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Bolaji Seun on Influencing Nigeria’s Cultural Tourism Industry

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Bolaji Seun is a young Nigerian Tourism Influencer, travel writer, and founder of Naija Explorers.

Bolaji aims in all his travels to reshape and correct the wrong impression about the country and advocate the country’s breathtaking cultural heritage. Besides, he believes in his mantra of peace.

He won the Ogun State Heritage Award for the tourism category in 2018 and the Young Tourism Personality of the year in 2019 at the Nigeria Tourism Awards Night hosted by Nigeria Travel Week. Recently, he was named in the 2021 Top 5 travellers by Travellers Award.

Bolaji talks about the importance of acknowledging cultural tourism in Nigeria and how it can be a tool to promote unity in a country with vast cultural diversity.

What was the inspiration behind the Naija Explorers brand?

With the scintillating experiences I have developed while exploring Nigeria, I founded Naija Explorers as a medium to showcase Nigeria’s tourist attractions to the world through a platform where everyone willing to explore the country would get to experience the country’s rich attractions, raw and firsthand. It’s great to know that after 2 years of creating Naija Explorers, we have visited about 200 tourist attractions and taken about 250 different clients on our 36 tours.

As an avid tourism lover, how would you define cultural tourism and its importance in a country like Nigeria?

Cultural tourism is very important, and we need to explore this part of tourism to showcase our culture to the world. Attending cultural festivals, events, and monuments is one of the few ways we can educate people about our wonderful and beautiful cultural heritage.

What’s so unique about Nigeria’s (and Africa’s) cultural diversity and heritage?

It’s so unique that it helps us to identify and respect ways of being that are not necessarily our own. So that as we interact with others, we can build bridges to trust, respect, and understand each other across cultures.

What is the most beautiful cultural artefact you’ve seen, and why do you consider it so?

One of the artefacts I have seen that really amazed me is the Aladoko masquerade, a type of Egungun traditional masquerade common in the Owo and Ekiti areas of Yorubaland. The masquerade is dressed in a colourful outfit with a huge head to attract visitors. It’s indeed an incredible artefact.

You were recently celebrated as one of the top 5 travellers by the Travellers awards. What do you think brought you into the limelight, and what does the award mean to you?

Yes, I was happy, and it’s part of recognising the good works. But award or not, I’m doing so well, and my main focus is not on awards but on tangible achievements. I have been in the limelight for some time, so I try my best to always be at the top.

There are various avenues in which the country’s rich cultural heritage is being showcased. Some of them are cultural festivals, museums, carnivals, e.t.c. I’ll point out museums because they are the country’s safe house for our fast-forgotten cultural history. At the Jos Museum, one of the country’s oldest museums, you came across some of the oldest sculptures in the country’s history (popularly called Nok culture). Can you describe your experience and how it feels like seeing ancient relics firsthand?

We have many of them at museums showcased to the visitors as a way of educating people about our rich cultural heritage. We can find most of these cultural artefacts at museums and other cultural events. I saw a lot of wonders in Jos, especially at the Museum. The Nok culture was a wonderful experience for me because I got to see and learn about the history of the sculptures, which are purely from the Nok side of Kaduna.

Going through your works, one can deduce you love waterfalls. Is that true? If so, which waterfall appeals to you the most?

Of course, I love waterfalls, and I was even nicknamed “mammy water boy” by my mentor Pele Awofeso. It’s so funny, but I just love waterfalls naturally, and I love swimming at the waterfalls. I have been to 20 waterfalls in Nigeria, and Nigeria is blessed with many waterfalls. Currently, there are more than 50 waterfalls in the country. I love the Gurara waterfall the most, and the Agbokim waterfall too. In fact, I have about five waterfalls that I love the most.

Being awarded Young Tourism Personality of the year 2019 at the Nigeria Tourism Awards Night is no small feat. There would be certain times you encountered challenges and made difficult decisions. Can you give an example and how you sailed through?

I have been through many challenges in the tourism industry, even with my colleagues, but you know I’m energetic and innovative. I sailed through with self-encouragement and hard work.

You’ve travelled to 33 states already. That’s a really big tour. You must have witnessed the country’s rich cultural diversity, such as languages, dressing, food, etc. How would you describe the experience, and considering the divisiveness in the country, how can cultural tourism help combat ethnic differences?

It’s actually by God’s grace and thanks for his protection. Nigeria is a beautiful country that is blessed with beautiful natural attractions and accommodating people. I have seen and tested different kinds of food and witnessed different kinds of cultures and languages. I have spent my time travelling to the northern part of the country and other parts. I can speak Hausa fluently and others to an extent. We must embrace cultural tourism in Nigeria, which simply means embracing each other’s culture and ethnicity. No ethnicity or culture is supreme, and we should be united as one. If we could embrace everyone’s culture wholeheartedly, there wouldn’t be any issues with ethnic differences.

Your online bio stated, “you hope to do better in reshaping the ill-portrayal of Nigeria as an unsafe destination route for tourists”. How has this been so far?

That has been my major concern. Many foreigners, including Nigerians, tag Nigeria as an unsafe destination. That is why my Naija Explorers team and I have been travelling within Nigeria and encouraging people to travel irrespective of the security challenges. There is no country without insecurity challenges, but we should focus more on the bright side of Nigeria.  I’m so happy we have proven that by taking many people on tours within Nigeria, especially to Taraba State, and other far places in Nigeria. It means a lot to me. It has been so wonderful and worked well for my team and me.

What do you love doing aside from going on tours and promoting tourism?

Well, I love reading news articles and playing football. I also have other works I engage in. I don’t usually make tourism my main source of income all the time.

What’s your advice for enthusiasts or newbies who want to explore the country’s rich cultural heritage, and do you have any future plans for the continual promotion of tourism?

The best advice I’ll like to give is to be focused and develop a genuine passion for tourism. If you don’t have a passion for tourism, it will be difficult for you to excel in the industry. Also, don’t try to be in a competition with anyone. Today, a lot of people are competing with each other, and they are missing the bigger picture. Regarding the second question, I plan to make my brand one of Nigeria’s most reliable and trusted brands. Mostly by partnering with many companies to be the official tour company that can take them on official tours and retreats. I look forward to acquiring many buses to take people on tours nationwide and include technological options in my tourism activities.

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