African tourism preparing for post-coronavirus era
AT the start of 2020, Africa’s tourism industry was predicted to grow.
The United World Tourism Organisation, or UNWTO, estimated a 3 to 5% increase in international arrivals to the continent as a result of demand for air travel and easier visa processes.
As coronavirus hit, airports were shut down, tourists stopped arriving and the industry was forced to pause.
Many countries on the continent also imposed lockdowns, shutting down hotels, tour companies, event centers and public transportation.
The tourism industry — consisting of entertainment, accommodation, food and beverage and operating tours — employs more than 1 million people each in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, according to the United Nations.
It also accounts for more than 20% of employment in Seychelles, Cape Verde, Sao Tome, and Principe and Mauritius.
But due to the spread of Covid-19, many of its sectors are cutting jobs and losing revenue.
The UN estimates that the pandemic will cost up to 2 million direct and indirect jobs in tourism on the continent.
Loss of revenue
In Kenya, some hotels and guesthouses on the Kenyan coast reported occupancy rates of less than 7% in March, according to local media.
In the same month, Victor Shikata, the general manager at the Flamingo beach hotel, in Mombasa, Kenya’s coast, told CNN that the hotel’s pool and lounge were empty. And its once sandy beaches have become deserted as a result of the virus.
The hotel also had to deal with massive cancellations of holidays and conference meetings, he added.
Food and beverage services are not left out as business owners say they are forced to lay off staff or cut down on their salaries.
Ada Osakwe, founder of Nuli, a chain of health food restaurants based in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial center told CNN that her business was forced to close down 9 of its 10 stores following the coronavirus pandemic in April.
“I’m just really with spreadsheets and putting percentages next to everyone’s names to see how we are going to pay salaries. After April, I don’t know how we are going to survive,” she said.
Tanya Kotze, founder of Africa Direct, a tour and travel company based in South Africa told CNN that when international flights to the country were canceled in March, her team was thrown into ‘absolute chaos.’
International travel has always been a huge factor for tourism and in 2018, it generated $38 billion for Africa, according to the UNWTO.
Kotze, who has been running Africa Direct for 15 years says her team spent about four weeks reaching out to clients and rescheduling bookings for 2021 and 2022.
“The first month after international travel stopped, it was absolute chaos of moving bookings of our current clients who would have traveled this year. It was dealing with so many cancellations and activities to prevent our clients from losing their money,” she said.
Cancelling and rescheduling trips could potentially translate into a loss of $30 billion to $50 billion in revenue for the continent’s tourism industry this year, according to the United Nations.
But because of increasing cases of the virus, more than 123 000 on the continent as of May 29, Africa does not have a choice.
Kotze says that one of the ways her company is staying afloat is by leveraging on already existing relationships with her clients who are mostly visitors from the US and Europe.
“We are fortunate to have repeat clients so we are offering really affordable packages ahead of 2021 and 2022 and encouraging them to book now.
We are so fortunate that many of them are booking. The exchange rate is now favorable for Americans and Britons looking to your Africa so we are trying to make it as attractive as possible,” she explained.
It is still unclear when African countries will fully open up their borders to travel and tourism.
While some countries are still operating emergency flights in order to repatriate citizens stuck abroad, and some are still operating cargo flights, for the most part, international air operations remain grounded.