Like Bangkok, Lagos Too Is Coming By Steve Ayorinde

imageLagos has a city to ape in its quest to earn global reckoning as a destination of note. This commercial and entertainment nerve centre of Nigeria must aspire to be like Bangkok, Thailand’s exotic capital city, which has again been named the world’s second most popular travel destination.
In the latest Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index released penultimate week, Bangkok comes after London as the second most visited city in the world for the second year in a row. The ranking considers the estimate of how many visitors will spend at least a night in the city and their spending.
This of course is an affirmation that travel and tourism business is a multi-billion dollar enterprise for any city truly desirous of a global city profile. For this year, Mastercard estimates that Bangkok will have 18.82 million overnight visitors and their presence would translate to more than $20bn in tourism-related revenues alone.
Although London enjoys legendary reputation as the world’s most famous, despite its competition with more beautiful cities like Paris or more financially stronger ones like New York, Bangkok, however, provides better inspiration for an emerging global city like Lagos. Unlike Great Britain, Thailand is not a First World country. But like many countries in Asia, it recognizes opportunities for rapid development and builds on its competitive advantage. Part of which is to identify and encourage its prime cities that can wink at the world and get visitors coming in droves.
Bangkok has certainly arrived. It did in 2013 when it claimed the top spot ahead of London as the world’s most visited city, thereby becoming the first Asian city to do so. Even in the last two years of queuing behind London, it is an achievement to be ranked higher than Paris at the third position, Dubai and Istanbul in fourth and fifth positions as well as New York in sixth position. Mastercard attributes the continuing popularity of the Thai capital to its abundant cultural sites, minimal language barrier and high navigability.
Lagos may not have done too badly at the moment, ranking fourth behind Cairo, Cape Town and Johannesburg in the list of Africa’s most-visited cities. It is believed to have welcomed more than one million visitors this year alone and is described as the second fastest growing city in Africa. But the epicenter of excellence in Nigeria has an opportunity to better project itself as a destination of note, now that it has a new helmsman who appreciates the values of tourism and culture as key economic drivers.
A new dawn surely awaits Lagosians because Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s campaign thrust and the expected policy direction favour job creation and image laundering. Travel and tourism as well as arts and entertainment are one of the major vehicles through which he aims to drive Lagos as a global city of note. His well-articulated Project T.H.E.S.E seeks to harness the potential in tourism, hospitality, entertainment and sports as a money-spinner for the state. A department for foreign investments (Lagos Global) which will operate under the governor’s office is another of Governor Ambode’s great plans targeting investors and tourists.
However, he will need to draw inspiration from travel and tourism model in Bangkok and the cleanliness model that has made Kigali, the Rwandan capital, to be described as Africa’s cleanest city (an essay will be written on this separately). The combination of these two models can guarantee the expected paradigm shift for Lagos within the governor’s first 18 to 24 months in office.
Aside its great sites and minimal language barriers, Mastercard says Bangkok is drawing people because of its high navigability. It says the Thai capital was able to tap into what is called ‘origin cities’ by serving as feeder city for international visitors. This means that besides being positioned as the first point of entry for thousands heading to the country’s beaches, Bangkok also serves as the connecting city for many travelers going into other Asian countries. This is what Johannesburg does for many Southern African countries.
It is an important requirement that Lagos should serve as a regional hub in West Africa in order to reach its objective as a profitable destination.
There are two key components to achieving this and luckily the city has the wherewithal. The Murtala Muhammed International Airport must be forced to fulfill its full potential and, if possible, handed over to experienced and tested hands from the private sector to manage. Thankfully, the recommendation by the immediate past Aviation Minister, Osita Chidoka, has reportedly outlined the need for the Federal government to offer 51 per cent of the Federal Airports Aviation Authority to private investors for better management. With political alignment between the FG and Lagos State now, forging ahead should be a lot easier.
But only one airport cannot turn Lagos into an aviation hub. The new cargo airport at Epe/Ibeju Lekki, of which Ambode has spoken glowingly, must be a priority, as it will also feed the Eko Atlantic City project. Then, the MMA2 in Ikeja, which already has local and global thumb-up as the best in Nigeria, deserves to be upgraded as a regional airport terminal now. It is indeed part of its objectives from inception as a concessionaire; and obviously it has the capacity.
Like the international airport, MMA2 will also need to be allowed to deliver on its hotel and conference centre since overnight visitors account for Bangkok’s high ranking. It is not enough for hotels to drive the hospitality and tourism landscape of this city-state, the two leading airports there must have their own hotels as most international airports do.
Like Lagos, Bangkok has its own fair share of socio-economic issues. It has one of the craziest traffic challenges in the world, its floods can be very devastating and its night life and massage parlours have an unusually bright red-light connotation. But all these have not denied it knack to flaunt its positive sides – great beaches, cultural sites and festivals as well as social life that visitors long to have a taste of it. It is this great template of harnessing its cultural and touristic contents with effective travel navigability that Bangkok has perfected as a winning formula.
At the height of his highly-effective campaign, Governor Ambode did say his popular pay-off line ‘Ambo’ was no longer about his surname alone but more importantly about the fact that Lagos is ready to announce itself to the world.
If the international airport is projected as the hub in West-Africa, MMA2 upgraded into a regional airport, the General Aviation Terminal redirected into a world-class and productive facility under the concession agreement between Bi-Courtney and Federal Government, a new Cargo airport constructed and the light rails commissioned and extended…all in a clean and beautified city that is not lacking in artistic offerings, Lagos can indeed prepare to announce its arrival to the world, proudly.

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