Nigeria and Roadmap to Restart Tourism

Gradually, year 2021 is almost half way gone, but for practitioners in the Nigerian travel and tourism industry, the year has not yet started. The long night that started in in February 2020 when a hitherto strange disease earlier reported to be ravaging China, turned into a global monster that swept through the world, leaving behind sorrow, social dislocation and poverty. The most affected was the whole gamut of the travel and tourism industry that came to a halt.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused major disruption in the tourism and travel industry in a way the world has never experienced nor seen.

Millions of jobs disappeared, and with it, millions of sources of people’s livelihoods.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the pandemic left many people in Africa and other parts of the world at risk of starvation due to their inability to generate income. The agency said: “Our Member States are witnessing disruptions in business continuity, closures and revenue losses. According to UNWTO’s estimates, one billion fewer international tourists traveled globally in 2020, and Africa recorded a 75 per cent fall in international tourist numbers.” Tourism within one year regressed by 30 years.

At the global level, the havoc caused by the COVID-19 on tourism business is massive. There is a consensus the world over that the 2020 was the worst year in the history of tourism business. According to the latest data from the UNWTO, global tourism international arrivals dropped by 74 per cent. Destinations worldwide welcomed 1 billion fewer international arrivals in 2020 than in the previous year, due to an unprecedented fall in demand and widespread travel restrictions. This compares with the four per cent decline recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis.

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And in terms of revenue, the collapse in international travel represents an estimated loss of $1.3 trillion in export revenues – more than 11 times the loss recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis. The crisis has put between 100 and 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk, many of them in small and medium-sized enterprises.

A large chunk of tourism income in Nigeria is derived from MICE-Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibition. Cities like Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt lead in attractive major events from corporate organisations and international bodies. This translates into huge occupancy rate figures for many hospitality outfits in these cities. These incomes by the hotels still circulate within the economy through the tourism value chain. However, most hotels are currently struggling with low occupancy rate. They can barely keep their hotels afloat. In some extreme cases, some have folded due to lack of patronage. This is as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions put in place locally, and by virtually all the countries of the world.

Eko Hotel, Lagos for example, with accommodation facilities, conference and exhibition halls has always been a one-stop hospitality outfit for major activities all year round. For many months, it was a ghost complex due to in-activities. The hotel’s loss in the last one year runs into billions. The same applies to many hospitality outfits in the country.

Calabar, Cross River States has carved a niche for itself as the tourism capital of Nigeria due to the annual festival which climaxes with the Carnival Calabar on December 27. It is safe to say that current Calabar is built on tourism economy. The amount of money these tourism activities inject directly into the economy of the cities is massive. It is unsurprising that most of the development the city has seen for some time now is tied to tourism.

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Last year, as a result of the pandemic, the festival, including Carnival Calabar, was cancelled due to the pandemic. The level of loss of revenue can best be imagined. Many in the city generate their annual income within the one month of festival. The effect of cancelling the festival on their income is devastating.
The same scenario is seen in Osogbo, Osun state, home of Osun Osogbo festival. For the first time last6 year, the festival organizing committee restricted attendance. Thousands that generate income from direct services provided during the festival were impoverished due to loss of revenue.

The durbar spectacle, a major cultural events that attract local and inbound tourists during Muslim festivals, were also suspended as a result of the pandemic.
For those in religious tourism like Ikotun in Lagos were the headquarters of Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) is located, it is the same tales of woes as the pilgrims traffic has fizzled out.

From all these, it is very clear that even that though tourism is till at the developmental stage in the country, it contributes massively to the economy. Millions of Nigerians either directly or indirectly earn income from tourism and when tourism is hit negatively, it inflicts untold hardship on many.

Now with the gradually easing of restrictions and business in the tourism industry is returning, practitioners in the public and private sector needs to initiate plans towards rebuilding the industry in the country. There should be active discussions and a roadmap put in place measures that would help the industry recover as quickly as possible.

Lucky George, a tourism consultant and publisher, said many industry practitioners are finding it difficult to restart tourism business due to the level impoverishment the found themselves as a result of the pandemic: “ Like you know, restarting tourism is not an easy task. Most of the hotels, event centres, restaurants are not having it easy. People don’t travel as they used to do. There are very expensive now and also people don’t travel because of limited resources available to the average Nigeria. So, tourism is being affected from that perspective.

“However, the sector needs financial injection. That means government has to assist practitioners-assist the hoteliers, restaurant operators, travel agents, tour operators and all that, by providing them with finances that they need to restart. Most of them have laid off workers because they could not keep workers who are not working. So, you need some incentives as kind of a buffer. Unfortunately we don’t have access to that in this part of the world.

“I6t is critical that government has a role here. That is why many are complaining that there is no co-ordination both at the national and state levels.
“You can imagine a state like Cross River State, we should have been reading in the media that the

State government has made so, so and so billion naira available for hoteliers, travel agents, tour operators and of course restaurant operators in Calabar because overtime, they rely on traffic coming in from outside the state-those who stay in the hotels, those who come for conferences, seminars, or even just meetings. All these inflow of traffic has stopped. So, how do you expect the owners of these businesses to keep them running now that the lockdown has been eased? How do you expect them to prepare their businesses to return back to normalcy? So, they need money. That why many of us are crying that the Nigerian government at the federal and state levels, have not done anything done tourism industry.

“In other parts of Africa, I am not saying other parts of the world, I mean countries like Ghana, Senegal, South Africa and Kenya; you see the national tourism agencies coming together, meeting with the tourism practitioners, asking them how they would want to be helped. All these things are not being done here in Nigeria because there is no coordination; there are no institutional structures to support the private sector.”

On what would the role of the state in the drive to restart tourism, George said: “Here in Nigeria, we have this wrong approach that tourism is private sector driven. That is not true. In the United States, one of the most developed country on earth, they have two public agencies that are promoting tourism. They have Travel USA , the one to market destinations and attractions in America that is being funded by government. They also have Brand USA, another agency of government established to market America to the rest of the world. Immediately the restrictions end you will see them approaching the U.S. National Assembly and telling them what the private sector needs to reopen their businesses and fund will be made available. So, if the practitioners in most sophisticated economy in the world can be supported to open their businesses, how much more of practitioners in a relatively modest economy like Nigeria’s economy?

That is the challenge.
“So, we must take that into consideration. The tourism industry in Nigeria is still at infant level and therefore need support. So, basically, there is however, no coordination.”

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Father of Nigerian Tourism, Chief Mike Amachree also added his voice to the call for the government to create and initiate efforts to rebuild the Nigerian tourism industry: “It is important that the Nigerian government through the tourism parastatal initiate discussions with the private sector and map out plans on how to rebuild the Nigerian. If not the loss in the last one year would push the industry backward by so many years.”

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