Lagos State in the past few years has demonstrated rare commitment to the business of tourism and promotion of arts, culture and entertainment as part of its growth strategy. As the World Tourism Day is celebrated today globally, Steve Ayorinde, Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture in Lagos says the state is happy to further propel its tourism and creative economy agenda with a brand new Tourism Masterplan, the first of its kind by any state in Nigeria. Excerpts:
Q: Another September 27th is here, does it hold anything significant for Lagos State? A: Yes it does. Lagos State government is in tune with the world to mark this day which is celebrated globally as the World Tourism Day. We have always acknowledged this day and this year has Budapest in Hungary as the ‘host celebrant nation’ with technology and digital transformation as its focus. This theme is pleasing to us as it speaks to our current short to medium term plans for Tourism Development.
Q: Are you celebrating the day specially?
A: We are marking the day with the formal presentation of the Lagos State Tourism Masterplan to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and we are having a roundtable in-house to unveil the Masterplan to our officers because this is the plank upon which the tourism promotions agenda of the state for the next 20 years will be anchored. The formal presentation of the Masterplan to stakeholders and CEOs of 100 top brands and multinationals who are expected to be our key partners in the tourism growth agenda will be done later next month.
Q: Do you really need a Masterplan to turn things around?
A: We are convinced that we do. In every nation where tourism has thrived, a blueprint is always required. Your vision must be clear and you need a roadmap to drive it. This is what a Masterplan does; it identifies what you need to do and how to do it. This is similar to what Lagos State has achieved in the political-economy space. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu conceived the idea of a Lagos State Development Plan. Governor Fashola berths it in 2012 and handed it over to Governor Ambode. This is what the state is running with till 2025. The tourism Masterplan will work in a similar fashion with one governor handing it over to his successor while the deliverables are attended to in order to diversify the economy and create a good image for the state.
Q: is the Federal Government part of this document?
A: As a document, not really. The Masterplan was commissioned directly by Lagos State Government and it is a blueprint that focuses largely on specific areas of need for the state. But in execution, yes it will have a lot to do with Abuja, other states and the private sector. The truth is that you can’t market a state in isolation. You will always be a component of a big, beautiful and diverse country that we really are. Issues of national carriers; ideal airports, visa on arrival and courteous consular officers representing the country all over the world are exclusivelywithin the Federal purview. But we are lucky in Lagos that the two people running tourism at the Federal level – the Honourable Minister and Director General of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation are both Lagos products who have the interest of the state at heart. We enjoy a very cordial relationship with them and we are always happy to key into their efforts at promoting the tourism and cultural landscape of Nigeria as a whole.
Q: What precisely is your vision at the Ministry of Tourism?
A: To make Lagos State one of the top three tourism destinations in Africa. We are there already as a business and entertainment hub. But as a leisure travel destination, we need to work a lot harder to climb high in ranking for both domestic and international tourists. Which is why our ministry is saddled with the responsibility to formulate, execute and monitor policies relating to the tourism sector and the creative economy in general. The ministry also promotes investments and regulates operations in the Tourism, Hospitality and Entertainment industries in the state.
Q: Tell us areas of significant growth In the last three years under Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.
A: First we have adopted the popular buzzword coined by the Governor himself – Tourism Hospitality Entertainment and Sports for Excellence (T.H.E.S.E) as our focus. In three years, the ministry is fulfilling its mandate creditably well; changing the profile of Lagos into that of a city with a vibrant artistic soul. The state’s landscape is being beautified daily with iconic statues and public art installations that have engaged a wide spectrum of Nigeria artists. Six new 500-seater theatres are being built simultaneously across the state to expand the frontiers of opportunity for talented youths; four out of the six will be opened this December; the Onikan-Marina axis is being turned into an arts and culture district with its first major offering, the J.K Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History nearing completion. The Lagos Museum project within the same district will soon commence with a grant from Ford Foundation and strategic partnership from the Musee du quai Branly in Paris and the British museum.
Our ministry conceptualized and has supervised since December 2015 the pooular One Lagos Fiesta which has become arguably the biggest end-of-the-year concert in Africa with its unique template of holding simultaneously across the five divisions of Lagos in the last eight days of the year. If you consider that up till 2014, the Lagos Countdown was a one-day, one venue affair, but in three years, One Lagos Fiesta is fulfilling two major obligations – democratizing and decentralising the idea of fun and entertainment and giving every part of Lagos a sense of belonging you will appreciate why OLF has become a significant part of our socio-economic service to the people. Similarly, more artists are engaged and given the opportunity to perform at Ikeja, Badagry, Epe and Ikorodu in addition to Bar Beach and in the process we are creating a whole new economy around those towns for eight consecutive days. Also, with a Calendar of Arts Events released in January to aid planning and visits around the state, our ministry believes we will always give visitors a reason to spend an extra day or two in exploring this smart megacity that is full of fun, art and cultural enterprise.
