The pandemic cost the global tourism industry up to 1 billion trips and put over 100 million jobs at risks. In the same line, Africa saw a 70 percent decline in inbound arrivals, although lockdown regulations differed across the continent.
As the crisis spread, the top five African carriers lost an estimated USD 32 billion in GDP, a condition that put up to 3.9 million jobs at risk. On the other hand, travel intermediaries found themselves dealing with cash-strapped suppliers and clients, while many hotels turned to operate as quarantine facilities and short-term rentals to sustain their operations. As home seclusion gained momentum, virtual experiences grew to become a new reality for business and leisure tourism activities.
Today, the road to recovery remains subject to travel restrictions, with several countries reinstating temporal ban in response to new waves. However, vaccines are likely to provide a huge relief to the industry, although the race to immunity is delayed by shortages of supply and the emergence of new variants.
Nonetheless, travel operators should bear in mind that the population percentage required to achieve herd immunity is yet to be determined. Therefore, the recovery is likely to take shape from the second half of 2021, with a stronger growth expected in countries with higher penetration rates, likely to introduce travel corridors. Hence, the African tourism industry should require a greater commitment from both the government and private sectors to boost vaccination programs, estimated to be less than 2% in sub-Saharan Africa at this stage.
Beyond this, economic performance and changes in consumers’ behaviour will also affect future performance in tourism, making bottom-up approaches essential for developing a sound tourism strategy in Africa. Parallel to this, the continent should reposition itself as an affordable travel destination, while leveraging its natural resources and diverse cultures to capitalise on rising demand for seamless experiences and ecotourism momentum.
The recovery of tourism across the continent will also require fundamental changes at both country and regional level to address persisting challenges in safety, mobility and sustainability. As a result, maintaining competitiveness necessitates adhering to global health protocol standards. Similarly, governments must ratify long-awaited policies like the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), which are expected to boost regional leisure and business tourism demand. Moreover, to re-emerge stronger and healthier, operators should also develop long-term policies that account for social integration, biodiversity conservation, and climate action.
The latter is particularly important for the continent as we must preserve our natural resources and support communities that have been impacted by the pandemic. Last, but not least, digital strategies have evolved into a viable safety net for implementing social distancing measures. As a result, the integration of technology in business models across tourism sectors are set to be crucial to remain relevant because those tools are future-proof, consumer-centric, and experiential.
Rebuilding the African tourism industry will require operators to adapt to the new normal, which will entail being innovative in responding to changing behaviours and integrating operations through strategic partnership with different stakeholders.