Amid the grip of an easing pandemic, at least for now, most of our continent’s government’s leaders are at the forefront, rallying private and public stakeholders within and outside the industry and private stakeholders to cover up for time lost during the past lockdowns. Recently speaking at the African Travel & Tourism Summit, that concluded in Johannesburg in September, South African Minister Lindiwe Sisulu expressed her optimism and urged the continent “to rethink, calibrate and find its way out” of the economically depressing situation it has found itself in, since March 2020.
Sisulu was glad that South Africa was hosting the summit, an opportunity that provided the delegates “to rethink, recalibrate and find our way out of this situation that we are in where the pandemic has strangulated the tourism industry”.
The summit’s discussions touched on the analysis and requirements of the World Health Organisation (WHO), to eventually find a way and emerge out of this quagmire.
“We have now concluded that we should start discussions on our road to recovery. We are hopeful that there will be a new tomorrow,” she said.
“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the dream and narrative around Africa’s tourism sector were inspiringly vivid. It was a dream of a continent rising – rising and freeing itself from the shackles of stigmatisation of us as unsafe, uncouth, and unwelcoming.
“From the expansive arid plainlands in the North to the Southern tip of Africa where two oceans meet, with its diverse fusion of peoples and cultures, we celebrate the world in one continent,” she exhorted the delegates.
She said that the occasion also presented with “an opportunity to celebrate the rising giant that is Africa, celebrate her natural vast wonders, ranging from the plains and woodlands of the Serengeti to the arid Kgalagardi Transfrontier Park, to the beach elephants of the greater St Lucia and the Pyramids of Giza”.
The summit was attended by delegates to understand how tourism has shifted in the African continent and identify new opportunities.
It brought forward the importance of the event as a catalyst for engagement on the current state of tourism on the African continent, the sharing of ideas on collective recovery initiatives and solutions, and exploring global tourism survival trends including challenges facing the international tourism industry.
Unpacked at the event were the four main themes of Best Practice for Brand Africa, Sectoral Transformation, Leisure and Business Opportunities, and Strengthening and Enabling Economic Capabilities.
It also afforded Africa’s tourism leaders a platform to create solutions for Africa and contribute to global solutions for the industry to awaken a new beginning for the continent.
How Far Africa Have Come
Quoting pre-Covid-19 statistics, the Minister said that the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) indicates that Africa’s tourism industry was robust. It reports that tourism generated over US$200-billion (approximately R3-trillion) – accounting for 6.9% of Africa’s GDP – and had supported 24.7-million jobs.
However, following the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, WTTC statistics show a decrease of US$83-billion (or R1.2-trillion) and a loss of 7.2-million jobs. This downturn trend was experienced by all tourism sectors across the globe.
Therefore, the gathering was crucial to the industry’s survival. Especially for the fact that in South Africa, the restrictions had been further eased to allow more but specific numbers of people to attend outdoor events (750 as of Sept) and indoor events (250 as of Sept) – a significant step for the business events industry.
“Through these events, we can connect, share ideas and create a new positive narrative of Africa, one that shifts from a continent in turmoil to one that is recovering steadily and ready to do business,” she told the delegates.
Africa’s Path to Recovery
The nightmare of Covid-19 seems eternal as the world moves from wave to wave and variant to variant.
The African Development Bank (ADB) in its African Economic Outlook 2021, indicates that most African economies were battered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Real GDP in Africa contracted by 2.1% and is projected to grow by 3.4% this year. This projected recovery will be underpinned by a resumption of tourism, a rebound in commodity prices, and the rollback of pandemic-induced restrictions.
Although all economies in Africa have been affected by the pandemic, the most hit were tourism-dependent economies, oil-exporting economies, and other-resource intensive economies. Economies that are dependent on tourism are projected to recover from an 11.5% GDP decline in 2020 to grow by 6.2% in 2021; oil-exporting countries, from a 1.5% decline to grow by 3.1%; and other-resource-intensive economies, from a 4.7% decline to grow by 3.1%. Non-resource-intensive countries, where output shrank by 0.9% in 2020, are projected to grow by 4.1% in 2021.
