Since it broke out in China more than a year ago, the deadly Coronavirus pandemic has hit every aspect of life, halting progress in every human endeavour.
Total lockdowns, social distancing, wearing of facemasks and other measures taken to mitigate its spread have impacted negatively on all sectors of global economy with some suffering devastating blows.
Tourism, a gold mine that rakes in billions of dollars annually, appears worst hit as international travels were banned while social gatherings and non-essential activities were grounded in most countries of the world.
In Nigeria, the sector suffered a huge blow as all tourist sites were shut down.
Worried by that negative impact and dwindling fortunes, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) recently organised a stakeholders’ forum in Jos to brainstorm on ways to recover from the impact of the menace.
Mr John-Likita Best, managing consultant, Tourism Ideas Promotion Services, painted a scary picture of the situation when he disclosed that 120 million jobs were at risk globally, due to the negative impact of COVID-19.
Quoting United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO) report, he said that N1.2 trillion dollars was being lost globally because of the pandemic.
The director general of NTDC, Mr Folorunsho Coker, said NTDC is aware of the far-reaching impacts of the virus on tourism and hospitality, hence the initiative to put together the stakeholders forum.
He said, “Its negative impacts are correspondingly reflected in the loss of revenues, employment and livelihoods at varying degrees for our stakeholders.
“I extol your steadfast commitment to the growth of the sector even in the face of huge economic and social challenges occasioned by the impacts of the devastating virus. We must sustain that resilience.”
He suggested that Nigeria must consider innovative recovery solutions that were home grown and practically tailored for its specific environment and people.
“The solutions should offer healing for the people, healing for prosperity and healing for destinations, he said.
“The brand identifies, explores, exposes, enhances and promotes creative assets across the country, using sustainable approaches.
“We believe that an entrepreneurial mindset to tourism business brings a fresh innovative perspective to tourism governance,” he said.
As part of the initiative toward reviving the sector, Cooker said that the NTDC was developing some key sites to make them national treasures.
One of such sites, he said, is the Kurra Falls located in Barkin Ladi local government of Plateau state.
“The falls has been captured in the 2021 budget,” he told the excited stakeholders.
Coker advocated a review of tourism laws in the country so as to ease its development.
“The laws in use are obsolete and unable to drive the sector as required.
“We need a legal framework that is 2021 compliant with best global practices for the industry to fully takeoff and thrive.
“We have laws that are very old; for example, there is a difference between a 30-year-old Mercedes car and a brand new Mercedes. The old laws need to be reviewed and other ones enacted.
“Look at Dubai for instance; it has made new laws that now allows a man and woman that are not married to share a room and take alcohol.
“They are changing their religion-based laws because of their desire to promote tourism,” he explained.
Gov Simon Lalong of Plateau lauded the NTDC initiative to brainstorm and devise ways to help cushion the impact of COVID-19 on the sector, pointing out that Plateau was blessed with abundant tourism potential waiting to be harnessed.
He urged the NTDC to consider developing other tourist sites when it completes making Kurra Falls a national treasure.
He told the NTDC boss that Kurra Falls was where the first hydro power plant in Nigeria, if not in Africa, was sited.
Lalong however jregretted that lack of attention had thwarted the dream of making the plant a major electricity generating outfit and, of course, a tourist’s delight.
The governor stated that the board and management of the Hydro Electric Power Producing Areas Development Commission (HYPADEC) had recently visited Kurra Falls to consider ways of reviving the plant.
“If that is achieved, the best place for tourism to thrive will be the Kurra Falls.
“Your coming is timely; when you finish with Kurra Falls, I will invite you to come back and take another site because we have many of them,” he said.
Mrs Tamwakat Weli, Plateau commissioner for tourism, culture and hospitality, said that the interaction was vital and critical to the tourism sector development, not only in Nigeria, but the world over.
“The choice of this theme: ‘The Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Tourism and Hospitality Industry in Nigeria and the Way Forward’ is very apt as the industry is the worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is an obvious fact that since the emergence of the pandemic, there have been international, national and state restrictions on travels and movements of people.
“Equally, there were series of lockdowns which led to massive cancellations of tourism and hospitality services at destinations across the globe.
“This unfortunate development led to unprecedented huge financial losses, folding up of many corporate tourism businesses and job losses for tourism/hospitality industry workers,” she said.