Traffic jams may clog the city and the beaches look like garbage dumps, but for the Lagos state government developing tourism is now a do or die matter.
Nigeria has survived almost exclusively on oil revenues for decades, but the plunge in crude prices since mid-2014 along with militant attacks on oil infrastructure have driven the continent’s economic giant into a recession.
“We must find alternatives,” Lagos state tourism minister, Folorunsho Folarin-Coker, told AFP. “Encouraging tourism is a matter of life or death now.”
Lagos, Nigeria’s financial hub, is arguably the best placed to respond positively to the economic crisis.
The city has the most solid economic foundation, accounting for 25 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and 65 percent of commercial activities, according to Lagos state ministry of Commerce and Industry.
Despite a suffocating dollar shortage that has made imports more expensive for businesses, those in the metropolis of 20 million say the city is ready for reform.
“Recreation and tourism are the fastest ways to revive the economy. The money they generate drives straight into the community,” Coker said.
“A concert can support vendors of suya (grilled meat) in the street, sound engineers, promote an artist,” he said, imagining Lagos nightlife as the new “Ibiza of Africa”.
– Emerging middle-class –
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), tourism accounted for only 1.7 percent of Nigeria’s gross domestic product in 2014.
That number could be much higher. The tourism sector is “neglected”, said the Oxford Business Group consultancy, which believes it could reach nearly five percent of the economy this year if managed properly.
The city authorities have a steep climb facing them.
The Lonely Planet travel guide describes Lagos as having “wall-to-wall people, bumper-to-bumper cars, noise and pollution beyond belief, an intimidating crime rate … and absurd traffic jams.”
Coker admits there are challenges, but says that he isn’t necessarily aiming to turn Lagos into Miami overnight.
First he has to convince people from Nigeria that Lagos is a worthwhile option for a vacation.
“Today we must build the foundations for local tourism. Tourism is a middle-class thing, and we have an emerging middle-class,” he explained.
Having enough hotel rooms is part of the problem. In 2014, Coker estimated the city was short 8,000 hotel rooms.
Major international brands including Radisson Blu and Intercontinental have recently established themselves in the rich neighbourhoods of the city, but there is a major need for rooms catering to the middle-class.
– Crisis ‘creativity’ –
Raphael Chiadikobi worked 18 years in banking before entering the hospitality industry.
His first 3-star hotel, Imax Guesthouse, opened last month in the bustling port neighbourhood of Apapa.
“Every country has petrol now. We have now to think out of the box,” Chiadikobi said.
“The hotel industry has a lot of potential. But we have no electricity, no good roads”, he said, “Nigeria is a place where a businessman has to provide everything for himself.”
This desire to build up an industry from scratch is what pushed Emeka Okocha to launch “Nothing to do in Lagos”, a mobile application that lists activities and entertainment for 20,000 subscribers.
“People complain that there is nothing to do but it’s unfair,” the young entrepreneur said.
His site lists upcoming movie nights, concerts, sporting events and even picnics.
“There is no park in Lagos, no reliable road map and don’t even count on Google to find anything. But thanks to word of mouth, we find amazing places.”
In some ways, the country’s economic crisis may help push Lagos into realising its tourism potential — starting with the locals.
“With the fall of the naira, Nigerians can no longer travel, and the economic crisis is making people stay and spend their money here,” Okocha said. “The crisis forces us to be more creative.”