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Lagos tourism as a metaphor for an unpolished diamond

Until readers finish reading this piece, the above title remains a puzzle in search of a meaning. The choice of the title was traceable to the first Lagos Tourism Summit (LTS) held on Monday, April 16, 2018, at the Eko Hotels and Suites in Victoria Island under the auspices of the Lagos State Government. This writer’s habitual search for ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) news items about Nigeria and Lagos, in particular, led to the discovery of the Lagos Tourism Summit news report, which the incumbent Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode was the initiator.

Lagos Tourism Summit

Akinwunmi Ambode, Lagos State governor, delivering a speech at the Lagos Tourism Summit

A handful of cities have proven that tourism can positively drive the urban economy

Examples of cities whose economy thrives on tourism are not far-fetched. Listed hereto, not necessarily in order of prominence, are the globally-acclaimed cities noted for their tourism innovations and success stories such as Chicago, New York City, Miami, Orlando, Los Angeles in the United States of America; Dubai, UAE, City-State of Singapore, New Delhi, India, Tokyo, Japan, Jerusalem, Israel, Istanbul, Turkey, London, UK, Rome, Italy, Paris, France, Sydney, Australia, Nairobi, Kenya and Madrid, Spain. The mere mention of the name of any of the cities cited in this piece conjures a quick memory of “the attractions” that make the city popular as a destination point for tourists from all over the world. Orland has Disney World, Nairobi has a Wildlife tourism, Singapore has ecotourism, Rome and Jerusalem are popular for religious tourism, Paris is a magnet for the fashionista, Madrid is the city of bullfighting festival, New York is the world capital city with an array of “must see and to-do-list” of things available to first-time visitors and tourist returnees. Chicago is home to numerous fascinating museums and its awesome architecture and breathtaking Millennium Park (Chicago’s tourist square). The list of other popular attractions in all these cities is inexhaustible but can be easily accessed on the internet by intending tourists to any of the cities prior to choosing the best place to go on tourism.

 

Statistics of revenue from tourism affirm the importance of tourism as an economic booster

From well-organised tourism, some cities rake in huge revenue to boost and sustain their local economy. According to a 2013 report by Master Card Global Destination Cities Index, revenue receipt from tourism was stupendous. New York City grossed $18.6 billion, London $16.3 billion, Paris $14.6 billion, Tokyo Singapore $ 13.5, $12.7 billion, Dubai $ 10.4 billion, Los Angeles $7.8 billion and Rome $6.4 billion. The updated survey of the same report for recent years would show an increase in revenue from tourism because there is a corresponding increase in global tourism in the last ten year. Tourism competition among countries and cities is very keen. It is those with cutting-edge attractions, friendly environment, innovation, safety and proactive policy that stay afloat in the business.

 

Lagos tourism is overdue for a Risorgimento – a time of renewal

Therefore, the Lagos Tourism Summit was a commendable initiative by governor.  On the surface, it is viewed as a clarion call by the governor that all hands must be on deck to rejuvenate a “comatose industry. Methinks it goes beyond a call.  As good as the initiative was, the outcome and the follow-up on what transpired at the Tourism Summit would determine whether the LASG is ready to walk the talk. Like the proverbial journey of one thousand miles, the LASG has rightly taken the first step. The government has put up an advertorial calling for an Expression of Interest (EoI) from industry experts to submit proposals for the development of a long-range Tourism Plan for Lagos State. If at the end of the day a Tourism Plan is drawn, the skepticism is that the plan would remain what it is: A plan on paper.

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The political will to implement the elements of the plan by the government that initiated it is always a major problem. History is replete with the story of various plans made by the government which either fails to take-off or poorly implemented. Sadly enough, some projects are abandoned mid-stream once there is a change of baton in government. We have failed woefully in our (wrong) perception of not accepting governance as a “continuum.”

