew these colourful and unusual festivals existed there. The Durbar horse ride is so exotic to what I experience everyday in life, I can imagine people here being mesmerized by it. But if you mention Nigeria to people here you’d probably draw a blank when thinking about what to see there or even considering it as a vacation destination.. Obviously there are amazing experiences to discover there so I hope eventually the region is promoted successfully far and wide. I have Aeroplan points (Frequent flier points) left for a long distance trip, after reading this I might now consider a trip to West Africa. Perhaps marketing it as a region (Senegal to Nigeria) might draw more people in.. It might be good to set up a package that brings people to Dakar then travel through to Ghana and onwards to Lagos and return home.. and have variants on that including different countries and routings. I’m sure that’s done now but maybe not backed by all the governments and their tourist boards collectively. Anyways, just some thoughts from a distant outpost 🙂

    • wingofnigeria

      Thanks and I’m glad you enjoyed the post! There is so much to see beyond Lagos, especially Calabar and the rainforest. Be careful around Lagos: Do not move around alone. It’s advisable to arrange to be met by trustworthy people there. Otherwise I hope you will enjoy Nigeria as much as I do.

  6. samaeboy

    I am a Nigerian living in new york,unfortunately everything you have mentioned is true.But there are several reasons behind it.These reasons include corruption,mismanagement,maladministration,poor work ethics to mention a few.What Nigeria truely needs is a complete reformation of the mindset of the people that is a change that rises from the bottom to the top.It breaks my heart to see my beloved country languish in the depths of economic depression,though we are blessed with the human and natural resouces.

  7. there are many tourists attractions to choose from, the only problem that we have is the money to spend to see most of them “

  8. Thaks for the article i really like it…

  9. well, there are so many tourist attractions that you find on asia and europe. i would really love to travel a lot “.-

  10. Jude

    Thanks for the information. I’ve been ooking for something like this for some time.

  11. Jude

    Thanks for the information. I’ve been looking for something like this for some time.

  12. My research is that, arik air is the best & cheap nigerian airline.It provide very comfortable journey and higgest baggage allowance any one who travel with arik once he/she love to travel again and

  13. I get a problem subscribing to your RSS Feed… It states feed is activated, nevertheless I never receive updates in my feed reader… Any Ideas?

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