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.