I am delighted to be in your midst today at this auspicious occasion, which is the third edition of the Annual Nigeria Travel Awards organized by Jumia Travel.
Before I go further, please permit me to first express my sincere appreciation to the management of Jumia Travel for this privilege to deliver the Keynote Address at this year’s ceremony. It is indeed a great honour to speak to the topic: ‘’Lagos as a model for tourism growth in Nigeria’’.
Let me also on behalf of the Lagos State Government and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture in particular, appreciate and commend Jumia Travel for this initiative especially for its sustenance aimed at appreciating, recognizing and honouring outstanding players in the nation’s hospitality industry.
It is my belief that this laudable effort will further celebrate committed professionals and create ample opportunities for all stakeholders, not only in the travel industry, but across the tourism ecosystem.
My believe is that the growing conversation around the progress in Nigeria’s tourism landscape is enriched when practitioners gather to appreciate institutional and individual players who stick out their necks through their expertise, resources and passion and invariably stand out to be seen, heard or felt.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), over the decades, tourism worldwide has experienced continuous growth and deepened diversification to become one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world. These dynamics have turned tourism into a key driver for socio-economic progress. Even in Africa.
Today, it is said that one out of every 10 jobs being created is tourism-related and the business volume in the larger tourism and cultural arts sectors arguably equals and is threatening to surpass that of oil exports,agriculture or automobiles.
Tourism has therefore become one of the major players in international commerce and represents one of the main sources of income for many developing countries. And this precisely is why the Lagos State Government under Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has accorded the sector huge attention and committed huge resources into developing it in order to make it a model sector that will perform the tripartite role of rebranding the state as a safe and welcoming destination for visitors; of creating opportunities for different levels of stakeholders and to further develop the sector as a thriving and profitable venture for both investors and stakeholders on the one hand and government as regulators and enablers on the other hand.
For us at the Lagos State Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture, therefore, all we have done in almost four years is to commit to the governor’s growth agenda on the creative economy through what he called “Project T.H.E.S.E” which stands for Tourism, Hospitality, Entertainment and Sports for Excellence.
It is a known fact that the agenda, which informed the deliberate investment in human capital and infrastructure with remarkable impact on the creative industry, has lived up to its promise in the last three and half years.
It should be noted that this strategic intervention did not happen by accident, it has been a deliberate plan derived from a visionary study of the State, its demography and analysis of the creative sector which has the capacity to absorb the teeming youth population, reduce poverty and crime as well as create jobs with multiplier effects on other sectors.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it may interest you all to note that the last three and half years in the state have been eventful in terms of tourism infrastructure development as well as arts and cultural promotion, which we believe will lay the long term foundation to make Lagos State a sustainable tourism- driven economy and a leading haven for business and leisure in Africa.
In Lagos as you know, we relish in saying ‘Eko For Show’ but at the ministry, we see Travel and Tourism beyond the show part. We equally focus on the business and entrepreneurial component of it. We see, and we do our best to create enormous opportunities for stakeholders to further harness the tremendous economic and socio-cultural benefits of marketing a 21-million city-state and one of Africa’s Top 10 economies to domestic, regional and international visitors.
Prior to the emergence of the present administration, you will recall that Tourism co-habited with Inter-governmental Relations, almost as a mere unit. However, a full-fledge Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture came in stream in 2015 in line with the genuine commitment of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode towards the need to reposition the sector.
Between June 2015 and now, our goal of making Lagos State the preferred destination for tourism, leisure and business travel in Africa as well as promoting sustainable tourism development through enabling environment for both domestic and international tourists have been largely achieved. We have forged a new alliance with critical stakeholders; we constituted a Board for the Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture to advise and assist in repositioning the culture and artistic image of the state and we executed in phases the most defining attempt in our country to beautify a state’s landscape with public art installations through indigenous artistes. And so, the new Lagos experience that is arty and chic has been created and is being enhanced daily as we continue to facilitate an enduring infrastructural and security architecture for the business of tourism and cultural arts to thrive and for local talents in every part of the state to feel a sense of belonging and encouragement.
An example of a major infrastructure with strong impact on tourism is the ongoing expansion and total reconstruction of the Oshodi-Muritala Mohammed International Airport Road, which is the entry point into the state. By this May, you will behold a stunning 10-lane world-class road and a multi-purpose bus-terminal that is arguably the biggest of its type in Africa, you will definitely appreciate the thinking of this government that there is a beautiful tourism vision and comfort for visitors and Lagos residents behind this massive Oshodi gateway infrastructural project.