Top tourism-dependent economies experienced the following decline: Mauritius – 15%; Seychelles – 12% and Carbo Verde – 8.9%. These countries are expected to recover this year with a projected growth rate of 6.8%, assuming the pandemic is brought under control and international travel and tourism are allowed.
It is important to note that not all African countries were impacted the same way by the Covid-19 pandemic. Experiences in Africa’s regions and the prospects for growth are therefore varied. While Southern Africa was hard hit by the pandemic with an economic contraction of 7.0% in 2020 and projected growth of 3.2% in 2021 and 2.4% in 2022, East Africa was the most resilient region. Its growth prospect is estimated to be 3% in 2021 and 5.6% in 2022. Djibouti (9.9%), Kenya (5%), Tanzania (4.1%), and Rwanda (3.9%) are expected to be the top performers.
West Africa experienced a relatively limited spread of the virus.
Many West African countries maintained positive growth in 2020, thanks to less restrictive lockdowns. These countries include Benin (2.3%), Cote d’Ivoire (1.8%), and Niger (1.2%). Countries that experienced recession include Cabo Verde (8.9%), Liberia (3.1), and Nigeria (3%). The growth prospect in West Africa is estimated at 2.8% in 2021 and 3.9% in 2022.
GDP growth in Central Africa contracted by 2.7%. Countries that were most affected include Cameroon (2.4%), the Republic of Congo (-7.9%), the DRC (-1.7%), and Equatorial Guinea (-6.1%). The region is expected to recover at 3.2% in 2021 and 4% in 2022. The economies of North Africa contracted by 1.1% in 2020, propped up by Egypt, which maintained 3.6% growth despite the relatively severe health impact of the virus in the country.
Other countries contracted significantly in 2020, including Tunisia (–8.8%), Morocco (–5.9%), and Algeria (–4.7%). The effects of COVID–19, internal conflict, and a drop in oil prices caused an estimated 60.3% contraction of real GDP in Libya. North Africa is projected to experience a robust recovery of 4% in 2021 and 6% in 2022.
Financial Implications of Africa’s Recovery
Lindiwe Sisulu projected that Africa’s recovery from the pandemic is not going to be easy. The Bank reports that there will be a surge in African government financing needs to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, governments have announced fiscal stimulus packages ranging in cost from about 0.02% of GDP in South Sudan to about 10.4% of GDP in South Africa.
The ADB estimated that governments on the continent would need gross financing of about $154 billion in 2020/21 to respond to the crisis.
This amount constitutes 97% of the World Bank’s $157 billion it has deployed to fight the health, economic and social impacts of the pandemic in the whole world. This means that other sources of funding will have to be found to help us drive Africa’s recovery from the pandemic.
Policy Priorities to SA’s Recovery
Despite the economic growth prospects outlined above, she highlighted that there could be continued uncertainty about when the virus would finally be contained, a situation that had the potential as a major threat to Africa’s recovery. It was, therefore, important to continue to pay attention to policy priorities that seek to mitigate the impact of the pandemic but also bolster Africa’s transformation to a more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable post-pandemic recovery, she said.
It would be critically important for South Africa to persist in its focus on the following priorities, amongst other initiatives that individual African countries are taking:
- Continuing support for the health sector to consolidate gains in the fight against the pandemic.
- Effectively using monetary and fiscal support to underpin the economic recovery where policy space remains available.
- Expanding social safety nets and making growth more equitable to address increasing poverty.
- Scaling up active labor market policies to retool the workforce for the future of work.
- Intensifying structural transformation through digitalization and economic diversification to build resilience, and
- Fostering regional and multinational cooperation to ensure sustained and widespread recovery.
Reopening African Markets
The Minister also underscored that Covid-19 has had a more negative impact on tourism activities in the first half of 2020 than anticipated, and although recovery has begun in the third quarter, with the pandemic continuing to spread, many countries have slowed re-opening, and some are reinstating partial or complete lockdowns to protect susceptible populations.
While borders are open to accepting visitors from across the globe, international travel had also been restricted by border closures in some key international source markets.
In this regard, she noted that the Kigali Extraordinary Summit of 2018 in Rwanda put in motion the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, which promised to create one African market with a combined GDP of more than $2 trillion.
