For many years, middle class and rich families in Nigeria have made it a ritual to spend the months of June to September overseas on summer vacation, particularly in Europe or America and more recently Middle East and Asia, precisely Dubai.
During this period, if you are around the major international airports in Nigeria, the rush to leave the country will make an unsuspecting observer feel there is impending crisis or even war. At the end of the summer vacation period, it will appear as if there is competition amongst families who will come back home with more suitcases.
As holiday makers travel out of the country, scarce foreign exchange leaves with them. The opportunity cost tells on our dwindling infrastructure, under-developed domestic tourism, taking a big toll on the economy ,and our jobs developing wings and flying away.
Because middle and high income families are majorly the leadership class, nobody really cares about copying and pasting those things that makes other places attractive, even when that does not require rigorous mental work.
As the families leave the country in droves, these other countries gain in every sense because of the tourism value chain effect. The destination cities grow richer, jobs are multiplied , and infrastructure is developed to keep pace with increased demand. The countries we go for vacation earn so much from foreign tourists for which Nigerians constitute a significant proportion.
In 2018 alone, statistics from United Nations World Tourism Organization showed that the US earned $215bn from foreign tourists; two other popular destinations for Nigerians, Spain earned $81.5bn and France earned $65.5bn.
Dubai as a city earned $30.82bn from tourism in that year. These countries are also spending on marketing to attract the world, including those of us from more endowed but less fortunate countries, to sustain or improve on the number of tourists visiting their countries because of its overall impact on their economy.
With Social media, marketing becomes easier, cheaper and much more effective. These countries advertise things you may consider trivial like food varieties, dance, holiday sites , beaches, casino gaming and benefits of a particular location for health even when there is no empirical proof.
A non-profit organization, World Travel and Tourism Council estimated the contribution of international tourism industry to global economy at $8.8tn in 2018 and it is responsible for 10 percent of all economic activities and 319mn jobs around the world. Without doubt, Nigeria earns little or nothing from this share of global tourism industry rather we are among the big spenders officially and unofficially.
The question is: has anyone ever bothered why are Nigerians are obsessed with summer vacation abroad or properly put in context, foreign travel? The reasons are everywhere to see yet nobody does anything about them .
Conversely the key attractions to Western tourism destinations for Nigerians are shopping, healthcare, religious activities, and leisure sites generally. But from insecurity, lack of infrastructure, underdevelopment of our own potential tourism attractions, poor or no health care facilities, to our ailing local manufacturing, social reasons, adventure and simply western indoctrination, these critical components that should have made our country the ideal destination remain ignored.
Faced with Covid 19, all the mad rush to go for summer vacations abroad will temporarily be put on hold. Nigerians will be forced to enjoy summer holidays in the country. This will be the same for citizens of most other countries.
Unfortunately, neither Nigerians nor our domestic tourism industry seems prepared for this. For a start, when the airspace is opened, the COVID-19 scare will limit the travel boom and cause families to avoid travels in aircraft, trains and cruise ships for risk of contracting the virus. At best, you can expect a boom in passenger movement within the first few weeks only because people who were locked down away from home will be rushing to return back.
But things may take a U-turn after this rush. Then you have the insecurity plaguing the Northern part of the country and rising tension in many areas across the country coupled with the spending power of families being at its lowest level. All these contribute to the already volatile situation .
Confronted with this existential and practical reality of COVID-19 and its attendant visa restriction, travel ban, boarder closure plus drastic drop in income, it is time we reflected on important issues about this concept of summer vacation and rethink it.
By Dakuku Peterside