If we have digital presence of the great sites of Nigeria, then the number of people visiting that destination, no matter where it is, will increase.
Supriya Sharma is the managing director of SAS Business Solutions, a global business solutions provider with competencies in corporate training, management consulting, business advisory, recruitment and digital marketing. She is a performance-driven corporate trainer, business coach and motivational speaker with versatile experience in training companies ranging from SMEs to multibillion dollar MNCs across Africa, Asia and North America. She is a scholar possessing techno commercial background with progressive hands-on experience in the entire gamut of management. She strongly believes in giving back to the society as a part of her responsibility and is closely associated with women empowerment missions across Asia and Africa.
In this view in Lagos, she reveals how Nigeria can grow the tourism sector through digitalisation and actively volunteers to develop employability skills and entrepreneurship among the youth.
How do we grow tourism in Nigeria?
When you talk about tourism in Nigeria, the first thing I would like to mention is that Nigeria lacks nothing. It has got all the geographical features that are needed in any tourism destination, from mountains to rivers, to lakes and deserts, everything; so, there is no reason to lack in tourism influx and receipts.
Now, the number one reason why people think like that is when we talk about domestic tourism, there is no digital presence of the various sites, cultural and natural or the man-made attractions for those visiting Nigeria. For instance, if I want to visit Erin Ijesha falls, I go to Google to find out how to get there, what are the places to stay, unfortunately, you won’t find anything. In that case what happens? I won’t make that trip. So, it is not all about me, it is about other people as well, Nigerians or expatriates or anybody coming down to visit. We all know that today Google is everything; whatever we need to find out, we just google it up, so if we have digital presence of the great sites of Nigeria, and natural sites on the digital platform, where people can access information about them, as to how people can get there, where to stay, activities around the destination, attractions nearby, then the number of people visiting that destination, no matter where it is, will increase. The second challenge is maintenance. Take the National Museum at Onikan Lagos for example. From my experiences when I got there recently, the gate was closed, we kept on honking for about 15 minutes, nobody showed up, so ultimately we left without having to visit the museum. Things like this dampens the spirit. Why is there no maintenance and is there no security or why were people not around to tell us the timings for visit and tour and thirdly when we talk about Nigeria the first thing that comes to your mind the issue of security, and some parts not being safe to visit. However, there could be challenges in the interior areas but when we talk about the capital or metropolitan cities like Lagos or Abuja, I think safety is not a huge problem. There are places people can visit without worrying so much about security.
Apart from these, what other challenges should be addressed?
Whenever tourism is promoted in a place, other small businesses crop up and grow around it. There could be hotels, saloons, spas, eateries, souvenir shops, et cetera, because people come from different places all over the world and throughout the country from different cultural backgrounds. So we make sure we meet their demands, and make them feel welcome as they come in. Tourism, therefore, attracts small businesses.
What role should government play in this?
Government definitely has a role to play, but we talk of growing small enterprises, to satisfy the needs of the tourists, that is something we can do on our own. The role of government could be in regulatory affairs, that is my opinion, they play regulatory role in making policies in tourism. However, when we talk of marketing, I think it is more of individual effort but government will definitely support if we are doing something right and putting our acts together and seek government intervention. On the individual role we can do a lot by marketing and promoting our sites.
What if government appoints wrong the people into office?
It is not just the government here in Nigeria, there are so many places on earth, whether in the corporate, individual and government establishments where such things happen; wrong people are put in the right place. In human resources, we say that right people must be put into the right place and in the right time, it is very important to get things right. So, it is alright because it happens, we are human and we make mistakes. There are instances where people who are not very competent are appointed into positions, in those cases, yes, since we have appointed them, they need to be given a chance, but when we see they are not doing the right thing, we as a democratic nation have all the right to speak up about that position, what we think about the work being done, whether it is for our own good or not then we definitely go for a change. That’s the way democracy works.
Since you came into tourism, which area have you been promoting?
There are two things we are concentrating on now, when you talk about tourism traffic, the first thing is digital media for marketing. Digital media provide marketing solutions at very affordable prices and sometimes we do it for free. When we see that the people can’t afford the cost, we provide them with the platform where they can share information regarding the tourist sites and two is entrepreneurship, like I mentioned earlier, there are a number of small businesses that grow around major tourist sites. We are taking vigorous steps in developing entrepreneurship in Nigeria. At my personal level I’m taking care and mentoring 27 small-scale enterprises, working towards developing and transforming them to the next level. There are lots of free seminars and information sharing sessions that we hold that enable people to upscale themselves, and enhance their skills, when we talk about the technical skills that are required to ensure they are self-reliant and have digital presence, even in small eateries, it is not necessary that you have all the money to own a website but there are so many things that can be done for free. We hold sessions to help people to know what is going on around them and how to grab it with minimum expenditure.
Don’t you think inadequate power supply may frustrate digitalisation efforts?
That could be a good reason but my experience with the interior parts of Nigeria is not much so I’m not really sure of how poor the condition is. However, when you talk about the cities or townships, like Lagos, Abuja or Port Harcourt, we see industries, companies and businesses that have to maintain constant power supply otherwise everything would come to a halt. We are having a kind of irregular power supply so anyone who rents an apartment in a big complex, he or she has the responsibility for constant power supply. Irregular power supply should not be an excuse not to fall in sync when you talk about the cities. The next important thing is the internet. Recently, Google had an event in Lagos where they announced the launch of 200 wifi hotspots in the country, with these free hotspots you don’t have to spend money to buy data to access the internet, you don’t have to have a big computer or Apple computer to access the internet. Your phone is sufficient, anywhere you walk into you will have access to the internet. If you really want to do things, with or without light, you can, because most of these things are free.
What do you think is our Nigeria’s strength to the world?
The first thing that comes to mind is the colourfulness of the festivals, when you talk of Nigeria, you talk of colours. These are on parade at the Calabar Carnival, the Fante and Eyo festivals and the Lagos Heritage Festival, the Durbar, Abuja Carnival and the Argungu fishing festival in Kebbi State. They showcase the real colours of Nigeria coming from the interior parts of the country where the actual culture thrives. The culture is full of music, dance and entertainment and when we talk of tourism in Nigeria, you exhibit an array of colours, natural beauty and entertainment. You have a lot to showcase at these great events.
What of culinary tourism?
My personal idea when talking about culinary tourism will be agrotourism, where we can have true tasting sessions or things like that. You know you have large farms, because the soil is very fertile you can grow a lot of crops, you don’t have to take care of the plants so much, as you would have to do in other climes. If I throw a seed into my garden, for instance, I don’t have to do much because the rains are here, it grows by itself because the land is good and soil very fertile. Things like that, fruits and other ornamental plants can grow really well here in Nigeria. If we can develop fruit-tasting, like we have in the UK, where you can go for fruit berry tours or fruit-tasting trips, if something like that can be developed here, money will come in and people will be enchanted by the natural beauty of how things are, how green and how beautiful the fruits are and this will be a big foreign exchange earner in the country.
What’s your favourite dish?
Well somebody prepared pepper soup for me once, just once, I tasted it but because I am a total vegetarian, we did not add any other thing to it, it was just pepper soup. It was good. The best thing about Nigeria is the fresh and natural fruits that are not genetically modified and not injected with harmful things, they are natural inorganic fruits. This is the best thing to happen here.
What’s your take on the future of tourism?
We would like to see agrotourism done here as in developed countries where they build farmsteads. We can have farmsteads here and there, when you go to Badagry or Epe you see empty land that could be converted to farmsteads. They can be commercialised. If you promote agrotourism and build farmsteads, you would create jobs and generate revenue for the economy.