The past couple of months of this certainly momentous year, 2020, have demonstrated the time-honed notion that nothing defines the human spirit as significantly as its capacity for resilience; that sturdy will to endure and overcome adversity, to seek out the faint but growing light at the end of the tunnel, and to reinvent the human experience.
It is no misplaced optimism to construe this juncture in the collective history of mankind as one of a world in steady strides towards recovery. It’s is a reality that has been fundamentally impacted and disrupted by an invisible adversary, the coronavirus; yet the lessons of these past months have not only shown how connected we are as people, despite our differences of geography and economic location. It has more so affirmed the need for a sense of community and collaboration to solve human problems.
The rise of hope and recovery have been bolstered by the exertions of scientists in finding a cure for the coronavirus, with the creation of a raft of vaccines in the various research centres of the world. Of these, two appear most promising, as they have already been considered as demonstrating 94 to 95 per cent success rates, after rigorous clinical and human trials. One of the vaccines is being produced through a partnership between the American pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, and the German biotechnology firm, BioNTech; and the other, by Moderna, an American biotech firm. Both vaccines, as said, could be ready to be administered to the public in a matter of weeks.
As such, the pervasive climate of fear that has come to characterise our experiences as humans at the start of this year is lifting in a sure-footed manner. Hence, as the world gradually heals and moves into a phase of recovery, this signposts a more broad-based healing and recovery for the global and national economies, and the possibility of humankind’s resumption of contact-based activities that are crucial to its survival. Even then, all the caution and lessons of how we have lived for close to a year are bound to stay with us for a while, as we persist in observing all the protocols of safety, in a world not yet free of the coronavirus. We have attained a durable hope, but it is still the early break of a new dawn.
The Nigerian economy has been under tremendous pressure from the dual concerns of the COVID-19 disruptions, which necessitated lockdowns that took huge tolls on economic activities and the fiscal standing of the country, and the bottoming out of oil prices in the international market. Therefore, a slew of analysts have offered prognosis including the deep contractions to the national economy, palpable reductions in the GDP, and the worst-case scenario of a slide back into recession.
National Economic Recovery
While the outlook on the economy gave rise to apprehensions in past months, with the weakening of global demand for oil, the loss of foreign exchange earnings, also compounded by the withering of global remittances to Nigeria from its various Diasporas, it has not been one relentless tale of woe. The federal government has been quite proactive in creating shock buffers for the economy through the Nigerian Economic Sustainability Plan.
This encapsulates a range of multi-sector stimulus packages that will, no doubt, drive recovery, particularly on the back of MSMEs, which are the engines of economic activity and growth. The ripple effects of this positive targeting holds out much hope for the hospitality and tourism industry that I am a crucial stakeholder in.
It was rather unfortunate that on the cusp of the death of oil, which was the decades-long commodity of national wealth and sustenance, tourism as a sector of vast growth, which contributed as much as $8.9 trillion to the world GDP, about 7 per cent of total world trade, and accounted for some 330 million jobs across board in more recent years, could become a shell of its former self and potentials.
With the disastrous impact of coronavirus, world tourism has eroded by close to 80 per cent, resulting in the loss of tens of millions of jobs globally, and almost $1.2 trillion in international visitors’ spending. This has portended an attrition of up to 2.8 per cent of the world’s GDP, which is projected to contract by 4.9 per cent this year.
In Nigeria, here was a sector generally estimated as being responsible for about 34 per cent of GDP and 20 per cent of jobs, and which has been under the serious threat of unravelling. Yet, as economic recovery is hitched up to science, there is further hope and conviction that the Economic Sustainability Plan of government is injecting life and reflating economic activity, whilst presently emplacing a durable safety net that is forestalling massive negative impact. This is geared towards a redoubtable spill over effect on the tourism sector.
Tourism as catalyst for economic recovery
In Nigeria’s operative medium-term fiscal strategy, the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), tourism is recognised as one of the ten priority areas of focus for national economic growth and development. This certainly holds sustained relevance in this period of economic recovery from the disruption occasioned by COVID-19, as was in the original outlook of the ERGP. In the plan, there is acknowledgement of the enormous commercial potentials of the natural environment, the Nigerian ecosystem, cultural and bio-diversities, coupled with the arts and crafts, which need to be enhanced for greater productivity.
Also, the identified possibilities of tourism feed directly into the capabilities of the creative industry, patronage of local agriculture alongside its expansive value chain, goods and services, which reinforce forward and backward linkages for a broader base of economic activities. Together with the extensive opportunities of business tourism, which directly impacts the hospitality and related sectors, this is seen as qualified to increase revenue, create jobs and earn the country foreign exchange. The ERGP definitely foretells of Nigeria’s rise to a tourist hub and destination in Africa, and an impressive financial entrepôt. This is the journey that has been resumed.