At the summit, the Kigali Declaration and the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons were signed, putting into effect the free trade agreement and would have eased border controls to allow free movement of people.
The declaration was ratified by 47-member states and was meant to boost trade between African countries, remove non-tariff and tariff barriers on goods and services that would have doubled intra-African trade, and ensure local beneficiation and manufacturing.
The Minister also mentioned that innovative campaigns such as Ghana’s Tourism Ministry’s “Year of Return” – which urged African American travellers to “come home” – ran between 2018 and 2019.
“The various initiatives by our friends in the Diaspora through the narratives of the “homecoming revolution” since the beginning of 2000 have abruptly ended at the beginning of 2020 – shattering our dream,” she said.
According to Statistics South Africa, all ten leading SADC countries have since shown a decrease in the number of tourists from 2019 to 2020. Botswana had the largest percentage decrease of 80.6%. Zimbabwe remained the leading SADC country in terms of tourist visits.
Outside of SADC, Côte d’Ivoire had the largest percentage decrease of 77.4%. However, a comparison between 2019 and 2020 volumes indicates that the number of tourists decreased in all ten leading countries.
Domestic tourists in Kenya cut their holiday expenditures by 37.5 percent in 2020, amidst massive job losses and pay cuts due to the pandemic.
It is estimated that tourism jobs in the East African region dropped by 46%, from 4.1 million to 2.2 million, according to a new report published by the East African Business Council.
Furthermore, it is estimated that a total of $57.8 million, is needed to implement the East African tourism sector’s recovery plan.
The Minister reiterated that as the continent embarks on new ways of doing business and hosting the peoples of the world, there is a need to draw lessons from the experiences of the pandemic and ensure that businesses are more robust and agile for the future sustainability.
“It is therefore important that we are aligned as a continent when we adopt measures to reignite the tourism industry. This is crucial for building inclusive recovery”.
Reports have shown that tourism in countries with a high share of vaccinated people will rebound faster than in countries with a low share.
The nature of the Covid-19 pandemic is that new variants are bound to develop as a natural evolution of the virus. This is why, while vaccination remains important, non-pharmaceutical interventions such as maintaining social distancing, keeping masks on, and sanitizing remain critical.
International tourism recovery will strongly depend on pandemic trajectories, travel restrictions, and vaccine development.
In East Africa, reports show that low access to vaccines, slow vaccine rollouts, and a potentially high cost of vaccinations risk are holding back the recovery of the region’s economies.
“Yet, despite these concerns, the African Union has made great strides to ensure the vaccines are administered securely. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) Consortium for Covid-19 is a knowledge hub that brings together vaccine developers, funders, and African organisations that conduct clinical trials to collate information on the virus and act on their findings,” she said.
Adding that the AU also launched the Pan-African bio-surveillance technology called PanaBIOS that can track the spread of the Coronavirus and connect testing centres across the continent.
South Africa’s Tourism Recovery Plan
The Minister said that South Africa had worked on a recovery plan and will share it to learn from each other what is workable and what is not.
“We have always recognised tourism’s crucial role in developing and growing an inclusive economy. And the fact that it is listed as one of eight interventions in its recovery plan illustrates this point”.
The tourism department has already drawn up and is implementing the sector’s recovery plan, with the following strategic interventions:
- Implement norms and standards for safe operations across the value chain to enable safe travel and rebuild traveller confidence;
- Stimulate domestic demand through targeted initiatives and campaigns;
- Strengthen the supply-side through resource mobilisation and investment facilitation;
- Support for the protection of core tourism infrastructure and assets;
- Execute a global marketing programme to reignite international demand;
- Tourism regional integration; and
- Review the tourism policy to provide enhanced support for sector growth and development
South Africa hopes to make immediate gains through inter-regional and domestic travel to sustain the sector. It is ready to take a fair share of the world tourism organization estimate that tourism in Africa could more than double to 134 million tourists in 2030.
In conclusion, the Minister said the path to the continent’s tourism recovery will not be an easy one, especially if the energy of the continent’s oneness was not harnessed, its unity of purpose and common dream of a destination wasn’t connected and united.
“It is a long road ahead, but the interventions outlined here will go a long way to rebuilding the sector”.