By Toyin Akinosho
Somewhere at the tail end of the proceedings, someone posed a question to Belinda Nwosu.
“How would you implement this your idea of a Disneyesque theme park for Things Fall Apart, and other such Nigerian classics?
The poser seemed to energise the panelist, initially. “Yes, it would be a collective collaboration; hotels, Restaurants, the community”, Nwosu responded. “We would have to work on the food theme, the dress theme, the..” she stammered off.
Ms Nwosu, a consultant at W Hospitality Group, had thrown this big hat into the ring. It didn’t ignite a hearty conversation, but it was clearly part of a thought form that has floated around for a while, many moons before the present convo: one way to improve tourism in Africa is to make the African classic story come alive in touchable, feelable ways.
The challenge of making the land look good enough for its people to want to experience it and for the world to want to travel to it, was why they all came out for Steve.
Africa’s top Tourism policy makers, drivers and executors participated in the three hour Zoom conference that marked the 50th birthday anniversary of Steve Ayorinde.
A striking thing about the parley was the rain of policy statements and the contested narratives about intra African tensions, looking desperate for solutions in what was, on the surface of it, a private feast.
Lai Mohammed, the Nigerian Minister of Culture and Tourism, chose the parley to announce the government’s decision to concession the National Theatre, the country’s prime culture precinct, to the Committee of Bankers.
An updated visa policy from South Africa was declared by Thekiso Rakolojane, the boyish looking, head of the West African division of the country’s tourism agency.
Foley Coker, the one-time restauranteur and night club owner, who has played the politics intensely enough to win a “promotion” from state commissionership to Federal appointee (Director General, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation), was more restrained. He was going on about what the new emphasis should be for hoteliers and tour operators post COVID-19, then he pressed on the brakes. “This is not the time for policy statements”, he said. “This is Steve Ayorinde’s birthday celebration”. But that was after he’d declared that “for hotels, your customers will not be looking so much for the ambience and the colour as for the safety and health”.
Truth is, the celebrant had not convened this to be purely a private birthday affair. Ayorinde, the immediate past Commissioner for Tourism, Arts & Culture for Lagos, the beating heart of the Nigerian economy, had used his clout to personally invite the very personnel who determine the course of tourism on the continent, to this webinar on his 50th anniversary: Close the Gap: For African Tourism to Revive, Reboot and Refocus.
An interesting sparring session that no one could dismiss, playing on the background, was the sparring session between Nigeria and South Africa.
The latter was in the process of doubling the number of personnel working on visas from its High Commission in Nigeria, Rakolojane had disclosed.
“Yes, the visa issue had been a personal embarrassment”, concurred Matlou Tsotetsi, a South African media personality who anchored the discourse along with Olisa Adibua, the Nigerian broadcaster.
There will now be more visas issued per week, Rakolojane assured, taking advantage of his speech to pump advertisements for the Cape Town Jazz Festival and Johannesburg Art Fair and invite Nigerian musicians to return to South Africa, “to shoot their music video because of the beautiful scenery and conducive production environment”.
It would take over 30 minutes and several speakers after those comments, before Peace Anyiam-Fiberesima, the Nigerian convener of the African Movies Academy Awards (AMAA) would be called upon to speak. But she circled back to Rakojolane’s statement. “Nigerian musicians have a lot of alternatives to shoot their videos in their own country”, she noted, talking in the context of an overall lament that African countries are not particularly welcoming to African visitors. “Its easier for us to set up events in Manhattan than in Dakar”, Anyiam-Fiberemsima disclosed. “If we have to sell this African tourism thing, we must love ourselves.”