Often described as one of the most beautiful states in Nigeria, the “Home of Peace and Tourism”, Plateau state, is blessed with an abundance of tourist-friendly sites, ranging from hills to natural rock formations and delightful waterfalls, parks and reserves, among others. However, over the years, the Federal and State Government has failed to capitalize on the tourism sector; not until the present administration.
On the 31st day of January, 2022, an alliance was formed between the Plateau state Information and Communication Development Agency (PICTDA) and an African blockchain company, Afen, to digitize and subsequently capitalize tourism in the state.
The collaboration which was also endorsed by the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) is a long term goal in a bid to explore the metaverse through a smart tourism initiative and by doing so, sustain and maintain tourism in Nigeria, starting with the Plateau.
“The Hub“, a weekly podcast hosted by CrestHub, had a chat with Mr Ephraim Freezle, the founder of Explore Naija and the co-lead of Plateau Smart Tourism project.
He spoke about the essence and future of the Plateau Smart Tourism (PLA2SMART) project and how this initiative impacts the economy and growth of the state and the entire country at large.
What’s the Plateau Smart Tourism initiative?
The Plateau Smart Tourism is simply creating digital or virtual value for our tourism destination.
It’s about making our destinations more accessible to people who are not in Nigeria or even those within Nigeria who cannot travel to these places. The goal is to make tourism more accessible for more people to patronize and consume tourism.
What are the means by which the organizers of this project seek to actualize this goal?
There are different ways we intend to create this experience. As an experiential industry, we recognize the need for our consumers to enjoy and experience the sites we’re projecting; hence we will be utilizing a virtual approach (virtual reality) to this cause. And in creating value, we will be introducing the system of NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) along with the project.
What does the recently announced Afen-PLA2SMART partnership mean for the state, state indigenes and Nigerians in diaspora?
Afen blockchain is one of the biggest blockchain companies in Africa and we’re lucky that they’re a Nigerian company. Blockchain technology is revolutionizing practically every sector and it’s important for us in the tourism sector to key into what is happening globally.
I will say that, in Africa, I’ve not seen any blockchain project surrounding tourism and so we’re practically pioneering this sector. This is something that has a global appeal right now.
Since NFT is a trending wave now, how do you intend to explore it’s creative aspects?
We want to integrate two things: virtual reality and NFTs. NFTs are simply digital assets. Just as we own physical properties and things that we could call assets. We want the NFTs – purchasing the NFTs – to serve as the gateway to experiencing virtual reality.
We want to decentralize the value of these sites and generate revenue from tourists that come here. Everybody is a stakeholder (the government, the state and project facilitators) and they all stand to benefit from the existence of these sites and structures.
How do you plan to tackle the issue of dilapidated structures that may hinder the progress of this project?
Honestly, it’s a major concern and this is because tourism is driven by two things: the government has a role to play in advancing tourism and the private practitioners also have a role to play. The only thing I feel is necessary for the government to do is to create the enabling environment for the private to invest in it and to have people that are able to take ownership – not to take it away from the government – but to be able to put in their resources; because tourism is an investment.
Plateau is lucky to have natural tourist sites that are attractive but these sites are not harnessed. Maybe the government doesn’t see tourism as an attractive venture yet, because I feel like attention is going somewhere else (oil, agriculture), but tourism is huge and the opportunities are enormous.
When you look at developed countries in the world, they capitalize on tourism. For every country that is developed, one of the things they prioritize is tourism. So our government needs to rehabilitate these things first and then key in with the private sector. Because the government alone cannot manage all this, public-private partnerships have to be embraced.
Is there a tentative date for the official launch of the project?
The project is out already. We announced the Afen-PLA2SMART partnership because we have all the relevant partnerships we need in the project. With Afen as our technical partners and the Plateau state Tourism Commission on our side, we concluded that it was time to make our plans known to the public; to show that the project has actually started.
This is a very huge project. It’s not a project that has an end-date. It’s supposed to be a National project but we’re just beginning with Plateau state; so you can imagine the number of tourist sites we have in Nigeria. Documenting these sites on virtual reality is going to be a lot of work.
There’s a particular site we’re creating a virtual documentary about on the metaverse in collaboration with Afen. It’s a work in progress and I can’t give you a specific date for its conclusion, but as soon as work is done (sometime within this year), we shall have one site launched on blockchain and metaverse for people to experience.