As we gradually move towards the close of the great age of oil, with the newer and brisk strides in the development of alternative energies, this bodes much disconcerting fortunes for mono-cultural economies like Nigeria, whose lifelines have hinged on oil receipts in the past several decades. These proceeds have, traditionally, not only accounted for over 80 percent of total income earnings, but also about 95 percent of foreign exchange accretions to the State. Hence, the cliff edge situation signposts the urgency of opening up new revenue frontiers, of which tourism offers huge possibilities.
A huge sector of growth, constituting almost 10 percent of the global GDP at $8 trillion in 2016, tourism is responsible for 8.8 percent of the world’s jobs, estimated at over 258 million; 4.5 percent of the world’s investments at $652 billion, and 5.8 percent of the world’s total exports valued at $1.1 trillion.
No less astounding are the numbers spawned across the sector in the over 1.2 billion tourist arrivals in different destinations the world over in 2016, involving year-on-year increases in the past two decades; a projection of 1.4 billion arrivals in 2020, and 1.8 billion in 2030. No less staggering has the phenomenal growth in the global hospitality industry been, with anticipated revenues of about $600 billion in 2018. Closer home, even whilst still evincing so much latitude for growth and comprising less than 5 percent of the regional GDP, the World Travel and Tourism Council estimates the tourism industry in Sub-Saharan Africa to pull in as much as 4 million jobs in the next couple of years.
The prospects that much of these figures evoke, make Mr. Folorunsho “Folly” Coker – tourism and hospitality entrepreneur and bureaucrat, entertainment impresario, ex-Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism, and current Director-General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) – luxuriate excitedly in what signals a bright new day ahead for Nigerian finances, if the “big business of tourism” is carefully harnessed.
True, the potentials on the continent, as he sees them, look quite inspiring: In the past year, the international tourist arrivals in Africa were 56 million people, revealing a year-on-year growth of 6 percent in the influx; a tourism revenue of $47 billion between 2011 and 2014, showing a 9 percent yearly increase; and the creation of 21 million jobs within that time frame. Also, in the past year tourism accounted for 7 percent of the continental export revenue, and 46 percent of the services export revenues.
Significantly, with Africa, and certainly Nigeria, gradually opening up to increased private sector investments from the United States, Europe, China and India, etc. – beyond the downturn of extractive industries – and improving social conditions in many localities, Mr. Coker seems particularly hopeful of an upsurge in domestic and inbound tourism on the continent. And, particularly in Nigeria, which received over 1.3 million tourists in 2015 alone.
In Folly Coker’s perspective, the possibilities of tourism as Nigeria’s new frontier of economic development and growth is one primed to generate considerable income for the country, while creating jobs (both of primary and secondary preoccupations), with other levels of spinoff involving activities across the gamut of hospitality and hotel business, restaurant and tour operations, airport services, and cabbing, etc.
These would entail opportunities for huge wealth creation along value chains, such as in construction, through the building of infrastructure, multi-nodal transportation systems, roads, etc., which would open up and expand various modes of tourism – from the seaside to hinterland, among others. It is equally poised to generate increasing demand for telecoms and financial services, furniture and furnishing, food, garments and handicraft, etc.
Moreover, Nigeria’s trove of world-renowned heritage sites, such as the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Groove in Osun State, the Ogba Ukwu Cave/Waterfalls and the Ogbunike Cave in Anambra State, the Kano City Wall and others, would deepen their alluring pull of cumulative parties of visitors, with the capability for leapfrogging the volumes of this traffic.
Certainly, as Mr. Coker recently observed, the regime around tourism in Nigeria has, no doubt, been enabled by the recent efforts of the government in improving the ease of doing business in Nigeria, seeing to greater visa access to visitors, the rehabilitation of airports, improvements in national security – as testified to by the great rollback of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, the enhancements to the provision of electricity across the country, etc. Also, as one with both private and public sector experiences in the business of tourism – being owner of the La Casa brand, involving beach resorts, spas, cafes, alongside a number of hospitality enclaves – and a crucial actor within the Lagos State administrative system, Mr. Folly Coker certainly understands the logic of tourism in building the wealth of a nation; and the crucial work involved.
This was deployed in his role as pioneer driver of the One Lagos Fiesta – the humongous crossover events staged simultaneously across the five divisions of Lagos (Ikorodu, Badagry, Ikeja, Lagos Island, and Epe) – as Commissioner of Tourism under Governor Ambode. This shapes Coker’s observation that, “Looking at the number of businesses that were engaged in putting those events together and its exponential, it is a viable strategy for a city like Lagos and other places because it is inward looking, and the multiplier effect of the investment remains within the economy.”