INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana — The African tourism industry, the second-fastest growing tourism industry in the world, is expected to lose between $53 billion and $120 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on tourism. The tourism sector contributes to 7% of Africa’s GDP. Kenya alone has already lost $750 million. Not only is the continent suffering but nearby communities that rely on tourism are as well. The Borgen Project spoke with Charlotte Crofts, the PR consultant for Virgin Limited Edition about how it is handling tourism during COVID-19.
Virgin Limited Edition
Virgin Limited Edition, a company owned by Sir Richard Branson, has eight hotel and retreat locations around the world and four of them are located in Africa:
- Ulusaba, a private game reserve in South Africa
- Kasbah Tamadot, a mountain retreat in Morocco
- Mahali Mzuri, a tented safari camp in Kenya
- Mont Rochelle Hotel and Mountain Vineyard in Franschhoek, South Africa
While many companies have seen cancellations among their tourist customers, resulting in great economic loss, Virgin Limited Edition has had more than 50% of customers postpone their bookings instead.
Not only does Virgin Limited Edition help tourists experience the wildlife in Africa but it also provides funding for the communities close by. With COVID-19 slowing down business, the company has had to do what it can with what it has to still provide for the vulnerable surrounding communities.
Helping the Community
Pride n’ Purpose, the charitable arm of Ulusaba Private Game Reserve in South Africa, is a charity that helps the communities living near the Sabi Sand Reserve. More than 40,000 people across seven communities benefit from the charity. Virgin Limited Edition and Virgin Unite, the Virgin Group’s nonprofit foundation, take care of the charity’s expenses.
Crofts says that “from the moment realization set in” about how devastating COVID-19 was going to be and the effects it would have, Virgin Limited Edition has worked with Virgin Unite to provide support to those in need nearby. Even though the tourism industry is currently lacking, the organization has managed to continue providing funds to the communities across their properties and helped distribute essential medical supplies, food, care packages and educational resources.
Pride n’ Purpose also distributes waterless hand sanitizer and helps to create innovative handwash stations from recycled material. It also provides virus-related education for vulnerable groups like the elderly, disabled individuals, orphans, school children and teachers. Crofts says that generous donations from guests have helped support these initiatives.
With the lockdown restrictions still in place and with no sign of them being lifted in the near future, businesses have had to get creative with how to keep the African tourism industry alive and thriving. After brainstorming, virtual safaris became the solution.
Virgin Limited Edition launched a series of “#SofaSafaris” in April 2020 to make up for the sudden loss of in-person safaris. These virtual safaris took place from the South African bush at Ulusaba Private Game Reserve. When this proved to be successful, the organization also created virtual safaris from the Maasai Mara, a game reserve in Kenya. Crofts says that the company wanted to allow its customers and viewers to “continue experiencing the magic of the bush at a time when we can only dream of traveling again.” Every Monday and Wednesday Virgin Limited Edition has free live feeds for people to watch and participants have the option to make a donation to Pride n’ Purpose to help the local communities.
In the South African locations, international guests are allowed to return, subject to restrictions and conditions for countries deemed high risk. Although it has reopened these locations, Virgin Limited Edition will still continue the virtual safaris because of their popularity.
The Road Ahead
With the onset of COVID-19, Virgin Limited Edition is ensuring the health and well-being of staff, tourists and communities, while trying to keep business going at a steady rate and supporting the surrounding communities. Hopes are high for the tourism industry in Africa to recover so that economic stability can return. In the meantime, the company is doing all it can to support affected communities.
– Sophie Dan