Re-creating tourism in an age of digital disruption, by Folorunsho Coker

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To say that tourism is one of the sectors worst hit by the Coronavirus (COVID-19), epidemic since early 2020 is rather stating the obvious, as the advent of the virus disrupted, in a fundamental way, the traditional modes of human convergence, whether around economic, social or other forms of activity.

Tourism as a largely contact-based preoccupation hinged on the need to witness the spectacular, and wonders of the human experience, suffered a massive recoil and setback, which have however been resolving in more recent times.

These have been inspired by the determined protocols of safety emplaced by institutions charged with protecting public health, as much as by the human resilience to overcome adversity.

It has been rather unfortunate in the past year that tourism, which was positioned as one of the sectors of outstanding growth for a Nigerian economy seeking to diversify from its mono-product base, mainly hinged on the extractive industries, towards a more broad-based economic outlook, had to bear one of the severest brunts of the coronavirus offensive. The tourism sector had been well-heeled to make a significant contribution to our country’s non-oil revenue stream.

Prior to the assault of the virus, the growth trajectory of Nigerian tourism was looking towards double digits, as many of the country’s tourism assets were being revitalised, while our music and creative industries were equally gaining more universal appeal and patronage.

These were further buttressed by the surging inroads being made to Nigerian hubs of religious expression from across the African continent, and beyond, whilst the country’s crafts, traditional festivals, and diverse food were gaining more attention than was the norm, from far and wide.

All these were setting the ground for a major spike in Nigeria’s domestic tourism, which had been invigorated for a bold surge through key policy, regulatory, and management efforts of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), which I lead.

Our framing and implementation of the Tour Nigeria brand was in stride to inspire newer levels of interest in the many unique national destinations and sights, as much as it was poised to expand the uptake and consumption of Nigerian tourism.

The Tour Nigeria value proposition was anchored on the secure premise of diversifying and substantially growing the country’s economy, whilst shoring up and enhancing the value of the naira in a significant manner. This was, logically, bound to stimulate the creation of millions of jobs, both directly and along tourism’s massive value chain.

The coronavirus came and deflected this path of tourism’s progression, both nationally and across the world, with a huge negative impact. As recent as 2018, tourism had, globally, accounting for over $8.9 trillion of the world’s total GDP, more than 7 per cent of world trade, and about N330 million jobs worldwide, in the travel, hospitality, and other associated sectors. In Nigeria, tourism and its affiliated industries were responsible for as much as 30 per cent of the GDP and 20 per cent of jobs.

However, the impact of the coronavirus saw to the erosion of close to 80 per cent of the value of tourism across the world, coupled with its value chain, with the loss of almost $2 trillion in international visitors spending, and millions of jobs, within the purview of the contraction of the global GDP by between 3 to 5 per cent. Yet, the flip side of this dismal picture has been the relentless unleashing of innovations to enhance human livability through the opportunities wrought by digital technology.

The Wonders of the Nigerian World: At the Speed of a Click

One of the crucial liberating outcomes of the adjusted living and ‘new normal’ attendant upon the coronavirus invasion has been the increasing migration onto digital platforms, which offer an affordable solution to most things vital to the human, from e-learning to e-commerce, telemedicine, and also the connection to desire, as in experiencing the reality that had been withheld by circumstance.

Not only did this assuage the yearning of the tourist, when confronted with shutdowns as essential to the containment of the virus, it also gave an indication of the newer frontier for marketing tourism across spatial boundaries.

At the NTDC, we have been at the frontline of marketing the wonders of the Nigerian world as a peculiar destination through a most vital collaboration with the technology giant, Google. 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.

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.

With the success of the protocols of safety and the coming of vaccines and other novel therapies that are lifting the climate of fear that the COVID-19 has cast across great swathes of the earth, we are gradually closing in to reap a bountiful harvest from digitalising the wonders of the Nigerian world.

This will be in terms of motivating a huge volume of physical visits, as our planet makes greater strides towards recovery and heals.

As such, Tour Nigeria, and the economic revival which it is set on becoming a part of, signposts healing for the country, our ways of life, destinations, and livelihoods.

In its online manifestation, the Tour Nigeria brand is leveraged to become a premier destination for authentic Nigeria content, in a way that deploys creativity, arts, and culture, all driven by technology, to advance the new national agenda.

Sights and Sounds of Nigeria: A Novel Economic Frontline

As laid out in Nigeria’s national economic plans, including the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) and the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) targeted at the post-COVID era, tourism has great potentials to become a new and more inclusive economic frontier.

