The pandemic was a tragedy and impacted industries across the board. However, no industry endured quite the same knock as the travel and tourism industry.
It is estimated that throughout 2020, approximately one billion trips were cancelled, resulting in a global tourism decline of 74% and 100 million people at risk of losing their jobs. Now that the industry’s revival is well underway, many travel suppliers are wondering ‘where to now?’. It is important to examine the damage done, the emerging trends, and the reasons why there’s hope that everything will eventually get back on track.
According to Senior Research Analyst at EuroMonitor, Christele Chokossa, airlines were amongst the most negatively impacted. There was already a spike in cancellations in late January 2020 following the news out of Wuhan and the rising concerns regarding the spread of the virus. Considering that many airlines in Africa were already experiencing financial woes before the pandemic took hold, it is understandable why the implementation of travel restrictions was so horrific, bringing about a 32 billion loss in GDP and putting 3.9 million jobs at risk.
A few travel and tourism trends have emerged since the start of the revival of the travel industry. One of those trends is Virtual Reality (VR). Now that many people remain nervous about resuming travel, they are partaking in VR experiences, such as online tourism, online destination-specific cooking classes, online safaris, etc. Out of those who are indeed confident enough to enjoy a getaway right now, 63% are still leveraging this technology to preview destinations, hotels and activities before making bookings.
Another trend to be aware of is digitalisation.
“Digitalisation has become a safety net to help people, and travellers in particular, avoid physical contact. It has led to the acceleration of the adoption of contactless technology, such as e-booking and online payments. As such, in order to survive and adapt to the new ‘normal’, the African market must prepare to welcome a new generation of digital-first travellers,” says Christele. “These travellers will be expecting to use digital tools and solutions to optimise both safety and experience.”
Along with digital technology, prospective travellers are also utilising social media as part of their buyer journey. According to research, up to 44% of soon-to-be-travellers turn to social media for inspiration for travel. Therefore, it is crucial for African travel suppliers to develop a customer-centric digital strategy so as to remain relevant.
Why Africa has an advantage
There is no escaping the persistent fear factor that is expected to persist during the early stages of the industry’s recovery. Changes are taking place and many of them will last for a significant amount of time. For example, it will be a while before travellers feel comfortable using public transport or enclosed transport again, and it will be some time before international travel equalises with domestic travel. Understandably, people are taking comfort in travelling closer to home for the time being. However, as the revival gradually progresses, it is safe to assume that Africa will have an advantage over many other continents. According to Christele, there are two primary reasons for this advantage.
“The first is that of affordability. The lower cost of living, emphasised by a currency depreciation across major African currencies, is likely to provide a significant competitive advantage to the continent. The second is that of diversity. Africa is home to 54 countries, all of which boast a young, dynamic population, as well as diversified language, culture, and religion, which is certain to attract curious tourists from far and wide,” she says.
So, what can travel suppliers and governments do to facilitate a quick and seamless recovery? Christele believes that more countries need to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Area and agree on the Protocol of Free Movement of Persons to boost both unrestricted business and leisure travel going forward. She also insists that increasing access to e-visas will play a key role, as only 24 African countries currently offer this sought-after option.
Adapt, innovate, collaborate
The world has changed drastically and there is little point in looking back on the successes or failures of the past in order to construct a way a forward.
“Unfortunately, there is no guidebook to follow and nobody has ‘been there, done that’ in this situation. As a result, travel suppliers must adapt, innovate, and collaborate. More than anything, working together is absolutely crucial to getting the African travel and tourism industry back on its feet,” Christele concludes.