Governor Babatunde Fashola
Lagos State has identified sports as an avenue to build its profile as a leisure destination and attract tourists, writes Demola Ojo…
There is arguably no other part of Nigeria that seems to be attractive to the international leisure traveller as Cross River State. The Yankari Games Reserve is presently a hard sell due to the security situation there while Lagos, despite the opportunity afforded it by its ample coastline, is essentially a business destination.
More often than not, many foreign proponents of Lagos as a fun destination initially visited the state for business purposes. A few others have been drawn by cultural events, the Eyo Festival especially. In its quest to attract more leisure visitors to the state, however, the Lagos State government seems to have zeroed in on sports, if the flurry of recent sports-related activities is a barometer to gauge it. The relationship between sports and tourism is not hard to find. Cities and countries have been known to compete fiercely to host major sporting competitions, sometimes with allegations of underhand dealing as was the case during the last World Cup bidding process won by Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022).
The importance of events of this magnitude (and even those not as large) to the tourism sector of a state, region or country is immense; it acts as a catalyst for growth. The benefits include increasing the number of tourist arrivals, which in turn profits those in the hospitality and transportation sectors for example. The media exposure and focus on the city or country involved also increases exponentially, helping to counter negative impressions which may have initially prevailed. Hosting a competition would tell the world about a country, how hospitable its people are; how safe and economically stable the country is since it takes some form of investment in infrastructure and more to organise the competition.
The Cross River Example
It is no secret Cross River State leads by far in making tourism an avenue for increasing revenue accruing to the state while at the same time providing employment opportunities for citizens. However, apart from its famed month-long Calabar Festival (which includes a 3-day carnival), Cross River has placed a high premium on sports. This is evident with the annual Obudu Mountain Race and the fact that it hosts most of the national football teams’ matches. The government in Calabar has obviously deduced the link between sports and tourism. Lagos has discovered this link too. Slightly different to the Cross River model in which sports complements its’ tourism drive, Lagos is working on making sports boost the state’s appeal.
Festival of Sports and Soccerex
Lagos State has of recent upped the ante in enhancing its profile by hosting and supporting sports competitions and sports related events. National events like the Federation Cup final held last month and the forthcoming National Sports Festival next month come to mind. It can be argued then, that these won’t necessarily attract foreign visitors and the attendant tourist spending. However, the recent Soccerex Seminar Lagos hosted penultimate week by the Lagos State Football Association is proof that the state sees sports as an avenue to attract both international investment and tourists. The global event which has been (and would continue to be) staged in Rio de Janerio, Durban and Manchester – cities that place a high premium on tourism - is an avenue for those in the football business to meet, network and discuss doing business within the host city’s immediate environs in particular and globally. The delegates were drawn from places as far afield as the United States and South America. Many were visiting Nigeria for the first time. Most expressed surprise at the warmth of the people and the beauty of Lagos’ beaches. When international icons like Christian Karembeu and Pierre van Hooijdonk endorse a destination, the ripple effect cannot be quantified.
Apparently, events like these seem to be on the increase. Many private sports marketing outfits seem to have sensed the direction the Lagos State government is going, as they embark on initiatives which surely enjoy the blessings of the government. The new buzz is the visit of Venus and Serena Wlliams, the world famous tennis playing sisters. Their visit at the end of this month, coordinated by Connect Marketing Services, will, according to the company, boost sports tourism in Nigeria. It is important to note that the sisters are not participating in a tennis competition. Rather, they will be – consciously or not – helping to promote the Nigerian brand to the United States, where many African Americans have through DNA tests, traced their roots back to Nigeria and are desirous of visiting the country. All they need is an endorsement from an idol.
Beach soccer is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. This is due to the fact that there is more to the sport than competition. Music blares from speakers after every goal and at every interval, there are bikini-wearing cheerleaders dancing acrobatically in well choreographed movements. Some of these events, like the annual Copa Lagos beach soccer competition, incorporate fashion shows and musical performances from renowned entertainers into the event. In essence, it is more than soccer; it is all-round entertainment. The impact of the inaugural edition held last year can be tracked. It added an approximate value of 1.3 million USD to the Nigerian economy as well as created 700 temporary jobs. The international tournament which was supported by the United Nations had participants and visitors from South Africa, Italy, England and Brazil. Lagos also benefitted from the extensive media coverage as millions of viewers got to see Lagos and Eko Atlantic through Supersport, which beamed to all of Africa, ESPN Star transmitting to Asia and footage going to North and South America via Fox Sports. It was the first time many people heard of Eko Atlantic City, an ambitious project of building a city on reclaimed shoreline also meant to protect against ocean surges.