African economies reliant on tourism face slow recovery after Covid-19

Tourist arrivals in the continent fell nearly 70 per cent in 2020, which had a severe economic impact in countries dependent on the travel sector

 Travellers from China, one of the largest sources of tourists, slow to return as they opt to travel domestically and global pandemic containment continues.

Before the coronavirus struck, Sam Kombe would receive tens and sometimes hundreds of Chinese visitors to Tanzania per month, traveling to the east African nation to sample safari tourism.

Kombe owns Safari Infinity, a tour company in Arusha, in the country’s north, and Nyumbani Collection, a safari camp in the Serengeti, which is famed for its annual wildebeest migration.

Safari Infinity was getting many bookings from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore before coronavirus infections were detected in Tanzania, those locations accounting for about 30 per cent of the guests.

But since last year, “all of the Asian clients have either cancelled or postponed due to fear of the virus”, Kombe said. “Understandably, these are extraordinary times, an especially challenging period for those in the tourism industry, and everyone is being pretty careful when travelling.”

The virus has also stopped tourists coming from traditional markets such as the US and Britain. “Most of our Western guests have done the same, with some still planning to come this summer, but the situation is constantly shifting, so we are not sure,” Kombe said.

By this time of year, bookings would normally be well advanced for the wildebeest migration season, starting in June, with numbers tending to peak in July and August.

Kombe’s experience mirrors that of many tourism and safari businesses in Africa that were left on their knees after countries imposed travel restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.