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Lagos City Branding: Tipping the Scale for Nigeria’s Economic Development

To grow the domestic economy, nations, among other things, depend on inflows of investments, talent, and tourists from around the world. However, only a few locations are ranked in the top destination list of investors, tourists, and visitors despite the enormous social and economic asset base that nations possess. Most times, countries’ reputation poorly matches their actual position because of misrepresentation and lack of awareness by the global audience. Most of the countries that make it to the top destination lists have to leverage the power of destination branding to create a unique sense of place. Destination branding starts with the goal of developing a distinctive positive image of a location, leveraging dominant attributes like art, culture, lifestyle, value, history and heritage, natural and built environments, landmarks, and the economy that will appeal to the international audience and make the destination more desirable. Today, cities are branded like commercial products: numerous examples abound, from Paris to New York, Glasgow, and the Maldives to Mauritius.

Paris, regarded as the world’s most romantic city and a haven for foodies and fashion lovers, leverages many factors, including fashion, art, sports, cultural movements, and iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Pont du Gard, near Marseille, Place de la Bourse, Bordeaux, Arc de Triomphe, Chateau de Versailles, and Notre-Dame de Paris to achieve a global destination status. This example illustrates how a city’s identity can be a powerful magnet, drawing people, businesses, and investments. New York leveraged the “Big Apple” moniker for a tourism campaign that transformed the city. In 1977, the city embarked on an advertising drive and embraced a campaign with the iconic logo, “I ♥ NY”. The campaign’s success resurrected the city’s image and breathed new life into a tarnished reputation. Also, the city’s significant infrastructure and vibrant financial sector, and arts and culture play a critical role in its larger-than-life reputation.

Glasgow adopted a different city branding approach. The city embarked on a crowd-sourced brand identity — “People Make Glasgow” — inviting voices from around the world to shape its brand. The success of the campaign laid in both the slogan and active social media engagements. The “Great Campaign” refers to a series of marketing initiatives launched by the United Kingdom to promote the country’s strengths and assets on the global stage. These campaigns are aimed at attracting international business, tourism, investment, and talent to the UK. The campaigns highlight various aspects of the UK, such as its culture, education, innovation, creativity, and business opportunities. The campaign has been very successful to highlight Great Britain and Northern Ireland as an exciting destination.

The Maldives became one of the world’s leading tourist destinations because the Island country recognized the importance of the tourism sector. In 2011, the Island launched a tagline “Maldives…Always Natural” to reflect its eco-friendly environment. In 2020, the Island rebranded to “Maldives…the Sunny Side of Life.” The campaigns carried the message of an Island with tropical paradise and hospitality. The country used them to showcase different aspects of destination experience, marine life, water sports, wellness and leisure, and high-end luxury private Island resorts. Like many other countries, Mauritius purposefully developed its tourism sector and embarked on local and international campaigns and fairs. Tourism now plays a key role in the country’s foreign direct investment, growth, and development.

Destination branding is the hallmark of the investment attraction strategy of the tourism sector to promote the growth and development of the domestic economy.  The travel & tourism sector is one of the largest economic sectors, contributing $7.7 trillion to the global economy in 2022; the sector’s contribution was projected to reach $9.5 trillion in 2023 and $15.5 trillion by 2033, representing 11.6 percent of the global economy.[1]  The sector is responsible for one in 11 jobs globally, with a total employment of over 295 million as of 2022, and overseas visitors spent a total of $1.1 trillion. At the country level, the contribution of the travel and tourism sector is likewise outstanding. Based on the latest statistics from the World Bank, as of 2019, the number of arrivals in France was 217.9 million, 165.5 million in the US, 40.9 million in the UK, 22.3 million in the United Arab Emirates, 19.1 million in Singapore, and 14.8 in South Africa.[2]

The impact of destination branding transcends the travel & tourism sector; successful destination branding benefits trade and investments, businesses, and other economic activities. It facilitates the competitiveness of a location, promoting higher perceived value for goods and services that favours businesses — some visitors and tourists do not shy away from paying a premium for products and services at the destination city. Cities in the Economist Intelligent Unit’s top ten most expensive cities list in 2023, including Singapore, New York, Hong Kong, Paris[3] equally have the highest number of tourists by arrivals. The opposite is also true; Tehran, Ahmedabad, Lagos, Chennai, and Buenos Aires, in the bottom ten positions of the list, are among the least visited cities. Famous cities attract other benefits, including preferred locations for businesses and headquarters of global corporations, high concentration of flow of goods and services by air, land, and sea transports, talent attraction, major global events, and global influence, among others.