You will also agree with me that the need to prepare Lagos State ahead in terms of ideas, long term investments, top notch infrastructure and human capacity development that are necessary for the expected competition among tourism destinations in Africa requires a long term strategic plan.
This is why the Administration of Governor Ambode in its resolve to leave a legacy of solid tourism-driven economy conceived the idea of a tourism master plan, the first of its kind by any state in Nigeria, as a blueprint document that will drive development and investment for the next 15 to 20 years in the tourism sector.
To make this happen, our government first hosted in April 2018 the Lagos State Tourism Summit to bring under one roof, various stakeholders in order to engage them and receive their thoughts and submissions on the direction that tourism should take in our dear state. It is this approach that has enriched the Lagos Tourism Masterplan, which is undoubtedly a legacy document that this administration shall bequeath to the in-coming government for continuity and for the betterment of the tourism industry.
Suffice it to say that the tourism masterplan is undoubtedly the needed blue-print of development that covers six sectors namely: Culture & Heritage, Films, Arts & Entertainment; Business Tourism; Nature & Adventure; Medical & wellness and Beach & Leisure.
Significantly too, another key legacy initiative that will be bequeathed to the in-coming administration for implementation is the Lagos State Tourism Promotions Agency Bill, which was passed into law by the Lagos State House of Assembly and has just been assented to by Governor Ambode, the bite and the seriousness that tourism promotions needed at the Centre of Excellence is definitely assured.
Yes, a masterplan and promotions council do matter for tourism development in line with global best practices. But the in-coming government and indeed millions of Lagosians and residents will see value in and continue to enjoy and appreciate the enormous tourism and cultural arts infrastructure that this administration has either directly initiated and constructed or those that it met on ground and improved upon. They are undoubtedly the gems that have continued to draw attention to Lagos as a megacity of arts and ideas and as a model for others to emulate.
The Freedom Park on Broad Street has been a shining example of a Public-Private Sector arrangement that works seven years running. So also is the Amusement Park, which with the plan to create access through waterways will definitely rise in value and patronage.
With Badagry as arguable the leading attraction for slave-trade tourism among others, the Badagry Heritage Museum and Vlekete Slave Market museum are just about to be re-equipped and furnished after their massive renovation. The completed “Point of No Return” monument too is simply waiting for a major development into a theme park that can stun the world as captured in the Tourism Masterplan.
Given that the affluent Lagos Island division has always welcomed more visitors, the Onikan-Marina axis has received much from this government.
In addition, as part of the concerted efforts geared towards encouraging tourism-driven initiatives and promote Lagos as a top destination that offers variety of contents to visitors, the state provided sponsorship and/or institutional support to organizers of major International entertainment and art events such as the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA), AKWABAA Travel Market etc, as well as several indigenous festivals. The colourful lifestyle, rich culture, tradition and the energy of Lagosians as always showcased at these events are a selling point to drive tourism traffic for economic growth.
Needless to say that these events always provide a platform for airlines, hotels and restaurants, tour operators, travel agents, tourism boards, foreign trade missions, tourism sector travel professionals, the media and general public to interact and exchange experiences.
The influx of actors, filmmakers, musicians and various foreign media houses and production companies across the entertainment industry value chain has always been a big plus to our tourism promotion efforts. Participants at the end of the several events that we have actively supported or partnered with were always taken on a tour of Lagos and benefited from the compelling narratives about the history, people and the positive development across the State.
Furthermore, in demonstration of the genuine commitment of the state government to tourism development and garner visibility for tourism-oriented art programmes in the state, the State Government for the first time in the history of the State started the publication of a yearly calendar of events in 2018 to guide tourists and visitors on the cultural and entertainment events from January to December across the state and to make event planning, tour bookings and business decisions easier for tour operators and the general public.
Suffice it to say as a leader and lover of the arts, His Excellency, the Governor of Lagos State has personally championed the promotion and preservation of our cultural and heritage sites. This is what informed the recently organized stakeholders’ forum on best ways to preserve our cultural and heritage sites. These cultural heritage sites and monuments are precious to the state, just as leading world tourism destinations like Miami, Sao Paulo, Dubai, Singapore and Tokyo, with the right infrastructure put in place, Lagos will continue to thrive and is not far from being one of the top 5 preferred tourist destinations in Africa.
