Will tourism survive the COVID-19 scourge?

By: Francis Doku
Minister for Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, Barbara Oteng Gyasi
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IT has always been said that tourism is very resilient and that even when disaster in any form hits a destination, it doesn’t take long for the destination to bounce back and churn out numbers close to or even more than the previous numbers.

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Examples have been provided of how destinations hit by terrorism attacks, strange epidemics and even natural disasters like the tsunami have been able to bounce back within a short period of time of going through such issues and have been able to show positive tourism arrivals and receipts after just a very short time.

However, as everyone in the tourism value chain has acknowledged over the period, the novel coronavirus has been blistering through the world and taking along with it the hopes of any survival for tourism destinations and sites that have been devastated.

Late last year, I toured Europe and made it to some of the biggest tourists’ attraction sites in the world.

While visiting Italy, I made it to Venice, Rome, Milan, Florence and Pisa, places where millions troop to every year to see monuments and many other important relics from the ancient, medieval and renaissance periods.

Venice is where people go to see the tomb that purportedly houses the body of the Apostle Mark and to ride in gondolas on the canals that define the city, Rome is the centre of Roman civilisation with thousands to see besides the Vatican City and its many monuments, frescoes and secrets.

Milan is the fashion capital of the world and home of the many monuments including the Leonardo da Vinci statue, Florence is the home of the Medicis and some of the greatest sculptors and artists of repute from the past and Pisa gets a million tourists every year from just the leaning tower by the Duomo or temple in that city.

Now, all those places would not have the visitors they have been having for thousands of years and if you consider that some citizens in some of these places had been protesting that too many tourists have been vising their cities, this is very ironic. Tragic irony, if I may say so.

However, it is not just Italy or Europe that is and would bear the brunt of the devastation that the coronavirus is visiting on what were hitherto vibrant tourism destinations, as all over the world iconic and popular destinations have been reeling under the weight of the disease and its effects.

The millions of tourists who travel many miles to the thousands of tourism destinations across the world to see and experience places like Dubai, Punta Cana, Cape Town, Jamaica, Maldives, Santorini, Monaco, Paris, London, Delhi, Macao and Singapore have no choice than to wait till this storm is over.

As you know, many countries have been introducing lockdowns in many forms as one of the tools to curb the spread of the coronavirus infections.

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, Barbara Oteng Gyasi

Last week Thursday, South Africa went under total lockdown and before that their tourism marketing company, South African Tourism released a video that looked forward to how tourism would thrive again after all this is over. It was a very well done video that gave hope for the future.

Ghana will be in the fifth day of a partial lockdown in Accra, Kumasi and Tema today, April 3,2020 and thus far many citizens in these places have either got used to the situation or getting used to the fact that they cannot freely move about or go to places they used to visit a lot.

The question is, is there any hope for things to come? Will this ever end and even if it does, will we be here to experience the new world as it would become?

Would tourism take its rightful place as the industry to rely on for leisure, business and revenue generation?

I host a tourism show on 3FM on Sunday called Travel Pass and over the past weeks I have been assessing the effect of the coronavirus on the Ghanaian tourism industry even before the lockdown and the response from everybody directly or remotely related to the industry paints a grim picture.

Last week the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, Barbara Oteng Gyasi said based on preliminary data collected, the tourism industry was set to lose $171 million in five months that the ministry had estimated the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the tourism industry to last.

“From the information that I have from the Ghana Tourism Authority, the initial assessment that has been done indicates that the industry is going to have a downtime of close to about five months, which is going to result in revenue losses of about $130 million for the formal sector and about $41 million for the informal sector,” the minister noted.

Akwasi Agyeman, CEO of the Ghana Tourism Authority

On my show last Sunday, I asked the CEO of the Ghana Tourism Authority, Akwasi Agyeman what his assessment of the damage to the industry eventually would be and his response was that it is difficult to make such an assessment on a disaster whose end is not in sight. That is very bleak, to say the least.

Many, if not all tour sites have closed down, hotels are not getting visitors anymore and advanced bookings have either been cancelled or abandoned, restaurants are not operating anymore and night clubs and such other hangouts were closing down even before the announcement of a lockdown by the President.

The entire industry is devastated and need some help to survive, should this scourge end at some point.

For instance, the Ghana Hotels Association has appealed to government and other allied bodies like the Association of Ghana Industry to come to their members’ aid with varied degrees of support.

The President, in his address to announce a lockdown last Friday mentioned a GHS1billion stimulus package to be introduced in Parliament by the Executive arm to support some industries and the tourism industry was included.

Some of these reliefs to business include “the granting by the banks of a six -month moratorium of principal repayments to entities in the airline and hospitality industries, that is hotels, restaurants, car rentals, food vendors, taxis, and uber operators.”

Hopefully these and the other business support packages that total the GHS1billion as introduced to Parliament by the Finance Minister last Monday would be able to prop up the industry to a fair extent, we all hope.

As previously noted, globally every destination is facing obliteration. Many airlines have stopped operating, countries have closed borders and local tourists’ sites have closed to the public.

Every government across the world is trying to heal their sick, curtail the spread of the virus, give hope to their citizens and practically heal their devastated countries.

I am sure when all this is over we shall all begin to consider travelling and experiencing those great destinations and sites again.

For now, let’s all stay home if we are not part of those exempt from restrictions so we can all help to stop the spread and totally kick out coronavirus.