We, therefore, counsel that being a long-range plan, it must be sustainable for the plan period (15-20 years) beyond the tenure of Governor Ambode administration. A new administration can continue to do a periodic review and modification of the plan to determine its successes or pitfalls instead of using scarce state resources again on a new tourism plan trying to re-invent the wheels.

 

Governor Ambode cuts the image of a zealous leader who is running faster than a deer to deliver the dividends of democracy to Lagosians

It is to his credit that he has initiated the execution of many social programmes and ambitious infrastructural projects. To the governor, caution is the word. He should realise that commitment is not the synonymy success. In his new attempt to enhancing tourism in Lagos State, he must ponder why that viable sector of the economy has failed woefully in the past despite its potentials. He must query the lack-luster performance of the Lagos State Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture which fails to impress no tourist. Here is the next narrative of the past failure.

 

The diversification of the economy must include tourism

Tourism in Lagos is a metaphor for an “unpolished diamond” which needs to be polished to shine. Put in simple language, it is a cash-cow in need of food to grow. Even if the LASG is going to start from ground zero, the potentials are there to make Lagos a tourist paradise.  However, the potentials have not been fully exploited. What are the factors responsible for the neglect of Lagos tourism sector?

Number one deficiency is instability of institutional arrangement and policy somersault for tourism management in Lagos State. The institutional arrangement has continuously suffered an identity crisis. From 1991 to-date, the sector went through frequent name changes/nomenclatures and institutional arrangements without corresponding achievements. During Governor Michael Otedola in 1991, it was yanked from the Ministry of Home Affairs to embrace an all-encompassing name: Bureau of Information, Tourism, and Culture. In 1994, it was merged with the Ministry of Information and Culture during which period the Lagos Tourism Board (LTB) was established. The LTB’s onus responsibility was to promote tourism under another new supervisory Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism.

By 1998, it morphed to Lagos State Waterfront and Tourism Development Corporation (LSWTDC) and by 2007, two distinct Ministries were created from the LSWTDC namely: Ministry of Tourism and Intergovernmental Relations and Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development. When Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode assumed office as the Executive Governor of Lagos State in 2015, at his whims, he changed the institutional nomenclature to the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture.

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The constant change in name and institutional arrangement apparently created a lot of confusion. Little or no time was given to the formulation of a coherent policy on tourism. The development of both old and new tourist sites/attractions were neglected including a robust machinery for information dissemination. The government effort at promoting tourism in the state was disjointed. Every new administration wants to outdo each other in the “name change” race while performance stock-taking was inadvertently sidelined.

A new name does not translate to excellent performance. Strong institutional leadership, vision, dynamism, innovation and team spirit ought to have been cultivated by previous administrations ab initio instead self-aggrandisement.

 

Information is the currency of tourism

Poor information outreach cannot effectively promote tourism. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) British author made the point very clear that “the best thing to knowing something is knowing where to find it.” In the contemporary world, the Internet of Things (IoT) has made information dissemination so simple even in the comfort of people’s home. If there is a paucity of information about a place and its attractions, the urge to visit is nil. It counts twice if the source to get the information is non-existent or not user-friendly.

While writing this piece, a comparative analysis was done regarding two cities (Chicago and Singapore). The City of Chicago has a prolific information machinery. It has a well-developed website loaded with an array of information a tourist would want to know about Chicago tourism. E-information on tourism is complemented with innumerable documentation in form of flyers, outdoor advertisements, brochures, and visitor’s information centres and human contacts popularly called the “Chicago Greeters” who serve as tour guides. On the website, a user can effortlessly surf for such information as Chicago attractions, festivals, famous restaurants, hotels, music concerts, cultural centres, museums, amusement parks, aquariums, coming events and daily tours. Tourists also have the luxury of watching video documentary about Chicago Tourism on YouTube and the option of downloading a series of Apps to search for more information on a phone device. The Chicago Cultural Centre is usually a beckon for in-town tourist searching for what to do in the windy city.

