Lai Mohammed, Minister for Information and Culture

The Federal Government has urged African leaders to focus on rural and intra-African tourism in speeding up the recovery process in the creative industry post-Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed recommended on Monday at the 63rd Virtual Meeting of the UNWTO-Commission for Africa (CAF)

In his remarks at the virtual meeting of the African Ministers of Culture and Tourism, the minister said rural tourism is key in creating employment, particularly for youths and women.

“For us in Africa, after the pandemic, focusing on rural tourism will help speed up the recovery process in the Travel and Tourism Sector.

‘This is because rural tourism employs more people in Africa, and here, I am talking about arts, crafts, culture and heritage.

“It is however imperative for the UNWTO to support Africa with a ‘Marshall Plan’ of sorts, in terms of technical assistance, capacity building and grants,” he said.

Mohammed noted that the travel and tourism sector is a driver of growth and economic prosperity, accounting for one in every ten jobs globally.

He said the employment opportunities provided by the sector benefitted a wide variety of people, especially the low-skilled, the youth and women.

The minister, however, regretted that the sector is the most severely impacted by the pandemic, and it is hurting at both national and international levels.

He, therefore, underscored the need to develop and implement defined plans and protocols that are country-specific to effectively manage as well as mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the sector.

Mohammed said Nigeria has put measures in place to aid the recovery of the travel and tourism, and indeed the entire creative industry.

“As Nigeria gradually opens up, just like the rest of the world, with domestic flights due to begin around the end of June and hotels and restaurants coming back to business, new protocols are being put in place for the safety and security of all.

“They include training of personnel on security and safety measures, infection control, adherence to government protocols, enhanced hygiene measures, use of personal protective equipment and facility sanitation”

“We are also studying the new set of guidelines/recommendations by the UNWTO as well as the ‘Safe Travel Protocols ‘ designed by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) to domesticate them,” he said.

The minister itemised various, interventions, policy decisions palliative measures by the government at mitigating the effects of Covid-19 on the people since recording the first index case on February 27.

Speaking in the same vein, the host, Seychelles Minister of Tourism, Civil Aviation, Port and Marine, Didier Dogley, said global tourism has been drastically affected by the pandemic.

He said to emerge stronger; there is need for the continent to strengthen collaboration and the leaders to be proactive.

The CAF Chairman and Zambia Minister of Tourism and Arts, Ronald Chitotela, said in revamping the tourism industry, there is the need for greater partnership across the board.

For his part, the UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili said the ministers must work together to reposition Africa as the best tourists destination.

He said African countries must put resources together towards the digital transformation of the tourism industry.

The AU representative at the meeting, Dr Amani Abou-Zeid said the ministers should take advantage of the effects of Covid-19 to develop domestic and regional tourism.

Abou-Zeid, the Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy at the AU Commission, said the tourism sector is key to the development of the continent since it accounts for 6.5 per cent of the workforce in Africa.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports no fewer than 11 CAF-ministers made interventions at the meeting.

NAN reports that the 64th meeting of UNWTO-CAF is scheduled to hold in Cape Verde next year.