Tourism has been an important economic sector for many African countries for two decades now, with increased investment in product development, strong marketing and appropriate social and political reforms aimed at promoting trade.
The great diversity of the continent means that there will be no African experience of COVID-19 or a single government response. But there are common challenges across the continent and the opportunity to find the same answer.
The first hope is to prevent the virus from spreading and many African countries have long experience in controlling the outbreak of infectious diseases. The establishment of the African Center for Disease Control has focused on public health in recent years.
ISOLATION AND LOCKDOWN
The continent has followed China, Europe and North America in isolation and closure of the tourism industry in efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 virus. There are a number of interventions such as movement restrictions, social distancing, prohibiting from accessing places of worship, banning large gatherings, closing bars, schools and tertiary institutions.
World Bank reports show that one in 20 jobs in sub-Saharan Africa is in the travel and tourism industry. The World Tourism Organization estimates that around 67 million international tourists visited Africa in 2018 and generated approx. $38 billion for the continent.
The organization also estimated a 4.2% increase in African arrivals in 2019 And before the outbreak of the COVID-19 disaster, a further increase of between 3% and 5% was planned for 2020.
FACTORS THAT AFFECT TOURISM
Like other sectors, tourism, especially international tourism, is vulnerable to external shocks and disasters. Time and time again, events have taken the industry back. These include economic downturn, security and security threats as well as terrorist attacks, natural disasters and epidemics and outbreaks.
There is also the problem of poor reports from the international media.
One of these threats is the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic, albeit at a whole new level.
African countries should use past experience to develop post-COVID-19 vacuum management plans.
THE IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS ON TOURISM
Tourism is one of the most difficult sectors since the diagnosis of the disease in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. World travel and tourism have warned that the COVID-19 epidemic could cost up to 50 million jobs anywhere in travel and tourism.
Even when the disaster is over, the tourism industry can take up to 10 months to recover. For the case of emerging tourism centres especially in Africa, it can take more than a year.
In addition, the travel agency estimates that international tourists’ arrival in Africa by 2020 could fall between 1% and 3%. This could translate into $30 billion to $50 billion in lost spending from international visitors. The Asia-Pacific region is expected to be the most affected. But Africa must suffer, perhaps even more.
According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) a United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism, international tourist arrivals could decline by 20% to 30% in 2020. This would translate into a loss of 300 to 450 US$ billion in international tourism receipts (exports) – almost one-third of the US$ 1.5 trillion generated globally in the worst-case scenario.
THE CURRENT STATUS
Across the continent, attractions are closed. Hotels operate at a single-digit occupancy rate and in some cases closed. Countries have closed their airports and many food and beverage businesses have been closed due to social distancing guidelines.
This has led to massive layoffs and workers have been furloughed. Governments also suffered losses in foreign currency.
China, America and Europe are the largest tourism producing markets in Africa. These countries have partial and complete lockdowns and other travel restrictions. The impact on Africa’s tourism industry is expected to be huge and lasting, as it will take time to recover and bring the economy back.
Tourism is a sector with resilience and will overcome this crisis. The combined effort has to be focussed on problem-solving strategies that include planning, rapid development and implementation of a response network. The inclusion of social media management and measures to aggressively promote tourism given priority.