“This is what we feed on, and now, we have no work to do as movements has been restricted,” a staff of tourism industry said.
There is no doubt that the travel industry has suffered a massive blow due to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping through Nigeria and other parts of the world. Hotels, airlines, and cruise operators are just a few of the hardest hit travel industries that suffer the most immediate repercussions.
As of 2018, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said the tourism sector accounted for 34 per cent of GDP and about 20 per cent of the nation’s employment creation in 2017. Thus, this means that the sector also has a significant impact on the country’s economy.
On March 18, the government announced it was restricting entry into the country for travellers from China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, the US, Norway, the UK, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Nigeria expanded its restrictions on March 21 announcing it will close its two main international airports in the cities of Lagos and Abuja from March 23 for one month.
These travel ban and restrictions have dealt a huge blow on travels and tours industry. The risk particularly applies to companies who already have financial problems. The situation is more optimistic for strong industry players. Some of them are taking different measures to secure their financial situation.
According to the country’s National Centre for Disease Control, “The Federal Government of Nigeria has also suspended the issuance of visa on arrival to travellers from these countries. All travellers returning from these countries prior to the restriction will be in supervised self-isolation, monitored by the NCDC and Port Health Services.“
Travel agencies are putting their best foot forward to ensure their customers are being satisfied during this period. The companies have to deal with thousands of calls from customers, who intend to either cancel their trips or are trying to book flights to get home, as well as those due to travel imminently or with trips planned for later in the year.
During a phone interview with a Travels and Tour company in Lagos, an employee, who does not want her name in print said the effect of the virus on the travel industry is ‘high’ and ‘tiring’.
She stressed that customers are constantly calling to request for refunds of their money and to change their travel plans. When asked what the travel industry is doing to manoeuvre the situation, she said:
“Airlines are doing their best to handle the situation by giving vouchers to customers that can be used for future travels. Customers can be rest assured that their next trip is partly covered.
“It is not like money isn’t coming in, so it is not possible to refund people. The same thing applies to hotels, tourist centers and others.
“Most of the tickets have been left open and some airlines’ cancellation policies don’t permit refunds.
“Some airlines have also been lenient by leaving tickets open for up to a year or giving vouchers, stating that they have a particular amount that can be used in the future because it isn’t the fault of the customers.
“No one knows when the disease will clear, so people don’t know when they will travel. Even local airports are beginning to shut down.
“These past few weeks have been tough because we have clients calling and some people do not want to understand as they continually ask for their money back. The disease is taking a toll on us but there is nothing that can be done.”
Another employee in the same industry described the effect of the disease as a ‘huge loss’.
In his words, “This is what we feed on, and now, we have no work to do as movements has been restricted.
“The packages booked by people going for honeymoon can’t be feasible and we are begging for hotels to give refunds but unfortunately, some have a no-refund policy. Some airlines have also stated that they do not give people money back.
“We come to work to receive calls from customers. Before, the calls are usually from people hoping to book flight, but now, people are either asking for refunds, to cancel their trips and leave their trip open and how long it will be valid.
“It has become a norm now due to travel restrictions.
“There is no measure being put in place to solve the situation. The travel industry is shutting down.
“I work at the International Air Transport Association, which is the governing body for airlines and those working in airline-related services and they have predicted that Nigeria will lose almost 109 billion Naira. This is because almost all agencies are shutting down while others have asked their staff to come three times in a week to cut cost.
“Staff are scared that their salary won’t come in due to the decrease in sales.
“Everyone is in limbo and this is not a good time to be in the travel industry.”
The events planning industry is also suffering from coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria. Social gatherings have been limited to 50 persons. (Lagos, 20)
Bars, lounges have also been asked to shut down but some have refused to adhere to the directive. At Oworoshoki area of Lagos, Bars were opened and ready for business but only few customers patronised.
Speaking with Seun Bankole, an event planner, the CEO of House of Wonders; she said;
“The disease has affected event planning because so many clients have requested to cancel their events which has already been slated between now and April because they are scared of people refusing to come due to the spread of the Covid-19 disease as well the fear of the government coming to bombarding the venues and halting the process.
“Only a few, who are religious have opted to stay put and stay positive that nothing will happen but this will also mean a reduction in the number of guests.
“I and some of my colleagues are praying and hoping the situation is contained so things can go back to normal. It is similar to the INEC election where people had to cancel their weddings for the election to hold.
“There is nothing people can do but the best that can be done is for the urgent events like christenings, birthdays to be held in small gatherings like in your home, living room I.e. a place that won’t call crowd in order not to flout government orders.”