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Impact of COVID-19 on Tourism in Africa

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Africa started a phased re-opening of the sea, land and air space borders in August after nearly six months without movement.

Tourism officials hope the reopening triggers a restart of the country’s important tourism sector.

Sarova White Sands Hotel. /Photo by CGTN’s David Maeri

Kenya, like many other top tourism destinations, saw profits plummet as the coronavirus pandemic reduced numbers of both domestic and international tourists.

Mohammed Hersi, the Chairman at the Kenya Tourism Federation says older tourists, particularly those above 60-years-old, are staying home and that presents a big problem.

“We’re told anybody above 60 years is in the vulnerable age group, which means that most of the travelers who have the money, means and time to visit Africa are now finding it hard to travel,” says Hersi.

Making matters worse, most of Africa’s tourists come from the United States, Canada and Europe. However with current health protocols, Hersi submits that one cannot just walk into a health facility in those developed nations to get a COVID-19 Health certificate.

Mohammed Hersi, Chairman, Kenya Tourism Federation. /Photo by CGTN’s David Maeri

This he argues will be the biggest challenge for most African countries especially with the requirement that visitors must have the document 96 hours prior to their trip.

“People going on holiday will take a long time and those who go out of their way to get tested in a place like the United Kingdom, it will cost one not less than 250 pounds. If you’re a family of four, you’re talking about 1000 pounds, that’s a lot of money which was never planned for.”

Previously travelers were dealing with yellow-fever and malaria documents which were affordable.

Hersi says the COVID-19 also impacts conference tourism which makes up a major revenue stream for hotels.

“One of the key things that we’ve always had as hoteliers was meetings and conferences, and suddenly because of physical distancing and discovery of virtual meetings a lot of people are finding it easier and cheaper to conduct their meetings via zoom and other platforms where you don’t have to physically visit a place.”

On a positive note though, Sarova White Sands Hotel opened its doors to the visitors slightly over a month ago. From what CGTN crew observed, it is slowly picking up well with significant guest bookings.

Francis Musengeti, General Manager at Sarova White Sands Hotel, Mombasa, Kenya. /Photo by CGTN’s David Maeri

“Well business is slowly resuming since the lifting of travel ban between countries and inter-county travel,”  says Hotel GM Francis Musengeti. We’ve seen a lot of Kenyans traveling within their country not just here. The Mara is busy and other parts are busy. Kenyans are enjoying their country now.”

But Hersi maintains that hotels must wake up to the new reality if they want to attract visitors post-COVID-19. He says they must come up with new ways to entice clients. For instance, they must allow visitors to book rooms online and choose which room they want to spend in without being told “subject to availability”.

That hotels must change the check in and check out policy to accommodate visitors and allow them to have a 24 hours schedule which should not disrupt their stay. In the past guests were required to check out of rooms not later than midday.

Sarova’s GM however insists that they are coming up with innovative ways of handling the guests: “We’ve implemented new ideas, cutting edge ideas in terms of Information Communication Technology-ICTfood among others in the hotels, to give our guests a new experience, better experience.”

Other players in tourism sector

Hotels aren’t the only ones suffering as a result of COVID-19.

Muhaji Omar operates a motorboat at the Kenyatta Public Beach. He takes people out on sunrise or sunset rides out on the water.

Captain Muhaji Omar. /Photo by David Maeri

On a good day, pre-pandemic, Omar used to make $150 which was divided among his crew and also his employer to take home at least $20. But that is just but a memory today.

“When the pandemic came to Kenya, I had to switch from sailing the boat full of tourists to a fisherman. I did it for a half a month but our fishing boat capsized forcing us to abandon our job.”

He is however optimistic that soon, visitors will stream into the public beaches once again and he will embark on his daily job and get an income just he used to.

Stringent visa application process

But it’s not just the pandemic that is affecting tourism numbers on the continent. Hersi states that the visa application process is time-consuming, expensive and discourages Africans within the continent. 

“While European countries have demolished the barriers of visas, for one to travel to the Central Africa Republic for instance, it will cost one nearly $250 to get a visa. Even in the US you don’t pay that,” He says.

Outdated, stringent air travel agreement which constrict Africa’s aviation market also contributes to the problem.

“It is only in Africa where you leave an African country, for you to travel to another African country, you go to Europe and come back again. Let’s say you’re in Dakar, Senegal and you want to go to Niamey, you go to Paris first and then come back to your own country.”

It is however a matter of wait and see how this will pan out even as hoteliers remain optimistic that in the next five months, they might see great performance in their business.

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