Significantly too, our state has continued to erect new and maintain all existing heritage and historical monuments in the state. Much importance is placed on the sustenance of the cultural and historical heritage of the people of Lagos State so as to attract tourists. Some of the monuments that depict these and received attentions are as follows; Renovation of Tinubu Square Fountain, Statue of King Ado, the First Crown King of Lagos, Statue of Prince Olofin Atekoye. The State equally erected 23 new statues and monuments in parks and major public spaces across the city.
The State Government’s effort at preserving cultural heritage of the people of Lagos State and its enormous historical values also received a boost with a grant of $600,000.00 (Six Hundred Thousand Dollars) from Ford Foundation towards the architectural design of the proposed Lagos Museum to be sited at the Onikan-Marina arts district just like the ongoing redevelopment of the J.K Randle Centre for Yoruba History and Culture within the same zone.
This project which is due for completion soon is the reason Lagos State has formally written the British Museum for the release of the historic Lander Stool, a sculptural work that is believed to have been taken out of Nigeria in 1863 and is presently in storage at the British Museum in London. When completed, the J.K Randle Centre will compliment other facilities like the National Museum, the MUSON Centre, Freedom Park, City Mall, Tafawa Balewa Square and the Yoruba Tennis Club that have made this area a culturally significant part of Lagos state.
Yet, the culture infrastructure investments of this administration will not be complete without mentioning the ongoing construction of Six Eko Theatres across the state. It is a project conceived by this administration to encourage creativity and create more spaces for theatrical and musical productions and offer platforms for upcoming artistes across arts and culture sector. Four of the six theatres located at Opebi, Badagry, Igando and Epe are almost completed and will be delivered by the contractors in May.
Similarly, the age-old Glover Memorial Hall in the heart of Lagos is ready to wear a new look come this May as restoration work is currently ongoing there. This is where the first film screening was done in Lagos State in 1903 and that iconic structure will roar back to life like a new bride courtesy of the art-loving Governor Ambode.
You will recall that Lagos State was not the only state that celebrated its golden jubilee anniversary two years ago. But being a state where it is said that ‘ain’t no party like the Lagos party’; we marked that special day with a difference. Lagos@50 celebration therefore become a defining year-long elaborate tourism promotion agenda with exhaustive performances and cultural displays and an opportunity to document, both in print and in audio-visual formats, the rich history of our state.
Another key component of tourism potential in Lagos is the vaunted One Lagos Fiesta. After four successive and I should add very successful editions, the OLF is arguably Africa’s largest end of the year open concerts. It resonates so much because it is the first of its kind where you will have major concerts holding across five venues simultaneously over eight days.
It has therefore become a crowd puller because it is happening tight in the midst of the people and in all the five zones of the state. In a mega city that attracts business travellers, spiritual tourists, regional traders and shoppers and stop-over visitors, popular contents and programmes are important. The One Lagos Fiesta has indeed become a key show-stopper just like Gidi Culture Fest; Art X; African Film Festival (AFRIFF), the Lagos Theatre Festival, iRep Documentary Film Festival, Lagos Arts and Books Festival and the Dance Gathering among others which have continued to provide the rich staple for the Lagos tourism menu.
As the birthplace of Nollywood and home to Arrive at, it is because successive governments in Lagos, particularly in the last 20 years have not dropped the ball in tourism promotion that the global attention has continued to be on Lagos.
This is the reason Facebook Founder, Mark Zuckerberg found it convenient to jog on our iconic Lekki-Ikoyi link bridge and declare support for the film industry that Lagos has blessed Nigeria with when he addressed practitioners at Afronolly premises in Oregun.
It is for this reason of cultural renaissance that Lagos is championing that made President Emmanuel Macron of France find the new Afrikan Shrine an ideal location for a cultural reception. And it is for the reason of strong cultural identity that Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain in Lagos would wear a Lagos-made African print and enthuse about the rich cultural diversity and talent inherent in the state. Ditto for Prince Charles who would declare in pidgin during his visit to Lagos last year that, “Naija no dey carry last!
And it is for this reason; I wish to state that when it comes to matters of tourism, travels and the hospitality industry and in using art and cultural content to drive growth in the sector, Lagos State Government no dey carry last.
I thank you all for your kind attention and wish you all a beautiful ceremony.
Itesiwaju Ipinle Eko Lo Jewa Logun.