With over 7,000 tourist locations, part of which are acclaimed UNESCO heritage sites, and in consideration of previous activity in the sector, which saw to a large numbers of inbound and domestic tourists, at over 1.3 million visitors in 2015, on its rebound, tourism in Nigeria has the capacity for greater economic opportunities. Its large commercial prospects are evident in the range of activities on offer in hospitality and hotel business, tour operations, airport services, the marketing of consumables, etc. These are equally in sync with other frontiers of wealth creation in construction, and the building of infrastructure, which are bound to accelerate demand for telecoms and financial services, crafts, clothing, etc., that are immense industries in themselves.
Nigerian tourism is fundamentally bound to its creative industry, which has not only attained global and continental pre-eminence but also appeal, with the unique, prolific and highly sought after productions of music, film, the visual and plastic arts, and craft, etc. This is a billion-dollar industry that is primed to play a greater role in the country’s economic recovery, especially at this point in time when oil is no longer a product that creates or guarantees the wealth of nations. Tourism has all it takes to become the new oil for the Nigerian economy.
Tour Nigeria as a new economic frontline
The vast array and diversity of its people, cultures, and distinct cultural productions – whether in the arts or fashion, festivals, food, sports, or even in experiences of spirituality – testify to the uniqueness of Nigeria. More so, the country exhibits the material and mental treasures of the largest concentration of black people in the world. Hence, it is a significant destination for international and domestic leisure, religious engagement, commerce, etc.
As a programme of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) that I lead, Tour Nigeria draws attention to the need to witness all that makes the country tick and stand out. Nigeria stands out, not only in terms of the uniqueness of its natural environment and sights, but also the vibrancy and continuous innovation around our music, films and other cultural productions. It is about the very peculiar form of energy that drives our business and leisure. For instance, when the poet, Odia Ofeimun, talks about how the people of Nigeria are Lagosed to great extents, he was referring to a vibe, a dynamism, an energy, an essence, a spirit that needs to be witnessed to be felt; and connected to. One certainly needs to tour Nigeria to understand this peculiar transformation of a name into a form of energy and spirit.
Nigeria is a kaleidoscope of experiences that requires pilgrims and partakers, and calls to witnessing, to touring much of what defines it. It is basically a call to physical immersion, but still in a world that is gradually untangling from the ravages of COVID-19, it is as much a call to a digital experience of the Nigerian tour, with a number of products being created around this, inspired by virtual concerts and events, business conferencing, etc.
Tour Nigeria is a robust feast of the sensorium. Its range straddles world-renowned sites such as the Ogba Ukwu Cave/Waterfalls and the Ogbunike Cave in Anambra State, to the Kano City Wall, the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Groove in Osun State, among others. Also, with Nigeria being home to great international brands and personalities, like the inimitable Fela Anikulapo, the late originator of the Afrobeat sound, and his spectacular successors, this calls to the witnessing of matchless experiences, like that which drew the French president, Emmanuel Macron to the Afrika Shrine in Ikeja, Lagos in July 2018. And, equally, the yearly star-studded pilgrims to the Felabration celebrations.
There are a host of such experiences that invite for communion, besides tours to natural treasures, from the splendour of the Lagos Fashion Week, to the amazing performances of the annual Calabar Carnival, the AKÉ Book Festival in Abeokuta/Lagos – inspired by the legacy of the first Black Nobel Laureate in Literature, Wole Soyinka; and cultural events like the Argungu Fishing Festival, the Ofala and Igbo Ukwu New Yam festivals, etc. It was in recognition of the need to bring together the great heritage of Nigerian musical expression for wider experience that I had helped in creating what has how now become the One Lagos Fiesta in 2015.
While the digital train moves on and the tourism response is being built into this newer economy, with the creation of novel products, still the gradual and sure-footed recovery that will enable contact-based activities – including physical tourist immersions – become less hazardous, will augur well for the human experience, and ensure swifter economic recovery. This is the hope we are on the verge of at this historical juncture, and Tour Nigeria is a big part of its realisation. It is equally hope that signposts the rebound of tourism to leapfrogging its year-on-year growth and revenue increase, and account for a more sizeable chunk of the national GDP, going north of its prior 34 per cent stake, pre-COVID-19, in a Nigeria urgently seeking substitution of the progressively precarious oil income.
This is a recovery that is hitched to the over $600 million annual income of the local film industry, Nollywood; the close to $100 million yearly revenue of the music industry, and a fashion industry that is gaining increasing foothold in and a share of the $1 trillion yearly global revenue, among other platforms of leverage. And, as the new regime of granting visas for tourist digitally and on arrival continues to encourage visits, the goal is also to drive the growth of domestic tourism and in-country spending, in a way that expands jobs and other economic opportunities.
With all the diversity on offer, wouldn’t we rather Tour Nigeria?
Folorunsho Coker is Director-General, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC)