Africa suffered a massive economic knock as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The tourism industry was undoubtedly the one industry that incurred the most damage and is still facing numerous challenges on its gradual road to recovery.
While a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the industry’s revival remains, experts are looking to the future in an attempt to determine what to expect in the coming months and years.
When will international travel return to its pre-COVID levels?
This will vary from country to country. However, it is likely that international travel will return to 2019 levels between 2023 and 2025, with the majority of countries achieving this goal sometime during 2024, according to research presented by David Goodger, Managing Director of Europe and the Middle East at Tourism Economics. On the bright side, it is expected that demand for travel in Africa will recover dramatically faster than on other continents, with a new peak estimated to occur as soon as 2022!
David comments that vaccines will aid in speeding up this recovery, but that they cannot be embraced as the one and only solution, especially due to the fact that herd immunity will only likely be achieved across the globe by 2025.
David also highlights how leisure travel is set to recover significantly faster than corporate travel. Despite this, he is adamant that corporate travel will get back on track eventually.
“No matter how much technology is available, there is no replacement for face-to-face interactions,” he says.
Tim Cordon, Area Senior Vice President of the Middle East & Africa at the Radisson Hotel Group, agrees and claims that it is only a matter of time before corporate travel reaches its peak once again.
“I think everything will start to shift when companies that are not travelling internationally discover that they have lost out to business opportunities to those companies that are travelling once again. That will be the deciding factor for many business owners across the globe.”
How can travel brands accelerate travel recovery?
Francois Conradie, Senior Political Economist at NKC African Economics South Africa comments on how the economics of tourism have not changed much, but that it is rather the regulatory side of things that is putting a damper on travel.
“The collective demand regarding those who are willing to spend money on travel is the same. While there have been job losses and financial worries, the majority of people actually have money saved up due to their inability to travel last year. These people want to get moving, but international restrictions are making it extremely difficult, hence domestic tourism is on the rise,” Francois explains.
Yolanda Mlonzi, Senior Analyst of Government Affairs and Public Policy at Google South Africa, insists that digital tools are going to play a huge part in accelerating the recovery of both the local and international travel and tourism sectors.
“Travel brands need to be leveraging digital tools and platforms to keep their destinations top of mind despite current travel restrictions. Just because people cannot move freely right now does not mean that they aren’t looking for inspiration!” she says.
Yolanda also talks about how domestic travel is front and centre at the moment and how, as a result, work needs to be done to educate locals about nearby destinations.
“We should be highlighting hidden gems online and keeping in mind what the ‘new’ post-2020 traveller is looking for. Research shows that this ‘new’ traveller is seeking out beach holidays away from the confined and crowded cities, as well as holidays that revolve around nature and the outdoors to ensure good air quality and effortless social distancing. Now is the time for us to re-educate citizens on what’s available in their home country to prevent them from simply heading to the expected destinations,” she adds.
How resilient is Africa, really?
Tim strongly believes that Africa is more resilient than most other developing countries from a tourism perspective.
“Data shows that Africa has enjoyed a much steadier recovery so far, compared to many developing countries that have endured second and third crashes over the course of the last year and a bit. Make no mistake, though. It’s still really tough out there. Using an analogy, the way I see it is that Africa is no longer in intensive care. However, it is still in critical care and need of assistance and support to make a full, consistent recovery,” Tim comments.
Yolanda explains that it is important for the relevant authorities to focus on where they can actually win the battles.
“At the moment, domestic travel is where we need to capitalise. We must raise awareness and restore confidence, and it needs to be a joint effort. We will need as many heads around the table as possible if we are to succeed.”
Currently, some African countries are doing better than others and the experts believe that some will recover faster over the long-term than others, as a result. Both Francois and Tim agree that West Africa is the most resilient and will likely enjoy a swifter recovery than the other regions of the continent. East Africa, on the other side of the coin, has suffered through tighter lockdowns and has a much smaller domestic travel market, leading to a slower recovery over time.
“Botswana, Mauritius, and Algeria demonstrate the fastest GDP growth, although this can be slightly misleading as these are a few of the countries that endured the biggest hit in 2020. From an investment perspective, Ethiopia shows great potential as long as it is able to achieve and maintain stability. Despite its recent political upheaval, Senegal is another country on the radar for foreign travellers and investors, particularly from a logistics and agriculture perspective,” Francois comments.
In short, Africa is on the right track. The goal now is to continue onwards and upwards despite the challenges that will undoubtedly present along the way.