Africa’s Tourism on Life Support: Can Its Growing Travel Industry Recover After Pandemic?

Written by | Wednesday, August 26th, 2020

Boasting its bright tiles in Morocco’s Marakesh, safaris in South Africa, idyllic beaches in Mozambique and rolling vineyards in South Africa, the African continent offers a variety of cultural delights for foreign visitors. But like Europe and, in fact, much of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on its thriving tourism and travel sectors. While African tourism industry recorded a 6% growth between January and May 2019, according to Elcia Grandcourt, regional director for Africa at the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), this year tourism for international arrivals contracted by 47%. “It places millions of jobs and livelihoods at risk. It is important to restart the industry when safe,” Grandcourt said.
Tourism and travel contribute over €150 billion to Africa’s economy combined, representing 7.1% of GDP and supporting millions of jobs across the continent, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). But now the COVID-19 pandemic has put the brakes on the growth of tourism sector, which comprises 80% of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), with temporary lockdowns forcing airports, hotels and restaurants to close. The African Union (AU) reported in July that African countries have lost almost €46 billion in tourism and travel revenues in the last three months due to the pandemic. “It’s been a disaster in 2020, we were growing, now we are decreasing,” says Sisa Ntshona, chief executive officer of South African Tourism, adding that this „disaster“ has come at a time when “on the whole continent of Africa … we are all diversifying our economies… away from extractive mineral resources to the more sustainable services side.”
Though being the fifth worst-affected country globally in terms of coronavirus cases, with over 45,000 people infected, South Africa is also one of the continent’s tourism hot spots. “Recovery really starts with confidence,” says Tim Cordon, area senior vice president of Radisson Hotel Group. “Once people have a bit of confidence… I think the demand will start to be stimulated.” But, of course, it all depends on when long haul travel will re-open. In the mid-term, Cordon also predicts that Africa will also be a hub for people seeking holidays off the beaten track. “One trend I think we may see emerge or accelerate from an existing trend is a demand for eco-tourism or tourism in more remote destinations. Africa is really well placed to put itself in the forefront of that,” he says.

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