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COVID-19 Pandemic Continuing to Impact Africa’s Shell-shocked Safari Industry

Our eighth survey of 294 safari tour operators continues to reveal a staggeringly steep drop in business of at least 75%. This month a slight improvement from previous surveys was apparent, with a small number of operators reporting an increase in enquiries and bookings. But the overall decline is still a massive issue with the coronavirus pandemic continuing to have a harsh economic impact on Africa’s US$12.4 billion¹ safari industry.

October 12, 2020: SafariBookings.com, an online marketplace for African safari tours, recently held its eighth monthly survey among 294 safari tour operators. The survey conducted a comprehensive analysis of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the safari industry, and associated drop in international tourism arrival numbers.

Most tour operators have experienced a disturbing decline in bookings of at least 75% which is unsustainable in the long term for most businesses. This is in line with the previous seven surveys we have conducted, with just a very small improvement in both enquiries and bookings received by operators differentiating this survey.

As one operator told us, “The impact from the coronavirus in Tanzania has been devastating. The tourism industry in this country employs so many people. Most, if not all, safari companies have no business. The staff cannot pay their rent or buy food, it is a very sad situation.”

This operator struck a more optimistic tone, “The coronavirus has affected more than 80% of our safari business [in Tanzania] and also other sectors that depend on tourism. That said, we hope that life is going to get back to normal in the coming season.”

For interactive charts and 80 quotes from individual operators, please see the full survey results.

In total, 90% of operators claimed to have lost at least three quarters of the bookings they would usually receive around this time. A Namibian operator summed it up, “All bookings for 2020 have been postponed to 2021. We have not received any new bookings for 2021.” This Kenyan operator was doing even worse, “Currently, we don’t have any confirmed bookings.”

Almost 70% of operators who took part in our latest survey confirmed that cancellations on existing bookings had increased by at least 75%. In all, less than 10% of operators said it was business as usual. “The only emails we receive nowadays are cancellation and rescheduled bookings, no new requests at all,” an operator from Uganda told us.

Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Namibia have reopened their borders for tourism. Except for Tanzania, these safari countries require proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within a couple of days before flying. Rwanda, Uganda and Namibia require additional testing upon arrival – a couple of days after arriving in the country or shortly before leaving the country.

South Africa has opened as well, but currently not for high-risk countries, including the US and most European countries. This South African operator reflected many similar comments, “South Africa’s borders have reopened but still 60 countries are prohibited from entering. These include major source markets such as the US and UK. So, it’s still going to be tough for a while. Hoping for an improvement in October.”

Many operators believe that a vaccine is the key to a return to work for the industry, as this operator based in the US said, “It seemed that things were starting to turn around in August and September, but now this second wave in Europe and the US seems to have people rethinking their plans. It appears that we can’t count on much of a recovery until there is a viable vaccine.”

This comment from an operator in Kenya was short and sharp, summing up the resilience and optimism still found in the safari industry despite the enormous setbacks of 2020, “We will take off in 2021, very optimistic.”

-Tourism in Africa

¹Africa’s US$12.4 billion Safari Industry
The US$12.4 billion 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). Source: https://unwto.org/country-profile-inbound-tourism

The major safari countries included in this US$12.4 billion 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 we refer to 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 (See page 3, 2nd paragraph).

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