Q: How do you tap into the competitive edge that Lagos has in water?
A: I think aqua tourism has always been an important and recognisable component of the tourism eco-system in Lagos State. And it ought to be so because water constitutes about 22.5% of the land mass of the state. So the state is keenly aware of its God-given gift – the lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean. The Prest Boat Cruise for example has promoted water tourism on the lagoon in the last 15 years or so. Several other cruise packages have been added in the last three to five years. And because of the huge awareness and serious commitment of this administeration to everything tourism, several business concerns are adding to the water tourism component of the sector. The Lagos boat club is growing and as you must have heard, the Governor recognises and supports its contribution to the development of the sector. From La Campaigne Tropicana in Ikegun to Ilashe beachfront and Inagbe waterfront resorts, awareness and investments are growing in the area of water tourism. On the part of government too, this adminisration has maintained the annual Boat Regatta carnival among several other initiatives.
Q: What is your Ministry currently doing to facilitate intra-city movement of tourists through the waterways and enhance their experience?
A: It’s a two-way approach. First is to create the necessary awareness both for tourists that want on-the-water experience and for investors that see great opportunities on the waterways and in the general marine tourism economy. And you will soon see from our Tourism Masterplan that we’ve paid a great deal of attention to our waterways in terms of better utilisation by domestic and international tourists. The other way is in working closely with tour operators and partner-destination stakeholders to make waterways an integral part of the Lagos tourism experience. For example, we are in talks with Apapa Amusement Park’s management on how this fantastic facility can be better accessed via water as an alternative to the Apapa gridlock. We are in tune with La Campagne Tropicana and the Lagos Sports Commission on a possible annual kayaking tournament. The promoters of All Sails Lagos have our endorsement for the kind of water racing fiesta that is being planned. Similarly, F1 boat racing franchise owners in Nigeria are in discussion with us on how this global spectacle can berth in Lagos soon. Getting our waterways busy once the channelisation of the key routes have been completed by next year, therefore, is a priority in our short to medium term plans for the Tourism Masterplan.
Q: Beyond shows and festivals that entertain people, how really does the Tourism industry in the State provides job opportunities for Lagosians?
A: I an actually excited by a new research this year which suggests that directly or indirectly, tourism and travel-related eco-system provide one out of every ten jobs in Africa. From tour travel component of aviation industry to hotels and hospitality establishments; visual and performing arts and the huge technical support base that keeps all working; not to forget the chefs; cooks, tour guides, tour operators, travel bloggers and journalists; specialised security operatives and even taxis and specialised tour transport operators, there’s just an endless list of opportunities. And marine transport is already benefiting. It can only do better as the sector grows. The more ferries that are put on the lagoon, the more jetties that will be needed to be built and maintained; the more our waterways are channelised and routes expanded the more ferries and luxury boats that will be operated with the full compliments of staff. More technicians and safety officers will be required and engaged as the sector expands. That’s a whole huge job creator and money spinner that we have in this tourism sub-sector. The possibilities are limitless. Imagine by the time we start to have 2 or 3 world-class boat racing that take weeks and months to plan; multi-million dollar sponsorships and hundreds and thousands of direct and ancillary jobs, we shall then begin to see the goldmine that aqua-tourism for example represents for our state.
Q: Is it deliberate that suddenly Lagos is now almost synonymous with tourism in Nigeria?
A: I think these are just exciting times as far as tourism and the arts are concerned in Lagos State. Tourism has become a buzzword here that a lot of people now take seriously. And I think Lagos is just lucky to have a governor that is so passionate about tourism and the creative economy and as a cerebral accountant, the governor though appreciates the entertainment but he sees the business component too.
Q: If you had the power and authority to change one thing about how art and culture is celebrated in Lagos, what would it be?
A: I don’t think change is the right word. I believe improvement and enhancement are preferable words for me. And it should start from schools and homes. We need to do a lot more in appreciating and celebrating our own from language to culture, to fashion and dressing to learning about our history. Art and culture will always embrace other influences. But they must never lose sight of their history and it should start from schools and homes. We must instill in our kids and wards the cultural values and essence that define us. Our culture must not only be celebrated as a sidebar. So frankly if it were possible, i would want a situation whereby we consciously promote the idea of #WearLagos; EatLagos; KnowLagos etc. But I also acknowledge that a lot is being done now especially in Lagos State. A calendar of art and culture event is now part of our ministry’s deliverable; published at the beginning of the year; History subject is back in our schools; a credit in Yoruba is a requirement for admission into our schools in the state; the Lagos State House of Assembly devotes one day of the week to conducting legislative affairs in Yoruba. So there’s progress and frankly it’s a thing of job