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By Obi Ibekwe

The Maldives has built an iconic reputation over the years, synonymous with leisure, Island paradises and unparalleled serenity. Renowned for its breathtaking experiences, the Maldives is a top-tier holiday destination, captivating visitors around the globe. Its reputation as a premier destination for holidaying in undeniable. However, beneath its picturesque exterior lies a narrative of carefully curated experiences and concealed realities.

The decision to visit the Maldives was one fueled by the allure of escapism, a desire to unwind amidst the breathtaking natural splendor. Like many, I was captivated by the carefully curated image of the Maldives in the media—a place where time seemed to stand still, and worries melted away with each gentle wave. However, as my journey unfolded, I soon realized that there was more to this island nation than meets the eye.

Arriving at Malé International Airport, I couldn’t help but notice the juxtaposition between the compact terminal and the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean surrounding it. Compared to the bustling hubs of my home country, Nigeria, Malé Airport felt quaint and understated. Yet, it was a gateway to a world of unparalleled beauty and tranquility.

Experiencing the Flipside of Maldives

Upon stepping out of the airport, my companions and I embarked on a road trip to reach our accommodations, passing through the lively town of Malé. This bustling urban scene stood in stark contrast to the peaceful imagery typically associated with the Maldives. Upon reaching our lodging, we discovered that it didn’t quite meet our expectations, prompting us to realize that the Maldives crafts a unique experience for its visitors. In our case, the route we took deviated from our original plan. It became evident that the Maldives guides visitors towards specific destinations, rather than everywhere you could go.

As first-time visitors, we inadvertently strayed from the carefully crafted experience intended by the Maldives. Consequently, we made our way back to the airport, where ferries awaited to transport guests to accommodations scattered across the islands. It was at our new lodging that we truly began to appreciate the essence of the Maldives we had envisioned of the Maldives we had envisioned. Whether meticulously orchestrated or left to chance, the beauty of the Maldivian islands remained undeniably breathtaking. Similar to Nigeria, other countries who amplify the great side of their country to attract tourists also have the side they don’t want you to see.

Tourism is Big Business

Tourism is big business. Research has shown that worldwide, one in every 11 people are employed in the travel and tourism industry. This industry supports more than 284 million jobs and contributes more than $7.2 trillion to the global economy.

Currently, Nigeria has the record of being the most travelled indigenous African country? while the Nigerian route remains the most profitable route per passenger on the African continent.

Many analysts of the tourism sector in Nigeria align on the fact that the sector has the potential of not only contributing to foreign exchange earnings but can also aid the reduction of the concentration of foreign exchange sources.

According to a 2024 report by Business Day, Nigeria recorded a total of 518,000.00 tourists in 2021, ranking 68th in the world in absolute terms. In 2021, the report says  Nigeria generated around 265 million US dollars in the tourism sector alone. This corresponds to 0.056 percent of its gross domestic product and approximately 23 percent of all international tourism receipts in Western Africa. Meanwhile, according to an article by TTM, as 2021 concluded, Maldives welcomed over 1.3 million tourists for the year, surpassing its tourist arrival targets despite the several challenges faced in that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of 2018, The Maldives operated 130 island-resorts. The Maldives today attracts about 25% of its GDP directly from tourism and recorded as many as 1,757,939 visitors’ arrivals till early December 2023, an impressive 12.6 percent jump compared to 2022, according to an article by Business Standard.

Lessons for Nigeria, Lagos as a Model

Nigeria boasts several tourist attraction centers that rival destinations like The Maldives, Dubai, Paris, and Zanzibar. However, the country needs more consistent and well-curated brand marketing to fully leverage its tourism potential. Lagos State, as the 7th largest economy in Africa, offers a wealth of attractions waiting to be explored.

In Lagos, numerous resorts stand on par with their international counterparts. From the tranquil shores of Ilashe to Tarkwa Bay Beach, La Campagne Tropicana, Epe Resort, Landmark Beach, and Giwa Gardens, and a host of others, the city offers a diverse range of options for both leisure and business travelers. With its stunning scenery and relaxed atmosphere, Lagos resorts provide an ideal setting for meetings, retreats, and unwinding from work stress. However, we need to go a. notch higher with a well-planned and coordinated curated experience to showcase these centres and attract foreign tourists.

It is heartwarming to observe the efforts of the Lagos State Government in promoting water transportation within the city. Enhancing these efforts to guarantee tourists a smooth and guided journey from the airport to their destinations, free of traffic congestion and other challenges, would undoubtedly provide added value.

Similar to the Maldives, which has a dual economy with resort areas largely separated from the local population, Lagos State has the potential to adopt a similar model for curated experiences on its islands. This would enable visitors to enjoy the luxury offered by resorts without hindrance, while also experiencing the authentic local way of life.

The Fourth Mainland Bridge, a 38 km long bridge project by the Lagos State Government, connecting Lagos Island by way of Langbasa and Baiyeku across the Lagos Lagoon to Itamaga, in Ikorodu and the proposed new Airport are two major projects that can drive a curated experience for tourists such that, right from the airport, tourists can seamlessly transit to their destinations without hassle.

For a country of about 200 million people with over 146,000 tourist establishments as of 2021, (according to Statista), Nigeria has the potential to make much more from tourism. With a consistent strategic approach, a concerted and coordinated effort, Nigeria can compete to be a tourist capital of the continent, and globally.

How can we assume the giant role on the continent through tourism? We must adopt soft power as one of the sure ways to market our rich and diverse culture, youthful, huge and creative population; clement weather, delicious delicacies and amazing tourist centres across the country. In November 2023, EnterpriseNGR showcased Lagos and Nigeria to the world at our historic participation at the Lord Mayor’s Show in London. In partnership with the Lagos State Government led by the Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, we met with key business leaders in the United Kingdom and demonstrated our readiness for business through various dialogues with investors.

Our strategic participation at the LMS was informed by the impact of soft power in attracting foreign direct investment into the country, using persuasive and non-coercive ways to propose values to the UK business community. We leveraged soft power through bilateral meetings, stakeholder engagements and proof points to show the readiness of the State to create an enabling environment for investors. We wrapped up our effort with the Invest Lagos Reception where top investors in the UK were gathered.

Earlier in November 2023, we inaugurated the Lagos International Financial Centre (LIFC) Council, a team chaired by the Governor himself and co-chaired by the Chairman of EnterpriseNGR, Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and tasked with facilitating the establishment of the LIFC, amongst others.

As a member-led professional advocacy group promoting the Financial and Professional Services (FPS) sector in Nigeria, we are convinced that public-private partnership is the most effective way to propagate the huge opportunities in Nigeria.

Now is the next best time for all hands to be on deck; to forge a common ground for the development of our rich country with so much untapped potentials. Starting from the FPS sector, we in the private sector are ready to join hands with the government in the quest to making Nigeria great again.