Covid-19 has cost the African tourism industry billions of dollars

By Alain Faujas

Posted on Monday, 5 July 2021 19:16
Seasonal fog disapates over the city beneath Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, 12 June 2021. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Tunisia, Mauritius, Morocco... For African tourism, the loss of earnings as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic could reach $250bn in 2021. Estimating the losses in the sector, a report by the United Nations predicts that there will only be some kind of a return to normal in 2023.

It will take some time for tourism to recover in Africa. This is the conclusion of a report published on 30 June by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Based on statistics from the World Tourism Organisation, it assessed the past damage and predicted the future damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Its conclusions? In 2021, the decline in international tourist arrivals will result in a loss of earnings for the continent estimated at between $170bn-$253bn, depending on the scenario.

Unsurprisingly, the most affected region will be North Africa. The prediction is that a 78% drop in visitor spending will result in a fall in gross domestic product of 7.5% according to the pessimistic scenario and 5% according to the optimistic scenario. But the rest of the continent will not do much better, with a 69% decline in spending.

At the level of industry professionals, the impact is just as severe. In North Africa, the less qualified of them will be the hardest hit, with a drop in their workforce of 10.4%. For the most qualified professionals, the biggest decline will occur in East Africa, with a drop of 11.8%.

UNCTAD estimates that the near-total shutdown for tourism last year deprived Tunisia and Morocco of 79% of their international visitors. Other countries dependent on the sector have also been hit: the drop was 78% for Mauritius, 72% for Kenya, 70% for South Africa, 69% for Egypt and Ethiopia, 55% for Ghana and 43% for Madagascar.

Vaccination, training, strategic thinking

The authors of the report, who predict a return to normalcy by 2023, offer three pieces of advice to government leaders to kick-start the recovery.

  • First, they emphasise the need to accelerate vaccination to overcome fears by visitors that they might catch the virus.
  • Second, they advocate for the greatest possible support for workers in the sector, including the development of training programmes.
  • Finally, they call for strategic thinking, stressing that African tourism will not emerge unscathed from the pandemic.

Older travellers from industrialised countries, who used to contribute most to the growth in visits and revenue, may indeed be limited to domestic tourism for a while yet. More than ever, the African sector must focus on diversifying its clientele and therefore its products while working on the development of domestic tourism.

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