ABIODUN ODUSANWO: Institute of Tourism Professionals not a training school but certification body

ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA who was at the recent tourism summit organsied by Lagos State Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, writes on the attempt by the state to rally support and ideations for its forthcoming tourism master plan

At every point, Lagos State government has never missed the opportunity to show that the dream of making the state, which is the commercial nerve centre and melting pot of some sorts of the country, is well and alive. And that it would not leave any stone unturned in the push towards this audacious dream.

The tourism world is seen as the largest employer of labour and a money spinner because of its multiplier effect and the fact that it is one of the low hanging fruits for the growth and development of a people and their country.

Examples abound of nations that have realised the potent of the sector, as a result have over time invested hugely in its development and today they are reaping from the windfall of the continuous invest and premium interest paid to the sector.

Cross River State is the only state in Nigeria that appeared to have latched on to tourism economy as a means to building the people and the state, as it came up with Destination Cross River, which though is work in progress, has recorded some measures of successes. Today, Lagos State in its quest for a mega city status and a flourishing economy has come to this realisation as well and today appears to be working in that direction with the governor of the state, Akinwunmi Ambode, hinging his projection for the economic development of the state on tourism, hospitality, entertainment/arts and sports.

It was in furtherance of this that the state Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, recently engaged Enst and Young, a consulting outfit, to devise a tourism master plan for it, the first of its kind by any state in the country. Aware of the need to make the document, which is already in the works, and that is expected to show clearly the roadmap for the altruistic development of the sector in concrete and measureable terms, a detailed and all embracing one, that the state tourism summit, which held at Eko Hotel and Suites on Victoria Island, Lagos, a week ago, was devoted to eliciting inputs from the various stakeholders across the state. In a way, it was an historic event that attracted a cross section of tourism professionals and allied sectors.

It witnessed a cross fertilisation of ideas and proposals as to how best Lagos State could harness its tourism potential. It was a full day event that had four different panel sections and four paper presenters. Besides, an exhibition that saw display by some tourism operators of their products and service lines was mounted at a section of the hall for the day.

Leading the dignitaries at the event, which included the Minister for Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and the former president of Ghana, John Mahama, who was the special guest and keynote presenter, was Governor Ambode. The theme of the summit was, Destination Lagos: Towards tourism driven economy.

The state Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Steve Ayorinde, set the ball rolling with his welcome address in which he set the tone for the summit. “Today’s summit is to take stock of a project that has been identified as matter of tourism, hospitality, entertainment and the arts plus sports to achieve excellence.

“Welcome to a platform that will provide us with an ideal roadmap through which we seek to double our pace, identify the low hanging fruits and begin to execute our early win strategies in our quest to make tourism our profitable creative economy and the new oil and gas.

“This is why the theme of this summit is: Destination Lagos: Towards a tourism driven economy, which touches the nucleus of our desire to make Lagos State a destination of choice using tourism as an integral component of our growth strategy.’’ According to Ayorinde, the discourses of the day would ‘‘signpost a new chain of development and growth agenda that will rely on the talents, skills and exemplary resilience of our people that created iconic brands like Afrobeat and Nollywood.’’

Governor Ambode in his address, disclosed the premium that the state places on tourism because it formed the core of the growth strategy of the state hence every effort is being made by him to see to the development and promotion of the sector, which he said has huge potential. According to him, the tourism summit, therefore, is to “further demonstrate our commitment to find alternative platforms that can enrich our State and propel her prosperity continuously.

We have channeled a lot of resources into creating an enduring infrastructural architecture for the business of tourism to thrive. “Our plans, concepts and executions are very deliberate and well thought-out to make a highly populated mega citystate culturally attractive and artistically functional.”

Ambode further said that the tourism summit is part of the state’s effort at devising a tourism master plan that will have the inputs of every player and stakeholder in tourism and comprise strategic areas of focus even as he that: “Our government recently commissioned the development of a Tourism Master Plan which will show the road map to be taken in the of decades to make Tourism a major sector of the Lagos economy.

“We have put tourism at the core of our growth strategy at this point in the development of our State – Laying a solid foundation for the continued prosperity of Lagos and Lagosians. According to him, tourism last year contributed immensely to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the state:

“The tourism sector contributed about $2.2billion (N800billion) to the Lagos GDP in 2017 and with the infrastructure and resources we are deploying in this sector, we expect this figure to double or treble in the next five years.’’ He then dwell extensively on the various attempts being made in building infrastructure across the various spectrums of the state in order to bring about the growth and development desired.

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‘‘The enormous resources we have deployed in physical and social infrastructure across the state will begin to crystallise by December into mega structures that will support tourism and market our state as a smart destination.”

As if he has preened into the presentation of the governor, former Ghanaian President, Mahama in his keynote address offered some suggestions and way forward for Lagos tourism with focus on building infrastructure, which he said is the starting point for having a thriving tourism economy. According to Mahama, the state stands to earn billions of naira in revenue in the next several years with the successful implementation of the tourism master plan that is expected to be produced from the summit’s outcome. But to achieve this, he said focus must first be on development and building of infrastructure. “We cannot develop tourism to the level that it can become a key driver of our economy without development and solid infrastructure.

“Tourism has become one of the major players in international commerce, and represents at the same time one of the main income sources for many develop in countries. If you consider that globally the business volume of tourism equals or even surpass that of oil exports, food products and automobile, then you can appreciate the potential of Lagos State when it comes to developing popular, marketable and profitable attractions for tourism to flourish.”

To develop a tourism sector that is sustainable and can impact on a country or in this case, Lagos State’s economy, the former president called on the state government to draw lessons from the four pillars of development prescribed by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

These, according to him, are:Tourism policy and governance; Economic performance, investment and competitiveness; and Human resource and sustainability of the natural and cultural environment. While drawing on Ghana’s experience during his regime as president, he charged governor Ambode to ensure the appropriate enactment and enforcement of laws and regulations. Going forward, Mahama called for collaboration between Ghana and Nigeria, in this case, Lagos, emphasising on the similarities and areas of collaborations between the two countries.

While in his goodwill message, Mohammed commended the Lagos State government for its various developmental strides and pledged the federal government’s support towards achieving the goals of the summit and tourism master plan. With the formal opening section done with, the discourses for the day started with Profe ssor Ibukunoluwa Ayodele of Wildlife and Ecotourism Management, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ibadan, who spoke on the ecotourism potential of the state.

The other speakers who presented lead papers included Professor Pat Utomi, a political economist and chairman of Lagos Business School, who dwell on means and ways of attracting finance and investment to the state. James McGregor, a renowned ecotourism and sustainable tourism planner, was very categorical about the fact that the state is not yet a tourist destination especially with regard to its ecotourism wealth, which he submitted is still poorly developed and harvested.

While Ikechi Uko, who is the publisher of atqnews.com and organiser of Akwaaba, African Travel Market, spoke on Meeting, Incentives, and Events (MICE), which according to him, is one aspect of tourism that has the potential of sustaining a destination if the appropriate infrastructure are put in place to attract tourists in that regard. Quite a lot of ideas and suggestions as to the areas of focus and how best to harness those areas where generated by both the paper presenters and the four different panels that had close to 20 panelists.

The aggression of opinion is that Lagos is hugely blessed with diverse culture and people, what Prof Utomi referred to as the myth and mystery of Lagos. This factor, he said is quite unique and stands Lagos out, advising that everything possible must be done to explore this factor as it is perhaps the bedrock on which the state must build its tourism.

The dire has been cast and going forward, all eyes are now on Enst and Young as the people look forward with great expectation what it would make out of the rich and vast ideas and recommendations that were put at its disposal by the various speakers and contributors during the event.

It is hoped that when the Tourism Master Plan is finalised and made public next month as part of the third anniversary celebration of the administration of Ambode, that it would not dampen the enthusiasm of the people. But rather it would reflect the reality on the ground and point in concrete and measurable terms how best within the next 10 – 15 years the bursting energies of the people and the resources available to them can be pulled together to achieve the dream of a thriving tourist destination that the governor so much wants to bequeath to the people.