United Nations World Tourism Organisation, UNWTO, Maiden Global Conference In Lagos, Nigeria

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Let me join the Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in extending to you all, a very warm welcome to  Lagos, Nigeria. In particular, we welcome the Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili, and his team.


Thank you for partnering with Nigeria to host this first-of-its-kind conference and for choosing Nigeria as the platform for showcasing African culture in this way.


I also congratulate the government and people of Lagos State for being, as usual, such great hosts for our guests from across the world. I  must not fail to mention that we gather here at our iconic National theatre. It was built in 1976, 46 years ago, in preparation for hosting the 2nd African Festival of Arts and Culture, “Festac 77”, where we welcomed 17,000 guests from Africa, the diaspora and around the globe.


It is symbolic that this conference which focuses on rebuilding and restarting tourism is being held here in our own rebuilt National Arts Theatre.


Excellencies, we must all also commend the UNWTO for the great work it has done through the years and especially the admirable way it guided the industry in the bleak and uncertain months of the pandemic. Your bold and informed approach to guiding and advising the tourism world on restarting tourism in the aftermath of the pandemic has been pivotal in the quick recovery of tourism worldwide.


The theme of this conference: Linking Tourism, Culture and Creative Industries: Pathways To Recovery and Inclusive Development is in line with the great work that UNWTO has done so far in speeding up economic recovery and promoting inclusive development.


Tourism has already established itself as one of the top job-creating economic sectors. Its contribution to global GDP is estimated to be in the order of 10%. Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, 1 out of 10 jobs worldwide depended on tourism,  and the aggregate of international tourist arrivals reached 1.5 billion people as of early 2020 before COVID-19 broke out.


Tourism opportunities and jobs are inclusive, cutting across all income segments, from millionaire entertainers to janitors in hotels. Jobs are gender sensitive – men and women, and accommodate rather than discourage those who speak languages other than the local language.


But tourism is possibly the most profound unifier of all economic activity. First, because it is the greatest eye-opener, those who leave their communities and visit other places, are more likely to understand other people and respect their cultures,  their creativity and wisdom.


When you hear the proverbs of the Kikuyus of Kenya or the Fulahs of Guinea, you will no longer think of them as barbarians, you will quickly recognize the richness of their ancestry and the nobility of their thoughts and ideas. Notions of equality of human beings, of respect for human dignity, make far more sense when we interact with others, and only tourism assures of that interaction.


But perhaps more importantly, tourism provides us, humans, with a means of achieving the deepest desires of our hearts, which is social interaction, enjoying the company and friendship of people all around the world, reaching across race, colour and language to connect with our common humanity.


The bridges we employ to cut across cultures and languages are usually our cultural genres, our music, arts, crafts, dances, and cultural festivals. Music is a global language, even people who don’t know the meaning of the words of a song, enjoy the rhythm and some find out the meanings of the lyrics, discovering the cultures and ideas that inspired them.


Let me test that theory – let’s see how many people know this song, “koni baje o, let me see you, go low low / let me see you go low low, buga won.”


Today Nigerian music, rendered in Nigerian languages is played all over the world. So, people all over the world are dancing to Kizz Daniel’s Buga. The phrase “buga won” is a Yoruba expression, it means flaunt your hard-won success. “Collect your money,” means to take the fruits of your work. Many people all over the world are squaring up their shoulders, saying it doesn’t matter how hard it may seem, let me see you dance and show off your success. No matter how small it may seem to others, “buga won.”  Kizz Daniel will be performing the hit song at the Qatar World Cup in a few days.


Burna Boy, a Nigerian Afrobeat star, performed in front of 70,000 people in Finland, at Finland’s Flow Festival 2022, singing songs like “Last Last” (He don cast, last last, na everybody go chop breakfast) in pidgin English to a cheering Scandinavian audience is the power of music. The song means that at the end of the day, we will all be alright and “chop breakfast.” The song is also the first Afrobeat song to have sold over 500,000 units in less than 17 weeks after its release in the United States of America and certified for Gold. This is a great song accepted all over the world.


Another Nigerian artist Asake who sings in pidgin, sang the song “Oganize organize, every other day I organize, some of us are wise, every other person overwise.” The song is saying we are all wise and smart, don’t ever think that you are smarter than everybody else.


Now, these are street slangs in Lagos and perhaps in other parts of Nigeria, but the world loves it. Asake had his show at the O2 in Brixton, United Kingdom and sold out to an international audience in less than 5 minutes!


And see how the Black Panther movie and its sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever have taken the world by storm, breaking box office records and making over $330million in sales in its first week. An important movie because it proved a point that Africans, local and in the diaspora, can use African themes, music, actors, producers and technical people, create a movie that is an outstanding cinematic and technical achievement, with modern cinematography, relevant themes,  with loads of hit songs written and sung by Nigerians and other Africans.


Some of the members of the cast were here last week for the African premiere. That an African premiere was held and took place in Africa, is an important statement all by itself.


Because the vast components of tourism are local and homegrown, they are more likely to be sustainable, and the promotion and preservation of cultural sights, forests, natural life, and aquaculture for tourism purposes work well with our zero carbon ambitions.


When we teach a whole new generation to love and respect and protect our beaches, and natural life and at the same time create jobs and livelihoods in doing so, we are achieving the perfect balance that would enable us to live long and enjoy all of God’s endowments in nature in peace and prosperity.


Let me again commend the UNWTO for this groundbreaking conference. It is an opportunity to define the future of tourism. What more can we do to make the movement of people across borders easier? How can we counter the nativist, ultra-nationalist rhetoric of politicians who seek to demonise foreigners and promote racial segregation?


How about technology, will virtual visits and tours in the wake of the metaverse kill human interaction? Or can we turn virtual reality into an advantage for tourism? So many questions and I am sure this gathering of experts and industry players and tourism enthusiasts will at least begin the process of finding answers. The good thing is that this is only the beginning of these important conversations.


While wishing you enjoyable and fruitful deliberations and a good time in Lagos, it is now my pleasure to officially declare the UNWTO Maiden Global Conference on Tourism, Culture, and Creative Industries: Pathways to Recovery and Inclusive Development, open.


Thank you, God bless you all.