Africa: Dr. Adun Okupe Recommends a Phased but Sustainable approach to the Development of Tourism in Nigeria


Dr. Adun Okupe, a tourism expert, is a senior advisor with Red Clay Advisory, host of the West African Tourism Roundtable Series and Faculty member, Lagos Business School; she spoke with ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA on her engagement with tourism, development and future of Nigerian tourism.

According to, Dr. Adun Okupe, a tourism expert, is a senior advisor with Red Clay Advisory, host of the West African Tourism Roundtable Series and Faculty member, Lagos Business School. She is also a culture and arts advocate as well as nature lover, among others.

She holds a PhD in Tourism Leadership from the University of Surrey, a Masters in Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London and first class degree in Business Economics from the University of Keele. Okupe has also had a stint at the Universities of Edinburgh and Surrey, the World Travel and Tourism Council, KPMG London, and the W Hospitality Group among others.

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What was growing up like for you?
I remember a childhood filled with many experiences that sought to build an expansive mindset. We had books on various topics at home, and that provided the opportunity to learn from the experience of others. We also got involved with recreational activities at Ikoyi Club (Lagos) and I cherish the time I spent with my grandparents in Ibadan who showed me yet another aspect of life. My grandma has a store at Agbeni market and I remember going to help out there; my grandaunt had a bookstore, Odunola Bookshops and I got to read so many books there, so many wonderful memories.

What would you say is your philosophy and motivation?
It is Kajola, which is Yoruba for ‘We should succeed together’. I believe the world is better when we help one another to succeed, and to grow, and it is important that in any way we can, we do this. Success for me isn’t monetary but about fulfillment and meaningfulness in life.

You earned a first degree in Business Economics and also you are an Accountant, before studying for a Ph D in tourism, what was the attraction for tourism?
I enjoy travelling and after calculating how much I spent on travel, I was curious about the tourism economy. Looking at the numbers in more established markets, I wanted to see how we could harness some of this within the continent. For me, tourism is about quality of life, and if we look at the work/leisure equation in economics, we see that it’s the same amount of time that we are allocated, eight hours for work, eight hours for leisure and eight hours for sleep. How can we optimise leisure time and also promote a sense of belonging and identity? Tourism ticks all these boxes.

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How engaging then is tourism for you?
Extremely engaging! It is my life’s work. If I can be a professor of sustainable tourism, then that would be a great achievement. The opportunity to advise on hotel feasibility studies, master plans, implementation plans, work with owners on the strategies for their establishments and also contribute to capacity building and development in the sector, what a privilege, what an honour.

You are a Senior Advisor with Red Clay Advisory, what exactly is the remix of Red Clay Advisory?
Red Clay is a tourism advisory practice focused on sustainable tourism development in West Africa. We are passionate about the role of tourism in societal change with its promotion of leisure, economic development and its celebration of culture and national identity. Our inspiration comes from the immense resources on the continent that allow for a myriad of tourism opportunities to be sustainably harnessed.

We work with different state governments as well as private funders looking to invest in tourism and cultural arts across West Africa. We recently developed the Tourism Master plan for Lagos State and this year, we are hosting a series of roundtable discussions called the West African Tourism Roundtable Series. Our aim is to create a platform for tourism leaders in the sub-region to brain-storm for solutions to common challenges in the industry and encourage stakeholders responsible for the implementation to work towards the change. We have hosted four of these sessions already.

What is your view on the state of tourism development in Nigeria?
I liken it to the name Red Clay, the transformative potential that clay has, and that is where the opportunities for Nigerian tourism lie – we have so much and can create so much. We simply need to decide and mold the industry as we require – there is so much to do.

What are some of the most pervasive challenges confronting Nigerian tourism development based on your engagement over the years?
Nigeria has immense tourism potential but the challenges we need to overcome are equally substantial. The most significant are: A lack of concerted interest in tourism from the federal and state governments, inadequate security and transportation infrastructure, bad reputation in the media and poor marketing of cultural assets and more importantly, insufficiency of adequate professionals that can build our industry.

Where should be the focus in terms of actual development of tourism seeing that Nigeria has quite a huge potential?
Some states have shown more interest in tourism development than others and these are the states that should be given a prior focus. Nigeria does have immense tourism potential but it is better to start with a phased approach, which is more sustainable, rather than starting multiple projects at once. We have certain key established but currently inactive tourist destinations; we can provide an audit of these and then assess what needs to be done vis a vis the current realities in Nigeria, financing, security and COVID-19.

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