On a par with any other cultural, geographical or historical attraction that Nigeria has to offer, Food holds a massive potential to boost tourism and drive economic growth and development. Hence, it’s in our collective interest to champion it.
It was the famed culinary historian, Massimo Montanari, who posited in his classic, Food Is Culture, that everything about food— from its cultivation to preparation and, ultimately, consumption – represents a cultural act. Nowhere is that statement truer than here in Nigeria where with over 300 tribes, we have one of the most diverse and vibrant culinary cultures in the world. So vast is our food that few Nigerians, not to mention foreign visitors, have managed to scratch the surface of our culinary treasures, making it one of the most under-explored areas of our cultural heritage and a prime asset for tourist attraction.
As the United Nations World Tourism notes in its 2017 report, Food Tourism has grown remarkably over the last few years to become one of the most dynamic and creative segments of tourism. The report notes that today, more and more tourists in the world are looking for concrete learning experiences, and in this endeavor, the gastronomic experience, in highly diverse ways, is playing an increasingly prominent part. Even where food isn’t the main motivation for choosing a destination, the report acknowledges, the fact is that food is increasingly occupying a substantial role as a secondary or partial motivation of tourists in the world.
In light of the above, destinations and tourism companies are starting to sound big on Food Tourism, and it’s not difficult to see why. With recipes and cuisine deeply connected to its origin, many of these companies are leveraging the distinct culinary cultures of their marketed destinations to create unique food experiences that keep millions of tourists coming back for more. In Nigeria, as we seek diversification of our national income streams, should also make more of our gastronomy. This will not only make our tourism more attractive and endearing, it would also stimulate local and national economic development.
It’s one thing to recognize the significant role that Food Tourism can play in growing our economy, it’s another to understand how to grow it. Food Tourism for one, is not just the consumption of food by tourists. It is an experiential trip to a place, for gastronomic purposes, which includes visits to primary and secondary producers of food, food fairs, farmers’ markets, cooking shows and demonstrations, tastings of quality food products or any tourism activity related to food. Hence, building Food Tourism also goes well beyond the sale of food to tourists. It entails the careful and thematic curating of gastronomic experiences built on the local culture, local products, and local retail, and packaged in such a way that it constitutes the main motivation for tourists to travel to a particular destination.
There are very few experiential gastronomic destinations in Nigeria, one of which is the GTBank Food and Drink Fair, organized by Guaranty Trust Bank plc. Designed to promote enterprise among small businesses involved in the food industry, the fair offers dozens of free retail spaces to food entrepreneurs and then brings together thousands of food lovers and enthusiasts to patronize their products. It also organizes a series of masterclasses, anchored by internationally renowned chefs and food business experts, in order to build the skill and knowledge capacity of local entrepreneurs whilst connecting them to their peers abroad. This, to put it simply, is the way to build Nigeria’s Food Tourism.
As announced by the bank, The 2018 GTBank Food and Drink Fair will hold for three days this year (April 29th, 30th and May 1st), and picking apart its features reveals the essentials to building Food Tourism in Nigeria. Firstly, the fair is an annual event (it began in 2016), which means that it serves as a definitive destination for a culinary experience. Secondly, the food experience is built on the delicacies served up by local small businesses—who also retail the fresh, organic produce at the event’s farmers’ market; thus providing for a unique and distinctive gastronomic culture which tourists the world over are increasingly in search of. Finally, by bringing together internationally renowned chefs and food business experts (eleven this year, according to the organizers), the Food and Drink Fair also shows the cross-border appeal, and thus global attraction, that food festivals and experiences can generate and command.
Beyond serving as a guide on how to build a viable gastronomic destination, the GTBank Food and Drink Fair also demonstrates the economic benefits of championing Food Tourism, particularly for small businesses and local communities. By building what is by and large Africa’s biggest food experience on the offerings of indigenous small businesses, who in turn source their produce locally, the GTBank Food and Drink Fair serves as a source of direct and significant economic benefit for local communities. Likewise, Food Tourism, on an industrial scale, would enable communities up and down this country generate income and employment opportunities locally, expanding the target market of SMEs involved in food retail, providing job opportunities for local chefs while fuelling other sectors of the local economy such as agriculture.
Ultimately, whether leveraged to grow small businesses or curated to provide an experience that draws people from around the world, one can never go wrong with food. Especially widely diverse, vastly rich and deeply original Nigerian food. The real task, however, is in curating cuisines and creating a culinary experience that transforms a food destination into a prominent marker in the social calendars of people at home and abroad. In this regard, the GTBank Food and Drink Fair serves up the best lesson on how to achieve the above, whilst helping small business grow. So, if you are interested in learning how to build Food Tourism in Nigeria, attending the fair is the best place to start.