With many resources and opportunities to leverage, Lagos has the potential to tip the scale for Nigeria’s economic development, riding on destination branding and actively showcasing national strengths on the global stage. According to the World Population Review, Lagos with a population close to 17 million, is the largest city in Nigeria, 3rd and 14th largest in Africa and the world, respectively. The state has rapidly evolved into a pivotal economic and cultural hub in West Africa. Multinational companies span sectors such as banking, insurance, telecommunications, oil and gas, and professional services (accounting, consulting, and legal), and the dynamic business environment with a community of expatriates, establishing Lagos as Nigeria’s economic epicenter and commercial nerve centre. Some of the notable attractions in the city include one of the largest and busiest seaports in Africa, an international airport connecting most regional cities, rail mass transit, the largest road network in West Africa, sandy beaches such as Ilashe Beach, Alpha Beach, Oniru Private Beach, Landmark Beach, etc., five-star hotels, universities, parks including Freedom Park and Johnson Jakande Tinubu Park, National Arts Theatre, and famous indigenous cuisines, including “Nigerian jollof rice”. Lagos also has a vibrant tech ecosystem, innovation flourishes in places like Yaba, the so-called “Silicon Valley of Nigeria.” The city is a cultural centre supported by thriving dance, music especially Afrobeats, and film scenes, including the globally influential Nollywood.  Our exciting entertainment industry can be the bedrock of our city branding. Afrobeats is now one of the most prominent music genres in the world, and Lagos is its birthplace. Regardless of the part of the world you are in, you are likely to hear the upbeat sounds of Afrobeats blaring from the most unexpected places. Lagos is also now becoming known as a bustling all-year-round party destination that reaches its peak at the end of the year with the popular “Detty December” parties and concerts marked by a whole month of intense festivities from the second week of December to the first week in January every year!

The key to Lagos’ success as a multifaceted city will depend on adequately positioning its unique assets and crafting compelling messaging that reflects and communicates its authentic identity. The tourism sector must take the lead for the city’s destination branding. The sector has the influence to communicate a positive image, organize promotional campaigns, and engage brand advocates and ambassadors at home and abroad. Success at destination branding is a collective effort of all key stakeholders in tourism and other adjacent sectors, like trade and investments, information and culture, and aviation. These stakeholders broadly include ministries, departments, and agencies of both the federal and state governments, constituted bodies/committees, such as tourism boards, presidential business enabling councils, non-governmental organisations, associations/professional bodies, and industry operators. They must work collaboratively to achieve a common goal of promoting Lagos on the global stage. For instance, these stakeholders can jointly agree to promote an invest-in-Lagos campaign.

But there is more to it! Compelling physical infrastructure, human capital and talent development, safety and security, and competitive regulations and business incentives are foundational pillars upon which branding can be effective. We offer additional insights on each of these:

  1. Infrastructural Development

The comprehensive enhancement of both hard and soft infrastructure, spanning transportation, education, and healthcare, is imperative for Lagos to compete on the global stage. The $6 billion Eko Atlantic City project, Lekki Free Trade Zone, Lekki Deep Sea Port, Lagos rail mass transit project, and upgrade of some parts of the road network represent a significant stride in this direction. The ambitious Eko Atlantic City project seeks to establish a contemporary city adjacent to Lagos’s Victoria Island, blending residential, commercial, and recreational spaces. Other projects scheduled to commence soon include the 4th Mainland Bridge, Lekki-Epe International Airport, and Lagos-Calabar coastal road. Many of such significant projects are still required to meet the existing infrastructural gaps and potential demand from visitors, tourists, and immigrants. Significant infrastructure investment would help increase city business activities and inbound tourism.

