African Tourism Industry Threatened by COVID-19

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SEATTLE, Washington — Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the African tourism industry was expected to bring in billions of dollars. The continent has the world’s second-fastest-growing tourism industry, and experts expected it to keep growing. Then countries began going on lockdown, international travel was banned and tourists not only stopped booking trips, but they started canceling them, too.

Key Things to Know

  • With stay at home orders, there has been more poaching. Those who are usually out patrolling, fighting off and scaring away poachers are stuck at home. However, poachers are not. With no security, poachers are free to roam and kill African wildlife, especially in areas that normally do not have issues with poaching because they used to be populated by tourists. In Botswana, on April 24,  poachers had already killed six rhinos in a reserve. In South Africa, poachers had killed at least nine rhinos, too. Poaching is a desperate man’s sport, and many people are now becoming desperate with the sudden increase in unemployment. As a result, more people may turn to the illegal hunting of these endangered species. Eventually, the loss of animals unique to Africa will further harm the continent’s tourism industry as tourists opt not to visit.
  • People are losing jobs. Fast. Almost 7% of the GDP in the continent is from the African tourism industry. In South Africa, tourism accounts for just over 9% of the country’s workforce, which is a total of 1.5 million people. About 80% of the income in many rural South African communities comes from reserves. The funds go towards supporting the worker’s families and communities as well as the workers. Without tourists visiting the reserves and conservations every day, organizations cannot afford to keep all of their employees working anymore.
  • Countries are losing one of their biggest sources of income. In 2015, the African tourism industry brought in more than $39 billion in revenue. In Tanzania, customers were paying up to $7,000 per person for safari rides, not including the extra expenses of tips, park fees and souvenirs. But if tourists cannot come, money cannot be made. A survey of safari operators found that almost all of them had seen more than a 70% decrease in bookings because of the pandemic. With rates like this, the World Travel and Tourism Council estimated that Africa could have a $53 to $120 billion hit to the continent’s GDP. Kenya, which is home to Africa’s sixth largest tourism industry, has already lost $750 million in tourism revenue.

Alternate Options

Imagine being able to see lions roaming with their cubs, lurking through the grass and brush. Or watching zebras running across the grasslands, their hooves stirring up a cloud of dust. And the good news is: masks are not required. Neither is leaving your home.

With the pandemic forcing everyone inside and the African tourism industry taking a hit, virtual tours are a way to get the safari organizations back in business. One example is &Beyond, a travel company that has created a variety of different virtual options for its customers who are not capable of making it to their reserves. They offer private safari experiences, where guests can chat with guides while on virtual, live safari rides. The organization puts the money made through virtual experiences towards conservation needs and local communities. Other activities include daily game drives on Instagram and conservation and safari destination TV programs.

Another program sponsored by Virgin Limited Edition provides eager virtual travelers with live game drives every Wednesday on Facebook. Viewers are able to make comments during the tour, ask questions, converse with other participants and see the African wildlife. Unlike the &Beyond tours, these are free. However, viewers can make donations to the organization if they want.

While it is not the same as being there in person, hopefully, the many virtual tour opportunities can help African organizations and communities recover from the economic issues brought on by the pandemic, while also satisfying tourists yearning to see some more wildlife.

Sophie Dan
Photo: Flickr

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