By Christy Anyanwu
Director General, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Folorunsho Coker, has had a great passion for development of the country’s tourism industry, having previously held the same portfolio as a commissioner in Lagos State. Upon being appointed as the chief executive of NTDC five years ago, in 2017, he initiated ‘Tour Nigeria’ to promote local tourism. During the week, at the launch of The Tourism Hackathon Nigeria, he spoke with Sunday Sun.
Could tell us what Tourism Hackathon is about?
We came up with Hackathon to provide unique and innovative solutions to identified challenges and gaps across the tourism value chain in Nigeria, using digital tools that will be developed at scale within the next 18 to 24 months. Our goal is to improve the country’s ranking on the World Economic Forum Competitiveness Index by harnessing the growing popularity of digital technology to solve prevalent problems across the tourism value chain in Nigeria.
We want to be able to imagine a future in which a tourists journey (from the pre-booking stages until the destination experience), with more digital interactions supported by data shared in a secure and private way between the different players within the tourism ecosystem.
The Hackathon creates an avenue for carefully selected developers from the six geopolitical zones of the country to develop digital tools that aim to solve some of the frictions and dislocations experienced across the industry. With the support of UNWTO, and the Minister of Information and Culture, we believe, we can achieve these objectives.
Why is this necessary at this point in time?
Across the world, tourism has evolved to become one of the fastest growing industries. This growth has been driven by the deployment of advanced technology in travel and an increased holiday culture. Well, thank God, we got through COVID-19. One of the most affected industries is tourism. In terms of transportation, hospitality, entertainment, the industry has really suffered and we have to re-think how the business is done and try and recover from pre-COVID-19.
We imagined, who knows the problems of Nigeria better than Nigerians, that is why we came up with an application that would increase Nigerian clientele from all over the world. From your phone, you can order your lunch, breakfast and dinner, whatever it is. Just think of home grown application where you can order your pounded yam or pepper soup. Just things to make life easier for Nigerian tourists.
And in a country with 220 million people, the tourism industry is bigger domestically than countries that are between five to six million in the Caribbean or in England.
Nigeria is even the cheapest holiday destination. A dollar now is N740. With that N740 you can eat at least one good mama put meal with maybe one small stout to go down with it. One dollar in America cannot buy you a burger. The cheapest burger is US$2.38. So, you stay here, you don’t need visa, you don’t need to change dollar, you don’t need to roam your phone and there’s nowhere you would go you would not find one way of communicating with your people. Nigeria is also the cheapest holiday spot for non-Nigerians because when you come here, you enjoy that facility of N740 to one dollar.
Is Nigeria ready for this kind of technology?
I discovered at a UN conference that Nigeria has the highest internet usage in the world. Especially, in social media, we have the highest in the world. The digital penetration, the amount of people who are online, when you look at the telephone and you are on social media, all you are seeing is one dimension. There are 50,000 software engineering companies, everything you do makes this 220 million people market that cannot be ignored. Why is that that when you look at something on social media today, by tomorrow when you are reading a Nigerian newspaper, you find an advert for that thing you looked at in the middle of the story. Most software engineering companies are looking at what we do. We talk about population and the amount of people using smart phones, there’s so much data coming out of Nigeria. That will be great money. So, when they bring seller and buyer together that is digital technology.
What is the benefit of Hackathon to a well-travelled person?
Such a person will have much more information about his intended destinations. Development journalism is the interest of tourism. We will get a fair hearing. It is in the interest of local tourism to always tell our story by ourselves. Again, we have more digital contributors of the positive sides of our stories on our own platform; it would not be a nasty experience for us all the time.
Is this like an app on our phones?
We are putting an application out for the best minds in Nigeria to come and compete to help us develop product. That is how all these applications in your phones were developed. All these applications were developed by people who started from coding, first of all by gathering data. What are the problems of banking? From teller, now I just tap on GTbank and I am in.
Is that what we are experiencing with Hackathon?
Eventually that is where we are going. If we don’t start now, how do we get there? We expect that we have products from about 18 to 24 months. I have gathered enough data to do it again next year. We are used to buying apps developed for America and Britain, but I want to develop something for my own country, for my own industry, for my own ecosystem, so that being home grown, we can have better understanding and we can apply more of our local intelligence to it than something you just buy.
What percentage of these phones do you use, maybe 10 per cent simply because most of the applications are not designed for us here but the day we now start to design applications by ourselves, that percentage will increase. Uber is not our application but it works globally. Google is not ours but it works globally. The day we have our own application exterior to our own needs then we start.
World Tourism Market is in November. What’s your office doing about it? Three years ago, the space for Nigeria was unoccupied and that was not a good sight. Will Nigeria feature this year?
NTDC is not going. But individuals in the private are going. First of all, my predecessors owed them money. They booked and they didn’t go. So, they banned Nigeria that until you pay, you can’t come. So, I had to find the money to pay for the old misbehaviour and debt. If I could now open up that possibility then I could go now. At the same time, my focus has always been domestic tourism.
Domestic tourism is six times bigger than international tourism and if you don’t have a solid domestic industry, you can’t add an international dimension to it. If our domestic tourism is solid it would bring enough money. What is international? You just add an international to it. What you enjoy in Dubai is domestic to Dubai. So, why don’t we build solid foundation for our domestic tourism before we start looking for international? When international comes on a platform that isn’t solid, it will crash. Let’s put our house in order, together. We have enough people to consume our products to generate enough profit for ourselves.
What is world travel market for Nigeria? I go there with 20 people, I buy ticket, in an airline that doesn’t belong to us, I book into hotels that are not giving me any profit, I take taxis, I eat, I shop, I just carry my money and go and dump there. What is the benefit of the travel market to me?
Are people going to override the embassy country report about Nigeria? Will what CNN, BBC or SKYPE show about Nigeria change? Instead, let me find some money, in December, and WhizKid, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, all of them, I have done it before. Take them to Bar Beach, in fine locations and see the amount of money that would come from Ogun and Badagry into Lagos.
What World Travel Market is doing to you, I will do it to other people in my country and the money stays here. Until you make up your mind about who you are, you will never be anything because you are following somebody else’s dreams. I don’t want to mention some of these people that say they are in tourism ecosystems, they are just selling tickets, am so happy that United Arab Emirates has said we shouldn’t come. Let’s keep our money here.
When you buy ticket to Dubai how much have you taken out of the system. You stayed in a hotel, when you are going to the malls to shop, how much have you taken out from the Nigerian economy that can be here? Lets save that sacrifice for four years and see what we will build here.