By Fidelis Nwangwu
Nigerian tourism and the experience of it have changed quite radically in the past four years, from a time when there was a fairly vague idea about the country’s tourist assets and what they offered to the present moment when it is on a very bold showcase across Nigeria and to the larger world, through the digital platform. The country’s tourism has been integrated into the world of knowledge and massive information flows, which is the direction of a future permanently breaking away from an uninspired past.
This has come about as a result of the collaboration between the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and the technology giant, Google, through which the prime tourist bouquet of experiences, “Tour Nigeria,” was launched online last year, 2020. This has been the game-changer that has taken the beauties and sights of Nigeria to the whole wide world on the Google Arts and Culture platform! And a first achieved under the present administration of the NTDC, as led by Mr. Folorunsho Coker, who came on the saddle at a time the need to diversify the economy of Nigeria became highly exigent.
Tour Nigeria is central to the strategy of the NTDC to promote domestic tourism, in order for Nigerians – and ultimately foreigners – to experience more of our country, and thereby support the local economy, while enabling jobs.
While great aspects of our reality, from continent to continent, have migrated online, from education to e-commerce, the coming of COVID-19 subsequently deepened our need of online channels and platforms, and have made them clearly a necessity of the times we live in. Hence, with tourism gradually resuming its significance at this dawn of the COVID-19 recovery period, and in order to achieve it’s positioning as big business, as conceived by the honchos at NTDC, the creation of a new major headway for tourism through the digital platform is a foremost milestone attained.
As Mr. Coker, the director-general of the NTDC, put it recently: “At the NTDC, we have been at the frontline of marketing the wonders of the Nigerian world”. And, “Through this, a global online audience has been availed the opportunity to tour Nigeria and witness the stories and cultural treasures of Nigeria. From our festivals to museums, renowned locations, and iconic landmarks, the images and online stories, as offered on Google Arts and Culture, unfold a rich tapestry that equally documents Nigeria for posterity.”
Also, “It is about exploring Nigeria virtually in a manner that will awaken adventurers, taking them on a journey into an authentic national experience that showcases the true spirit and essence of the country, encompassing historic, cultural and heritage sites, to sun-kissed coastlines, beaches, breath-taking waterfalls, natural springs, the grandeur of festivals, wildlife and magnificent plateaus”, said Coker.
In utilising digital tools for the promotion and development of tourism assets in Nigeria, which was unprecedented till done by the present leadership of NTDC, this implements the policy outlay of the Coker administration of the corporation, summed up in the acronym of CHIEF. This encompasses Corporate Governance and Regulations; Human Capital Development; Infrastructural Development; Events and Marketing; alongside Finance and Investment.
As such, Google’s programmes and services, such as maps and street views, are now being deployed towards exhibiting and cataloguing Nigeria’s tourism infrastructure and assets, to stimulate the desire to experience them physically, as governed by the protocols of COVID-19 safety. This is set on having major economic impacts on local industries, including entertainment, hotel and hospitality, catering, etc.
The NTDC partnership with Google is also enabling human capital development, in terms of improving the knowledge base of personnel in the tourism sector, who are getting trained in the use of Google tools for data gathering and usage. The digital platform is equally helping to propagate information about Nigeria’s diverse festivals, concerts and shows in the efforts to attract investments that would expand and re-invent them for a newer generation.
The past four years of the Coker administration in NTDC have been ones in which the Nigerian government has been making spirited efforts at freeing the country from its revenue quandary, as the price of oil has tanked repeatedly in the international market, leading to huge financial shortages for fulfilling the country’s obligations to its people and engaging in development projects.
Hence, a newer focus on non-oil exports, growing the local economy, and seeking alternative means of income generation have been central to the Federal Government’s endeavours. In this regard, tourism has been one of the sectors of renewed interest, as expressed in fiscal plans like the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, and alluded to in the Economic Sustainability Plan.
The NTDC under Folorunsho Coker took this mandate seriously, evolving into a 5-point Action plan defined by the mentioned CHIEF strategy around domestic tourism. The assured indices for this direction of NTDC is hinged on the advantage of population, as many countries presently harnessing huge tourism revenues such as Kenya, South Africa and Seychelles, do not have the blessing of the massive Nigerian demography. And with Nigeria’s booming creative industries, from Nollywood to music to fashion, its GDP and other potential, the country is in stride to become the economic and entertainment hub of Africa.
As a domestic and international tourist destination on the rebound following the disruption of COVID-19, there are renewed forecasts of the growth of the sector from its N962.7 billion inflow in 2015 to more that N1.56 trillion by 2025.
As such, the Coker administration in NTDC has not only engaged in marshalling tourism on the digital front, as equally done through another major partnership with Wikipedia to build content for the tourism sector, but also in terms of building product alliances. This has led to collaborations with the movie industry, Nollywood, and Nigeria’s highly international music industry on the promotion and marketing of the entertainment sector, to drive the ‘Tour Nigeria’ brand. Equally, there are ongoing partnerships with state and local governments for the promotion and marketing of domestic tourism, cultural festivals and attractions.
At the commencement of the Coker administration’s interventions in the tourism sector, there was a realisation of the need to properly document the national tourist assets and then physically evaluate and enhance them, so they remain as durable attractions that are able to withstand the traffic being targeted at them. This effort cut across the tourist assets in many states of the country, from Zamfara to Ondo, Kebbi, Enugu, Cross River, etc., and involved rehabilitation and construction, such as of the Argungu international market, and the Kwotonkoshi Rock in Zamfara State.
More so, the endeavours included the provision of utilities like boreholes, electricity transformers, power generating systems, and also capacity building for tourism operators/personnel in cultural and other technical skills.
The marketing and promotion of Nigerian tourism by the NTDC has led to the production of documentaries on the Argungu Fishing Festival and the Yauri Regatta Festival in Kebbi State; the Kwatarkwashi Rock in Zamfara State; and the Osun Osogbo Festival, in Osun State. In addition, there have been the making of the sights and sound tourism videos for Abuja, Jos and Abeokuta, while the widely acclaimed Kano Durbar is being repackaged in concert with the Kano State government. Importantly, there have been a plethora of events across the country – held in line with COVID-19 protocols – that NTDC has hosted alongside private enterprises to stimulate the tourism value chain
As a primary ground-setting act, the Coker administration has sought a review of the NTDC Act as the enabling legislation for the tourism sector to allow for a more encompassing regulation of the sector, particularly as its potentials are made more future-ready. With this has equally been the full digitisation of the operations of NTDC, along the line of global best practices; the creation of a tourism databank; implementation of the Tourism Satellite Account, in partnership with the UNWTO; and the grading and standardisation of hospitality and accommodation facilities in the country.
In a very significant manner, the corporation is in the process of setting up a Tourism Intelligence Unit, which would utilise Big Data in collecting crucial data from the Nigerian Customs, banks, airlines, and other tourism and hospitality operators, in the effort to attain better sectoral and economic planning.
The strides to enhance greater efficiency and accountability in the corporation saw it not only improving on its budgetary performance in project execution and implementation, to deliver on its mandate, NTDC also engaged a partnership with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission towards the goal of better corporate governance. This led to inauguation of the NTDC chapter of the Anti-Corruption and Transparency Monitoring Unit.
Certainly, the milestones crossed in the past four years of giving direction to Nigerian tourism have opened up vistas of what the sector is primed for on the next level, and these affirm the huge potential that the Coker administration in NTDC has unlocked.
•Nwangwu, public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja