By Isaac Yakubu
Tourism, arts and culture are inter-twined aspects of everyday life in human society. Where arts and culture are enduring ways of safeguarding a peoples’ sense of place, identity and history, tourism helps to expose these to much larger audiences from within or outside the geographical boundaries of a nation, with the result that the quality of these experiences are enriched through the process of immersion. At another level, culture and tourism also provide limitless avenues for leisure, learning, entertainment, empowerment, freedom from anxiety and growth. So, a country is considered lucky, especially in this period of a health emergency, if she receives any external help or partnership in such a critical sector of its economy and life.
The foregoing is what occurred to me in considering the unique partnership just announced between the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and global technology company, Google. This is no ordinary partnership and assistance because the gains are innumerable. For me and others who appreciate the value of a people’s historic, cultural and heritage sites, the most heart-warming part of this collaboration is that small business owners in the tourism and arts sector in Nigeria will now be able to receive exposure, training and insight into new directions for economic viability. There is also opportunity for people to acquire digital skills, all of which are embedded in the Google Arts and Culture initiative called ‘Explore Nigeria.’
It is encouraging to note that NTDC, the drivers of the tourism sector, is intent on reaching out and looking for ways to build capacity, safeguard our common story, create employment opportunities, direct traffic to our endowments and improve on documentation and available works and sites. The Corporation’s collaborative efforts with Google can, therefore, be seen from the prism of creating change through a broad alignment of tourism, arts and culture on a click platform as Google, which is the world’s leading portal for seeking information on anything that concerns humanity.
‘Explore Nigeria,’ one must note, is sufficient indication that the Director-General of NTDC, Mr. Folorunsho Coker, is quite conscious of history, especially as it relates to public officials leaving indelible footprints that impact on national wellbeing in key ways. He is very clear about his understanding of his job, as well as in articulating his vision for the sector. Both of these are evident in his clarification of the rationale for the flag off of ‘Explore Nigeria’ on October 1, 2020 during the landmark celebration of Nigeria’s 60th Independence anniversary.
According to him: “The tourism sector is a key pillar of Nigeria’s economy. Initiatives that support and promote domestic tourism are critical, not only for the sector but also because a stronger tourism sector will help Nigeria’s economy recover in the wake of the COVID -19 pandemic. An expanded tourism sector will be able to drive employment and stimulate economic growth. Initiatives like Google’s—that is grounded in data-driven insights into how the sector can be supported and grown, strengthens NTDC’s TOUR NIGERIA strategy, which seeks to promote domestic strategy in Nigeria. We are even more convinced now of the validity of this strategy and the rightness of our path, and we are excited to kick start this with the Explore NIGERIA collection with Google Arts and Culture.”
By the same token one cannot lose sight of the fact that Explore Nigeria is indicative of the measure of confidence reposed in Nigeria by an important and global brand like Google, and the huge possibilities it sees in investing its efforts on the country. Evidently, the initiative meaningfully circumvents all the dangers around physical tourism, as the government makes more bold efforts at stamping out insurgency in Nigeria, which would, in the long run, encourage more inflow of visitors who hitherto had reservations about the security situation in the country. According to Juliet Ehimuani Chiazor, Google Nigeria’s Country Director, “we’re always looking for new and creative ways in which technology can foster connections between people and the arts. Explore Nigeria therefore is an expression of that desire and a tangible programme that demonstrates our economic support of and commitment to Nigeria”.
Again, Amid Sood, Director of Google provided more perspectives on Nigeria and why Africa’s most populous country remains a tourist destination of choice. “Rich heritage, natural beauty and vibrant cities, Nigeria is a destination we all need on our travel shortlist soon. Even though 2020 continues to be a challenging year for Nigerians and travellers from around the world, I hope that this unique online experience – created in collaboration with the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation — can contribute to further promote Nigeria’s iconic sites and capture its stories. And even though I can’t travel, the project inspired me to start that journey by exploring the country through the works of Africa’s literary Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka.”
Before now, Google had provided an enabling lifeline for the tourism, arts and culture sector in many ways in Nigeria. Tourism enthusiasts will naturally appreciate the organisation’s earlier Interventions in important areas of our cultural aspirations in towns and cities like the Awhum Caves of Enugu, the Farin Ruwa Falls of Nasarawa, the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove of Osun State and the Wikki Warm Spring of Bauchi State. This is in addition to the Google’s involvement in some exquisite cultural festivals in our country, including but not limited to Yuari Regatta Festivals and the Kano Durbar Festival, among others. It is also interesting to note that Google had before now, launched feature stories on some of Nigeria’s cultural festivals outside the ones earlier noted, including “Explore Nigeria video series featuring top Nigerian social media influencers and You Tube creators.
The days ahead hold a lot of promise for the tourism sector in Nigeria. One undeniable fact is that, with Explore Nigeria, the NTDC and Google have raised the bar of performance for tourism development in Nigeria. In the not-too-distant future, this investment will bear fruits that will ultimately lead Nigeria to join the league of other African nations like Kenya and South Africa that have tapped into the potentials of tourism for national development.
Isaac Yakubu wrote from Abuja.