By Daniel Kanu
Before the COVID-19 outbreak in December 2019, the tourism/hospitality sector played a very significant role in Nigeria’s economy.
Unarguably, the capacity of tourism to stimulate economies by creating employment, attracting foreign investment, earning foreign currency, and adding value nationally, regionally, and locally is well known.
For instance, between 2000 and 2019, reports had it that tourism grew at an average of 13.69 per cent, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) figures.
It hit an all high 5.1 per cent contribution to the Gross Domestic Product in 2019, starting at $2.9 billion at the turn of the century, and recording $20.4 billion in 2019.
Tourism generated 20 per cent of all employment in Nigeria in 2017, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
The global hospitality business, it was reported, lost $4.5 trillion as the pandemic locked down domestic and international travels.
No country escaped the harsh reality despite efforts made to cushion the effect, but the difference was in the degree of diverse strategies/responses applied by countries to address it through palliatives.
The gloomy report staring Nigerians in the face today is that the travel and tourism industry had shed nearly 800,000 jobs in 2020 due mainly to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. This no doubt has a huge impact on the country’s overall unemployment picture.
To be précise, in a submission presented through the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), the World Travel and Tourism Council said that the deadly disease cost 770,000 jobs in Nigeria’s economy.
Of course, in a country where the unemployment rate as we have it hovers around 33.3 per cent and underemployment at 22.8 per cent, this poses a brutally painful reality for the country’s impoverished masses.
The Managing Director, Elbee tourist Agency, Dr Anabel Edwin, told Sunday Sun that the tourism sector was shattered by the upsurge of the COVID-19 pandemic, dragging down not only Nigeria’s economy, but also the global economy.
She said that loads of Nigerians in their thousands lost their jobs and experienced excruciating pains in their inability to take care of their families.
“The year 2020 was tragic and for the tourism and hospitality industry, it was more of a killer because most families were living-dead as they lost their jobs due to low or no patronage in some cases. Many died out of frustration even before the epidemic could get to their environment.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has dragged down Nigeria’s economy and that of the global economy. The global hospitality business lost $4.5 trillion as the pandemic locked down domestic and international travels.
“It is the ingenuity of leadership that now makes the difference in different countries. As I speak most countries are still struggling with their economy and our country (Nigeria) is not an exception.
“Reviving the sector should be uppermost for the government at all levels, federal, state, and local governments,” she said.
Chief Elem Ndem, a tourism enthusiast, also said that 2020 was a sad and nightmarish year globally for the tourism/hospitality industries as a result of the pandemic.
“I am not saying we are out of the nightmare this year (2021), but things seem to be relaxing and I pray we will not be inundated with another COVID-19 wave’’ Ndem, who is also an art collector, noted.
He said that ordinarily, Nigerians flock back home annually during the festive periods, just as other nationals find their way to the county for relaxation.
Such influx, he said “brings in cash (money) into the country which directly and indirectly lubricates the economy, while creating employment opportunities for the teeming youth population joining the unemployment queue.”
But in 2020, according to him, “that largely went out of the window, as travel became severely restricted across the globe with varied durations on lockdown applied by different countries.
“The world economy is slowly, but gradually recovering, but the travel outlook is not likely to fare significantly better in 2021.”
Recall also that internal and international religious tourism at some points during the years has been a windfall to the sector, but the COVID-19 epidemic substantially prevented it with the lockdown.
Coordinator, Tourism Travel, Ms. Kate Anyalie said that COVID-19 dealt a deadly blow on the tourism/hospitality industry globally, but hopes that the sector will bounce back.
She disclosed that the best year for the industry was in 2014 when the sector generated $25.9 billion, adding that there is light in the tunnel as the sector is picking up again, in view of all the protocols being observed, including vaccination.
According to her, “although the pandemic has drastically affected the sector and has dragged down the global economy, tourism/hospitality currently provides 330 million jobs, and this is projected to rise to 440 million jobs worldwide by 2030.
“But, in reviving tourism, Nigerian leadership must find a lasting solution to the security challenge in the land because it is adversely affecting tourism as people are afraid to visit tourist centres even when COVID-compliant for fear of banditry, kidnappings, and incessant killings in the land.
“That apart, tourism is also hampered by Nigeria’s woeful infrastructure deficit. Highways are mostly shabby, hindering travel”.
Periodically, foreign embassies, for instance, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union issue travel alerts to their nationals against travelling to Nigeria because of insecurity.
“This is worsened by the latest report by the Global Terrorism Index that Nigeria is now reckoned as the third most terrorised country in the world after Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Tourism analysts agree that there is an urgent need for the government to rise to the challenge of insecurity if the sector will experience another boom after the COVID-19 blues.
Going by the World Bank estimate, Nigeria needs to spend $10 billion annually for the next 30 years to seriously bridge the deficit. On a scale of 1.0 to 7.0, the World Economic Forum ranks tourism in Nigeria at 2.8 per cent, or 129th in the world on its Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index.
Despite the frightening index, experts say there is hope if the government will do the needful.
This is because Nigeria has a rich diversity in culture with each state having loaded historical antecedents to fall back on if sincere with its development.
Also, experts claim that there are more than 7,000 tourist sites across the country and if well managed, will provide the considerable driver of tourism.
The famous sites include the Yankari Game Reserve, Oguta Lake Resort, the Long Juju of Arochukwu cave, the Olumo Rock, the Argungu Fishing Festival, the Osun Osogbo Festival, and the Obudu Mountain Resort. In Badagry, Lagos, there are attractive tourist sites, including the Slave Trade Museum and Black Heritage facilities, etc.
Dr. Ossai Ossai, a lecturer at the Ebonyi State University, told Sunday Sun that to revive the hospitality industry, the security situation must be improved.
He said: “Open cattle herding, a major source of insecurity, must be revisited and should not be encouraged”.
The activist asked the Nigerian authorities to take a cue from Tunisia, a major tourist destination.
According to him, “the North African country suffered a terrible blow from terrorist attacks in 2015.
“But through the implementation of tough and robust security strategies, the country has rebounded as in 2019; the sector was the second-largest employer of labour, behind agriculture with 400,000 jobs”.