  1. Human Capital Development

Developing requisite skills and grooming talents to supply an efficient workforce to local and international markets are critical for Lagos, which has evolved into a hub of technological advancement with global allure; noteworthy transformation has taken place with the surge of tech hubs, including accelerators and incubators in different parts of the city, particularly the Yaba district. Lagos’s burgeoning tech ecosystem captivates local talent and receives significant interest from global tech leaders. Tech giants like Facebook and Google have demonstrated their commitment to Lagos by establishing tech hubs, initiating educational programs, and supporting local tech initiatives. Lagos is now home to 5 of 7 Africa’s unicorns and many tech hubs. The achievement in tech talent development must be replicated in other industries across banking and finance, management, consulting, auditing, arts and entertainment, fashion, tourism and hospitality, transport and logistics, and agric-business, as well as in specialized areas like Islamic finance, sustainable finance, compliance, business ethics, international business, and risk management. EnterpriseNGR is contributing its own quota in this regard through its Youth of Enterprise internship program that places young graduates in high-value paid internships with leading organisations with a view to improve the quality of talent in the financial and professional service sector.

  1. Safety and Security Reinforcement

Providing adequate security in Lagos is critical. Federal and state governments must work together to provide adequate safety of people and properties in the State. This will include sufficient investments in security infrastructure, empowerment of security forces and intelligence agencies with adequate training, enforcement of safety laws, and strengthening security at various points of entry/borders, and collaboration with locals and communities for security reports and surveillance. It is important to commend the efforts of the current political administration in Lagos state with the advancement it is making with the Lagos State Security Trust Fund and the improvement this is expected to bring to security in the city.

  1. Sustainable and Green Environment

Emphasis on sustainable urban planning to enhance the city’s environmental profile is key. This involves creating eco-friendly architecture, creating green spaces, and promoting sustainable transportation options. Lagos has moved ahead to establish a Parks and Gardens Agency under the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources to drive the creation and maintenance of parks and gardens, focusing on planting trees and making Lagos greener. The agency has more than 300 parks and gardens under control and planted over 7 million trees across different places in the State in partnership with private partners. The electric-powered (blue) rail transportation project and the development of Quality Bus Corridors in the city are part of the effort to reduce carbon emissions. Sustaining these efforts is critical to capture enough mileage for green environment benefits to position Lagos as a sustainable city.

  1. Regulations and Business Incentives:

Investors and business leaders are attracted to places where businesses flourish. Therefore, the stability of the business environment with friendly regulations is critical. But more important are the incentives that promote profitability and return on investment and the repatriation of the same. Adopting a tax system with elements of low corporate and personal income tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, and other extensions of these entices cross-border transactions, investments, trade, and other commercial activities.  The recent establishment of the Lagos International Financial Centre Council by the Lagos State Governor in partnership with EnterpriseNGR is expected to significantly improve the regulatory environment and incentivize investors to come to Lagos.

On the Global Cities Index, Lagos is ranked 109 among 156 other cities, behind comparatively small cities like Accra, Abidjan, Addis Ababa, Bangalore, Dhaka, and Beirut. It is also known that Lagos’s ranking on major global indices fails to reflect its actual economic position because of a reputational disadvantage, among other factors. The recommendations offered in this Policy Insights, if implemented, can turn the tide for the city, which will also improve Nigeria’s economy. The soft and hard infrastructure should complement the more strategic branding efforts. In addition, developing flagship projects will prove effective for the city’s transformation. By organizing signature events and hosting international events, exhibitions, and trade fairs, Lagos will unlock global attention. More importantly, however, strong and united efforts are required from all key stakeholders in the tourism, trade and investments, information and culture, and aviation sectors. In addition, community involvement and participation are crucial to promoting destination branding efforts. Residents, community and religious leaders, government officials, and influential leaders of industries must exhibit a sense of pride in the city’s identity.

References:

[1] World Travel & Tourism Council, ‘Global Travel and Tourism Catapults into 2023 Says WTTC’, (March 24, 2024), available at: https://wttc.org/news-article/global-travel-and-tourism-catapults-into-2023-says-wttc

[2] The World Bank, ‘World Bank Development Indicators”, (March 25), available at https://databank.worldbank.org/source/world-development-indicators#

[3] Economist Intelligent Unit, ‘Worldwide Cost Of Living 2023’, (March 25, 2024), available at: https://pages.eiu.com/rs/753-RIQ-438/images/WCOL-2023-summary-report.pdf?version=0&mkt_tok=NzUzLVJJUS00MzgAAAGSFFgbGqKCOy4RWzufX7_lXVGNpp9jmXHuix5bMovNcsYH8ny6s82VEmZ1MopmY3525I3-scXCZVWI1LrGMJQv8vL7gzyZxER-x5sXgTjBAm88qg