COVID-19 and tourism in southern Africa are intricately linked. The spread of COVID-19 to the region was a result of tourism and the impact of COVID-19 on tourism (https://www.unwto.org/international-tourism-and-covid-19) here has been devastating.
As a tourism entrepreneur, I have experienced the depths of the challenges first hand. 2020 was going to be our busiest year ever! On 13th March 2020, we called our entire All Out Africa staff together across 3 countries for an emergency meeting: How to navigate the challenges of COVID-19 as a tourism business? What to expect? Wow, it has been tough! Looking back there is not much we could have done differently.
COVID-19 in Southern Africa and Emotional Wellbeing
With the travel restrictions and lockdowns implemented across the world, everyone has experienced emotional downs and ups. Anxiety, depression and mental health have deteriorated (https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/05/04/mental-health-coronavirus/).
All Out Africa went from a thriving growing travel business to one where income suddenly crashed to zero overnight. I recall sitting with my head in my hands wondering how we would stay afloat. We have had to make some very tough decisions. With no government relief for salaries, our staff team has dwindled. We’ve struggled to cope with the economic and social challenges this has placed on us, our beneficiaries and associated communities. Uncertainty has been the order of the day.
COVID-19 and Tourism Restrictions in Southern Africa
Lockdowns in southern Africa happened quickly. Travel halted and a lot of economic activity came to a grinding halt. The discovery of the 501Y.V2. variant in South Africa has resulted in it being labelled the “South African Variant” although it is present worldwide and it is not certain where it originated. This discovery has led many countries to impose special restrictions on travellers from South Africa.
As infections receded the lockdowns eased in southern Africa and the economy breathed. The second wave of infection spread and travel restrictions were again implemented. The longer it went on the harder it has been for tourism businesses to stay afloat. I remember thinking surely the restrictions would not last longer than a year – little hope! Now I find myself hoping it won’t last longer than 2 years!
COVID-19 and Tourism in 2021
Early 2021 has been a time of introspection, grit and crystal ball gazing. As the All Out Africa family, we are immensely proud of what we have managed to accomplish during this time and how our team has coped through the challenges. We are hugely grateful to our supporters and partners who have enabled us to continue so much of the good work we do. Thank you, without you, it would not have been impossible.
The vaccine rollout has been encouraging although it has been desperate to see Africa last on most distribution lists. It has been heartening to see the growth in local travel and All Out Africa has used the chance to launch some new experiences which add some exciting diversity to our products. We remain hopeful of travel opening up in the second half of 2021 although it is likely to be slow in recovering.
Tourism Recovery in Southern Africa
So how will the recovery be? Likely slow since many tourism businesses from airlines to travel agents to hotels and activity companies have failed. It does seem clear that people are eager to travel and when they can, they will. We’re hopeful that being largely in the youth market and being focused on experiential travel and longer trips All Out Africa will be at the front of the recovery line for tourism in southern Africa. When exactly tourism bounces back for good and how quickly is anyone’s guess at this stage.
All Out Africa Coping and Evolving
What’s keeping us going you ask? Well, our projects have become even more important and necessary as the socio-economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic has grown. Our social projects in Eswatini have tackled hunger, poverty, education and life-skill development.
Our Savannah Conservation project has produced a wealth of important field progress. This is despite the research camp being flooded out as the Mbuluzi River burst it’s banks during Cyclone Eloise.
Our Marine Conservation project has gone through some exciting changes in office, accommodation & dive partners that we feel will help raise it to the next level.
We’ve had to get creative with our experiences and tailor some to the local market. We’ve added some great new hiking and day tour experiences to our Eswatini tours. We’ve been limited by restrictions on our South Africa and Mozambique tours, but have been making some good preparations for future trips.
All in all, we are optimistic about the future and grateful for what we have, despite the current challenges.
Written by Kim Roques, Founder and Director of All Out Africa.