If the Chicago information machinery is superb, Singapore’s is superlative. It is a city that operates fully on Information, Communication, and Technologies (ICT). The city-state is A+ smart city and a tourist delight. Its Tourism information is known as “Open Access.” There is no inhibition. The city’s sloganeering about its tourism and hospitality is rated the best in the world. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) does an excellent job by using the reflection of the mood and times to come up with an ideal slogan to lure tourists from all over the world. “Instant Asia, Surprising Singapore, New Asia, Uniquely Singapore, Your Singapore and Passion Made Possible” are a few of the fascinating slogans Singapore has used to the hilt to boost its tourism industry. The high-end tourism infrastructure that Singapore had to develop and still developing to enhance the growth of the tourism industry, is another storyline beyond the scope of this piece.

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The comparison of the above narrative with the Lagos State Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture (MTAC) is a comparison between day and night. The difference is clear. Chicago and Singapore are both accomplished smart cities very prominent on the information highway. Whereas Lagos is at the threshold of becoming a smart city. Meaning a city that uses information and communication technologies regularly to improve the delivery of government services to the public.   Many of the Lagos State Government’s Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) are poorly managed information-wise. The Lagos State Ministry of Tourism is guilty as charged. Its website is devoted to irrelevances. There is no useful information available to prospective tourist in dire need of knowledge about Lagos tourism. Most tourists won’t give a hoot about the names of the past commissioners or permanent secretaries of the Ministries. Similarly, no news report meant for a local audience can be of interest to foreign nationals using the website from far-flung countries such as Australia, Canada, Russia, Fiji, Mexico or the Philippines. The information most tourists would be eager to read is: what is so special about Lagos, places to visit, safety, upcoming events, ease of doing business, local transportation, local cuisines and entertainment…music, movie theaters, clubhouses and more of spectacular things tourists savour when they are on vacation in other foreign countries.

 

The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture ought to be restructured

Among the 25-point responsibilities of the Ministry, “tourism promotion and information dissemination” is listed as a key responsibility. Unfortunately, the function has suffered serious setback either due to government neglect or clueless institutional leadership. Governor Ambode having determined to revive the tourism industry with gusto, he must completely overhaul the entire Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture and if found necessary, he should consider a change of its leadership and eliminate redundancy. Information is the life-support of a thriving tourism economy analogous to water, as the sustenance of human life. Tourism also thrives on visuals- i.e what tourists see one on one. What excites them and make them nostalgic about the places they visited. The huge expenditure committed on tourism revival in Lagos might not make the desired impact due to the weak channel of information dissemination. Put simply, a situation of “worth seeing? Yes, but not worth going to see,” may form in the mindset of foreigners who have the intention to visit the megacity on vacation.

 

Postscript

After the conclusion of this piece, the newly released 2018 Global Cities Liveability Index report by The Economist Intelligence Unit and World Bank was made public on the Internet. Of the 140 cities surveyed, Lagos ranked 138 making it the third worst city to live in the world after Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Damascus, Syria. Sadly too, Lagos maintained the same position in the 2017 global report. The 2018 report is a drawback on the public image of Lagos. It places an additional burden on the LASG’s effort to showcase the megacity to the rest of the world as a “choice destination” for intending tourists from foreign countries. Therefore, the government would have to redouble its effort to have a niche in the volatile global tourism industry.

By Yacoob Abiodun (Urban Planner, Planning Advocate; Parkview Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos)

2 comments

  1. Fantastic piece. I hope they will read it, instead one guy went to dispute the 138 ratings and said the Lagos where he lives is a very safe and beautiful place. Thanks for educating us.
    By Jare Soyoye (Raleigh, N.C, USA)

  2. I just finished reading the article. Very solid. I have shared it to my contacts and whatsapp groups. I remember when I visited Singapore on vacation in 2014 and, as I read your article, I still feel nostalgic about the city-state. I couldn’t help but reminisce about the good times I had in the city-state. I wish the Lagos State Govt will heed the numerous advices and recommendations you proferred. God bless you Sir as you continue to enrich the body of knowledge with your scholarly works
    By Yusuf Ayokunle

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