Africa Travel Week
responsible tourism

The pandemic and tourism in Africa

The pandemic has hit tourism too Africa hard. A crisis which is depriving holidaymakers of their holidays is depriving hosts of their livelihoods, writes Harold Goodwin.

The Gambia, in West Africa, has a population of just over two million, with many living in rural poverty. Tourism has been a mainstay of the economy since the first charter flights arrived. Often referred to as The Smiling Coast, it is the smallest country on the continent.

Tourism accounts for 16-20% of GDP and provides over 100 000 direct and indirect jobs. In March, The Gambia suspended flights from Europe and closed down the tourism industry in order to halt the spread of Coronavirus.

There is very little domestic tourism in The Gambia and its border with Senegal, which surrounds it, is closed. The tourism industry in The Gambia is closed. Closing the borders has hurt livelihoods, but it has been effective against COVID-19. The first case was reported on 17 March. As of 6 July, there have been 61 confirmed cases, of which 27 have recovered and three have died. Reopening, given the success of the closure strategy, would be a hard choice for the government to make.


The latest African Union study reports that “Tourism employs more than a million people in each of the following countries: Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania and more than 20% of total employment in Seychelles, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Mauritius.”

Overall, tourism contributed USD 194.2 billion or 8.5% to Africa’s GDP in 2018. The African Union concluded that “Under the average [realistic] scenario, the tourism and travel sectors in Africa could lose at least USD 50 billion and at least two million direct and indirect jobs.”


In South Africa Coronavirus cases have passed 200 000, with 3 720 deaths by 9 July. The government has restricted inter-provincial and international travel in order to contain the virus, but this has had a major impact on the tourism sector. According to South Africa’s Department of Statistics: “The tourism sector’s 686 596 employees outnumber the respective work forces of utilities (118 000 employees) and mining (444 000 employees).

In 2016 total employment in South Africa (both formal and informal) amounted to 15,8 million workers. Of these, 4,4% (or 1 in every 23) were directly employed in the tourism sector, a rise from the 3,8% recorded in 2005.”

The South African government’s  tourism policy published in 1996 and still current, was the first government policy to adopt a Responsible Tourism approach. The new government recognised the importance of tourism in creating jobs, particularly in rural areas. Tourism outperformed other key industries in terms of job creation, adding just over 40 000 net new jobs to the economy over the five-year period from 2012 to 2016.


The risks and challenges of permitting travel and tourism to reopen are large; governments have to balance the public health and unemployment risks. People impoverished by the loss of employment suffer too, and in rural areas, there is rarely alternative employment.

Travel agents and tour operators in the source markets that sell Africa need to think hard about what they can do to assist local people and their wildlife to survive so that they are there to be visited in the future. It makes good business sense to do what we can to protect the attraction, the people and wildlife, which is at the core of our business.

There are many examples of businesses in destinations which are fundraising to support local people and wildlife. There are just a few here.

If you operate outbound as an operator or agent, consider fundraising to support your ‘product’. It is the right thing to do, and it has commercial value in keeping your business in front of your clients and demonstrating your ethics and the strength of your relationships, your partnerships, with the destination(s) you sell.

Harold Goodwin

Harold Goodwin is WTM’s Responsible Tourism Advisor, he puts together the flagship Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London which attracts 2000 participants each year and the programmes run at WTM Africa, WTM Latin America and Arabian Travel Market. Harold has worked on 4 continents with local communities, their governments and the inbound and outbound tourism industry. He is Managing Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership and chairs the panels of judges for the World Responsible Tourism Awards and the other Awards in the family, Africa, India and Ireland. Harold works with industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists and undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is an Emeritus Professor, and Founder Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration which he drafted.