After a year of crisis in 2020, time has come for tourism to rebound on the continent. Safe”, ecological or local tourism… Everyone has their own approach to position their destination among the most attractive this summer.
By Dounia Ben Mohamed
While 2020 was synonymous with containment and border closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 summer season is shaping up to be one of tourism recovery. Acceleration of vaccination campaigns, easing of health restrictions, all-encompassing communication campaigns… In recent months, African States and stakeholders have been working hard to revive the tourism industry.
«Promoting the continent through positive narrative »
Meeting on June 17 at the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Brand Africa Summit in the Namibian capital Windhoek, the African ministers of tourism hence pledged to revitalize the continent’s tourism industry as soon as possible. This recovery hinges, in particular, on building a “positive people-centered storytelling”, as well as “an effective branding”, according to the terms used by the UN institution. On this last point in particular, the African member states of the UNWTO have unanimously approved the Windhoek Pledge on Advocating Brand Africa.
The stakes are indeed high. With more than 24 million active people and 169 billion dollars in annual revenues, the African tourism industry accounts for 7.1% of the continental GDP. That business sector, like other economic segments, has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis: according to UNWTO estimates, Africa has recorded a 75% drop in the number of international arrivals in 2020 (read Covid: economic impact on the African destination). The worst year in tourism industry. The objective of the stakeholders is therefore simple: to return as quickly as possible to the pre-pandemic figures of nearly 70 million visitors per year.
PCR test on boarding and arrival, vaccination and containment required… Caution is still warranted
Nevertheless, sanitary caution is still called for: PCR tests on boarding and on arrival, vaccination and quarantine required… All these rigorous measures have not, however, called into question the long-awaited return of tourists. At the end of June, Egyptian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Khaled el-Anani, confirmed the strong increasein the number of international travelers,since the start of the year, with more than 500,000 tourists visiting the country in April alone, more than double the level recorded in January. Egypt opened its borders early and opportunistically banked on the reassuring nature of “safe” tourism, with the government successfully communicating on the widespread vaccination of tourism employees. As a result, Egypt should have no trouble positioning itself as one of the leading Mediterranean destinations for this first post-Covid summer. Conversely, Tunisia is trying hard to save what can be of a tourist season plagued by the poor health situation (over 15,000 deaths).
It is this permanent health threat that probably explains why the Rwandan authorities also wanted to play the card of strict response to Covid (PCR test 72 hours before departure, new test on arrival at the airport, 24-hour quarantine…). However, this brings about an additional cost for incoming passengers: the quarantine, imposed on arrival, can only be done in a “designated” hotel, at the travelers’ expense, while a PCR test –required to visit the national parks – is charged 50$…
In Morocco, the continent’s second most popular tourist destination behind South Africa, the sector’s players have decided to focus on communication. On June 15, the Moroccan National Tourist Office (ONMT) launched the “Welcome Back” campaign, a meticulous charm operation (red carpet, international stars, promotion of local culture and handicrafts, etc.) designed to mark the effective upturn of international tourist industry. A way like another to show that “the whole sector is mobilized”, as director of the ONMT, Adel El Faki said.
«To rebound, Africa must open up to yet largely unexploited new markets, such as the African middle class, the diasporas and emerging countries like Asia»
But if the Cherifian kingdom has stepped up the initiatives for international travelers, it also aims at seducing nationals. Through the campaign “Ntla9awfbladna”, national tourism operators invite Moroccans to rediscover their cultural heritage. This is likely to boost a little more domestic tourism, a segment that already provides “nearly a third of tourists”, while having the potential to be “increased to 1 in 2 tourists”, upbeat Adel El Faki says.
In fact, with intra-regional tourism currently accounting for only 4 out of 10 arrivals, compared to 8 out of 10 in the rest of the world according to UNCTAD, the continent has significant room for improvement. Sharing the same observation, UNWTO teams also recommend strengthening this area of development. “To rebound, Africa must open up to yet largely unexploited new markets, such as the African middle class, the diasporas or, again, emerging countries like Asia,” estimates Elcia Grandcourt, the director of the UNWTO’s Africa department, who also points out that “given the current trend of travelers to get closer to nature, […] Africa has a nice chance to seize.”
What is needed is to capitalize on this, as “Africa’s tourism potential has yet to be fully realized,” UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili lamented in Windhoek. The main cause is insufficient investment in some key sectors (hotel infrastructure, transport, communications, etc.), which are slowing down growth. Commissioned by the G20, a study by the Global Infrastructure Hub highlights the lack of capital in African infrastructure, with the Australian organization estimating that, at the current pace, 1.7 trillion dollars of cumulative investment that will be missing by 2040 …The outlook in this area is far from hopeless, however, as evidenced by the reinvigorated appetite of investors for African tourism. In Egypt, the South African Vantage Capital – already present in the Ugandan and Namibian tourism sectors – provided in late May $23 million of mezzanine debt funding to PickAlbatros Hotels; the investment fund seeing in the hotel group “a long-term growth potential”.
Shortly before, it was the French group Accor – already present in 20 African countries – which had come to challenge the Covid-19 gloomy outlook by confirming the launch of three new properties in Djibouti, following a partnership signed with the Dubai conglomerate Kamaj. This is pending the announced arrival of hoteliers Onomo, Best Western and Radisson Blu. So many savvy economic operators who have understood that, beyond the vagaries of the economy and temporary shocks, tourism in Africa has its best days ahead: from 67 million today, annual tourist arrivals in Africa should reach 134 million by 2030, with consumer spending on tourism, hotels and recreation reaching 262 billion dollars (compared to 169 billion in 2019), according to the Brookings Institution, a renowned American think tank.