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African Safari industry continues to suffer as COVID-19 restrictions take their toll on tourism

African Safari industry continues to suffer as COVID-19 restrictions take their toll on tourism

Online marketplace for African safari tours,, recently ran its fourth monthly survey among 308 safari tour operators.

The survey’s aim was to acquire a detailed understanding of the impact in the safari industry from the downturn in travel associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The results were in line with the previous three surveys – an overwhelming number of tour operators are suffering from a decline in bookings of at least 75%.

This is a horrendous figure for an industry which so many people rely on in East and southern Africa.

As one operator from Tanzania told, “We have not received any bookings from potential clients since the COVID-19 spread worldwide.” And it’s a similar story in neighbouring Kenya, “At the moment customers are not willing to make any reservations due to COVID-19.”

Around 93% of operators said they had lost at least three quarters of the bookings they normally rely upon at this time of year. An extraordinary drop in business with many operators unable to afford to even hire local staff. A Kenyan operator put it in perspective when he said, “We don’t have bookings, and we don’t have money to pay salaries for staff, office rental etc. Things are really bad.“

Seventy percent of operators who responded to our survey said that cancellations had increased by at least 75% on existing bookings. Less than 3% said it was business as usual.

“Corona has definitely affected our booking request levels and increased cancellations. For now there isn’t much we can do but we choose to embark on putting a digital marketing strategy in place post COVID-19. We look forward to a better tomorrow.”

As countries such as Tanzania become beacons of hope for the safari industry, reopening their borders to international visitors, there is a positive tone taking its first tentative steps from some tour operators.

“Corona virus has been a nightmare in our tourism industry, it has wounded everything. The safari business is no longer the same. But all in all, our hopes are still alive. We shall rise again, we shall shine again, we shall bounce back stronger like never before.”

Meanwhile, the US$12.4 billion industry is based on the 2018 international tourism receipts of the major safari countries in East and southern Africa, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)

The major safari countries included in the survey are Botswana, Kenya Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. The UNTWO did not have data for Zimbabwe. For international tourism receipts per country, please follow the UNWTO link above.

The total international tourism receipts for these seven countries was US$15.5 billion. Wildlife watching tourism makes up 80% of the total trip sales according to this UNWTO research paper from 2015. To read the full article click here .

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The Economist accommodates two interns every year, one per semester. They are given less demanding, softer issues to hone their skills, often with a specific leaning to social issues. Today, many of our interns are respected journalists or career professionals at economic and financial institutions. - Ed.