As data from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) points out, tourism constitutes almost 10 per cent of Africa’s global trade, and it is responsible for one out of every 10 jobs, whether directly or through its extensive value chain. More so, women account for about 54 per cent of the workforce in tourism and its allied sectors.

Driving tourism’s potentials towards Nigeria’s new economic agenda is the recognition of the significance of domestic tourism, which has the capacity to create huge numbers of livelihoods along the tourism spectrum, from the hospitality to the travel, food, and entertainment sectors, etc.

Hence, while it unfolds productive engagement to youths and women, who tend to be left behind at the bottom of the economic pyramid, thereby reducing local and rural poverty, it, more importantly, helps in shoring up the value of the naira through the consumption of more things Nigerian.

Domestic tourism is cheap, more affordable, and less susceptible to red-tapism and bureaucratic restrictions. More so, it galvanises national development and growth by enhancing different sectors of the economy across a multiplicity of local spaces, while equally enabling the infrastructural upgrade and expansion that are crucial to its operations.

All the foregoing and more constituted the proposition that informed the creation of the Tour Nigeria brand in 2017, and its foresight and significance have become more salient as Nigeria progresses towards a post-COVID economic recovery. With the increase in the attraction of our numerous domestic destinations, as their sights and sounds are becoming more ubiquitous through enormous digital channels, Nigeria, like other countries that are putting more efforts into promoting domestic tourism, is well-heeled to recover faster and earlier.

Our country’s over 7,000 tourist destinations, including renowned world heritage sites, and a myriad of attractions, comprising festivals from the traditional to more contemporary ones, involving entertainment, food, and music fiestas, fashion events, coupled with business and conferencing possibilities have positioned domestic tourism in the country, at the dawn of the post-COVID era, in the new frontline of Nigeria’s renascent economic development.

Consolidating for Greater Service Delivery

The past four years of our endeavours at the NTDC have erected a sturdy base for the achievement of a more rewarding and sustainable tourism agenda in Nigeria. This was essentially laid out through a Strategic Tourism Development Roadmap/Action Plan (2017-2021), christened as the CHIEF PLAN, which is the aggregation of a five-pronged programme to deliver on a massive uptake of domestic tourism in the country.

While the incursion of the coronavirus merely refracted its progression, the promise of the strategy couldn’t still be brighter, with the healing coming on the heels of the post-COVID recovery inaugurated by the protocols of safety that have been in place, alongside the administration of the coronavirus vaccines guaranteed to reach the lowest rungs of society in the shortest possible time.

In its expanded form the CHIEF PLAN that encapsulates much of what have been achieved in the past four years, is representative of activity around Corporate governance and regulations, Human capital development, Infrastructure, Events, and marketing, then Finance and investment.

This has seen to the drive towards a review of the NTDC Act, for a more reflective legal framework for tourism in Nigeria, alongside more encompassing regulations; the proper grading and standardisation of hospitality and accommodation facilities in the country; and the establishment of a Tourism Databank, alongside the implementation of the Tourism Satellite Account, in collaboration with the UNWTO.

While there have been more multi-sectoral partnerships towards the development of tourism in the past four years, we have also fully digitised the Corporation’s activities, in line with global best practices. More importantly, we are in the process of setting up a Tourism Intelligence Unit, through which Big Data is being deployed for collecting crucial data from customs, banks, airlines, etc., for better sectoral and economic planning.

Our digitisation programme has not only spawned an alliance with tech titan, Google but also with Wikipedia and Facebook for more professional data mining and marketing.

While human capital at the NTDC is being developed through the continuous training and improved working conditions of staff, we have equally invested massively in upgrading the country’s tourist assets, from Zamfara to Ondo, to Cross River, Enugu, Kebbi, and other states in Nigeria.

More so, in terms of the promotion and marketing of our tourism, NTDC has produced a slew of documentaries on festivals, such as Argungu, Yauri Rigatta, Osun Osogbo; and then on the sights and sounds of Abuja, the Kwatarkwashi Rock in Zamfara State, etc.

As much of the foregoing have been achieved with increased and improved budgetary performance in project execution and implementation, the NTDC is not only primed, under our direction in the next four years, to keep delivering on its mandate, whilst adapting to newer contours of reality, it will persist in its activities within the framework of excellence in public service delivery.

Folorunsho Coker is the Director-General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Coporation (NTDC).

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