The optimism that bounded in with the unfolding of 2021 has gradually seen the dark pall of the coronavirus and its associated disease – COVID-19 – start to lift in Nigeria, as in great swathes of the world, with the advent and intensification of vaccination programmes to roll back the morbidity. This speaks to the resurgence of hope for a world almost out of joint in the past two years. And, this is hope hitched to the safe rebounding of contact-based activities, as the world gradually moves towards the resumption of demand, economic recovery and then growth. Importantly, as identified by numerous stakeholders, this is growth that needs to be inclusive and doesn’t leave many, who have been negatively impacted, behind.
Tourism has been rightly identified as one of the prime catalysts of growth in a resurgent global economy, from the developed to the developing world. While its potentials are being re-harnessed to give fillip to the re-creation of jobs and livelihoods, there is need for greater sensitivity to marginalised groups and the vulnerable, who have been hit the hardest by the deleterious impact of COVID-19. In Nigeria, these include women, artisans, people in local communities, and rural areas, among others, who have traditionally depended on tourism as their economic lifelines, alongside those caught up in jobs across its huge value chain.
The salience of the situation, as reflected in the theme of the current World Tourism Day 2021 on Tourism for Inclusive Growth is well articulated by the primary global agency giving direction to issues of tourism, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), which describes the “World Tourism Day 2021…(as)…a day to focus on Tourism for Inclusive Growth.” To UNWTO, “This is an opportunity to look beyond tourism statistics and acknowledge that, behind every number, there is a person.” As such, “UNWTO invites its Member States, as well as non-members, sister UN agencies, businesses and individuals to celebrate tourism’s unique ability to ensure that nobody is left behind as the world begins to open up again and look to the future.”
No doubt, in almost two years past, the negative impact of the coronavirus led to major downturns in economic activities across the world, correlated by a huge reduction and weakening of demand in the tourism, travel, hospitality and related industries, as lockdowns were imposed by governments, and a general climate of fear took over, engendering a vast human recoil that greatly affected the economies of nations and the sector.
Prior to the onslaught of the coronavirus and the unfortunate disruptions it has occasioned, tourism was a trillion dollar industry accounting for some 7 per cent of world trade, over 300 million jobs globally, and more than $8.9 trillion of the world’s total GDP, across the different strata of the sector, as recently as 2018. Taking as a composite of affiliated industries, tourism in Nigeria then constituted as much as 20 per cent of jobs and 30 per cent of the GDP, according to some estimates.
Subsequently, the value of global tourism – in tandem with that of its huge value chain, including hospitality, aviation, multi-nodal forms of transportation, etc. – eroded by close to 80 per cent, with a massive drop in demand, signalling the loss of about $2 trillion in international visitors spending, together with millions of jobs, and the contraction of the world’s GDP by close to 5 per cent. The aviation industry alone incurred a huge loss of about $314 billion in 2020, from its height of revenues in excess of $600 billion in the seasons before this.
Yet, as recovery steadily strides in to stem the disruption of COVID-19, enhanced by the pushback against the virus as a result of national vaccination programmes and the emplacement of other non-pharmaceutical protocols of control, the forecasts of growth in the tourism sector is certainly on the upswing. In Nigeria, the bounce back that’s refocusing the country as a domestic and international tourist destination, signposts inflows that are estimated to rise up to N1.56 trillion by 2025, indicating a significant upward tick to the N962.7 billion inflows recorded back in 2015.
With the Federal Government of Nigeria’s revitalised economic programme, positioned towards large scale inclusive growth, following a new focus on non-oil exports, growing the local economy in a manner that enhances robust safety nets for the vulnerable, and seeking alternative means of income generation, tourism has been targeted as one of the sectors of renewed interest. This is articulated in envisioning fiscal plans like the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, and alluded to in the Economic Sustainability Plan, laying out mandates to lift over 100 million people out of extreme poverty, so that – ultimately – no one is left behind to chronic want and despair.
The development of tourism as a crucial flank of national economic recovery is an obligation that we take very seriously at the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), which I lead. As such, we are leveraging much of the country’s tourist assets to become virile and sustainable sources of livelihoods for many, beyond those in more accessible urban centres to – more importantly – rural areas and communities. There, jobs and incomes are essential sources of empowerment for women, youths, artisans, and others located outside the matrices of the formal economy.
Our programme of stimulating demand for domestic and inbound tourism since 2017, described as Tour Nigeria, was designed within the purview of the enormous potentials of local tourism as a vital economic frontier. This was in consideration of its huge capability to expand activities and preoccupations at the level of communities towards massive ripple effects on the national economy. It was not only to grow the naira, which had come under pressure, but also to enable people look inward and consume more of their country.
Besides this was the huge necessity of driving human traffic in the direction of Nigeria’s trove of renowned heritage sites, which include the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Groove in Osun State, the Ogba Ukwu Cave/Waterfalls and the Ogbunike Cave in Anambra State, the Kano City Wall, among a plethora of others. And, also of creating opportunities for the exhibition of the beauties of the Nigerian world, from our food to music and arts, through festivals such as the Kano Durbar, the Iri ji Yam Festival in Anambra State, the Ogidi Ijumu Festival in Kogi State, etc. These are part of a range of activities that Tour Nigeria has been enabling since inception.
Tourism is, no doubt, the quintessential vehicle of inclusion, whether in terms of promoting economic or cultural inclusion, drawing those who would ordinarily be left behind to experience renewable patronage of the diverse products and skills they have to offer. This has been in ways that re-energise local economies, motivate rural development in Nigeria, and enhance some of the loft purposes enshrined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
More so, quite fundamental to situations such as ours in Nigeria, it equally opens reality to many who are educated out of their time-held – though unfortunate – stereotypes about other peoples, ways-of-life and traditions, towards a more enduring understanding and sensitivity to our delightful diversity.
–Folorunsho Coker is the Director-General of the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC).