Covid-19 has accelerated some trends in travel and tourism and reminded us of how vulnerable travel and tourism is in the face of health scares and economic recession. Our sector is perhaps the most vulnerable just in time industry of all. An empty seat on a London to Nairobi flight today or an empty hotel room in Cape Town tonight cannot be sold tomorrow. As a capital intensive service industry we are particularly vulnerable. Our product cannot be stored for sale next season or tomorrow.
There has been a greater focus on health and safety as destination governments, accommodation providers, tourism operators, and airlines have emphasised their responsibility by adopting and enforcing operating protocols to protect against Covid. Almost overnight, travel was again perceived as complicated, hazardous, and expensive because of the variety of national and often sub-national testing, isolation and quarantining regulations. Hazardous because of the risk of catching Covid, being ill abroad, being trapped by flight bans, or being quarantined in a hotel. Testing, quarantine costs and insurance all became more expensive.
Responsibility was widely used in the industry to provide reassurance to travellers. Destinations that had become accustomed to overtourism rediscovered what it was like not to feel overrun by tourists, whilst others lost their jobs or had to close their business. Many destinations were reminded of how important tourism was, and is, to the local economy. As lockdowns came and went, some established honeypots, and some new ones, experienced overtourism for the first time.
Tourism is for most destinations seasonal and so are viruses like Covid. Countries in the southern hemisphere dependent on northern hemisphere source markets are particularly vulnerable to travel bans. A survey of 390 South African operators, reported that a total of £50m, $67m was lost through cancellations in the 48 hours after the Omicron red listing was imposed at the end of November. In January, the World Health Organisation’s Emergency Covid Committee put it bluntly
“The Committee praised South Africa for their rapid identification, and transparent and rapid sharing of information on the Omicron VOC. The Committee was concerned about the reaction of States Parties in implementing blanket travel bans, which are not effective in suppressing international spread (as clearly demonstrated by the Omicron experience), and may discourage transparent and rapid reporting of emerging VOC.” more
Vaccine inequality is a major ethical and health issue, new variants emerge when the virus spreads amongst the unprotected. “Out of more than 9 billion vaccines doses produced, Africa has only received approximately 540 million (about 6 per cent of all COVID vaccines, despite having 17 per cent of the world’s population) and administered 309 million doses. Less than 10 per cent of Africans are fully vaccinated.” more
The chief executive of SATSA is reported to have said “My overriding concern is that the sense of partnership and trust that existed between the UK and the southern African states has been eroded through policies that effectively shut down large swathes of Africa’s economies and put many African people’s livelihoods in jeopardy without consultation, without warning and without any science…. “We did not expect that from our lead Commonwealth partner, especially after commitments made at recent G20 and COP meetings. These policies have directly contributed to increasing levels of poverty, and in turn, loss in biodiversity as so many more people will be forced to go back to living off the land.” more
At least in South Africa, there is a developed domestic tourism market as there is in much of the northern hemisphere, although local lockdowns also closed tourism and hospitality. In much of Africa, there is no domestic tourism market.
At WTM Africa, on the Responsible Tourism Day, April 12th, we have an opportunity to discuss the future of the tourism industry in a world confronting climate change, biodiversity loss and the global pandemic. Twenty years on from the 2002 Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations, it is time to reflect on what has been achieved and consider priorities for the next decade through panels, interviews and presentations.
Topics that will be discussed:
Twenty years of Responsible Tourism in Cape Town The Responsible Tourism movement was founded twenty years ago in Cape Town and has grown to have influence around the world as more and more businesses and destinations have taken responsibility to use tourism to make better places for people to live in and to visit. It has not been easy. This panel will reflect on the challenges faced in the Cape and consider what has been achieved. Looking to the future, we shall discuss the current priorities and how progress might be made more quickly.
Be Inspired: Responsible Tourism an International Movement The Cape Town Declaration founded a movement that has spread around the world. An opportunity to look at some of the Responsible Tourism initiatives that have developed in Africa and around the world and to reflect on whether there are ideas that could be developed for your business or destination.
The Platform for Change – be part of the exchange Given the range of challenges – climate change, biodiversity loss, inclusion – that we face, we need to make progress faster. The Platform for Change is designed to enable ‘tried and tested’ and promising new ideas to be shared. You may wish to contribute Responsible Tourism practices to the Platform or use it to find ways of tackling the sustainability issues which concern you and the communities you work in and with.
A Conversation with the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town The V&A Waterfront won the “Sustaining Employees and Communities through the Pandemic” category in last year’s WTM Global Tourism Awards. This panel is an opportunity to hear from them and ask them why Responsible Tourism matters to them, about why it makes business sense, and about their environmental and socio-economic initiatives.
Local Economic Development: Creating Shared Value The concept of shared value emerges from the writing of Harvard Professor Michael E. Porter, well-known for his previous work on competition strategy, value chains and cluster theory. Porter defines shared value as “policies and operating practices that enhance the competitiveness of a company while simultaneously advancing the social and economic conditions in the communities in which it operates”. In this panel, we shall explore some African examples of this approach to growing your business, benefitting neighbouring communities and increasing the value of tourism to the destination.
Tackling Climate Change Our industry contributes to greenhouse gas emissions through aviation and ground transport and heating, cooling and lighting accommodation. What can we do to reduce our emissions? On current trends sea-level rise, extreme weather events and wildfires are expected. How can we adapt to these challenges?
We need to Increase Resilience Covid pandemic has demonstrated the vulnerability of our industry to travel bans and fear. Cape Town was not the first destination to suffer from severe drought and a large reduction in arrivals – and it will not be the last. What can businesses and destinations do to increase their resilience? What can you do?
Investment for Responsible Tourism & Resilience Development banks, commercial banks and private investors all have a role to play in financing tourism. IFC will take a destination-lens to explore some of the financing mechanisms in play, and how they are changing in the context of recovery in Africa.
How can the travel and tourism industry contribute more to conservation and nature recovery? As the world wakes up to the urgency of the interconnected climate and biodiversity crises and attention turns to the business community’s response, how much more can and should the travel and tourism sector be doing to counter biodiversity loss?
 Variant of Concern