Tourism Renewal Crossroads – What will lift Africa’s tourism from the COVID19 Storm?

COVID19 has had adverse effects on tourism. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates 100 million tourism-related jobs have already been lost globally, including nearly eight million in Africa, due to the COVID-19 crisis. Many more business may not survive the crisis, especially tourism SMEs that were not aware of this risk. For some in Africa, their leadership strategies, as well as changes in business operations, didn’t offer sufficient solutions to lift them out of the storm of COVID-19. Still, countries are hopeful for a future ahead of Africa’s tourism and continuity for tourism business in all destinations.

So, what is the next big thing for Africa’s tourism? As tourism reopens and destinations are coming alive with domestic travellers and few foreign travellers, there is evidence everywhere that destinations are looking for renewal. Whether the renewal is a genuine awakening from COVID19 pandemic to #buildtourismforward a call by #sttaconsulting or #buildbackbetter, messages of renewal abound. But there are many variations to the meaning of renewal.

We have documented before how tourism responses to the pandemic shifted from being assurance of strength by the industry to messages to corporate appeals to travellers to travel tomorrow and even social marketing where operators highlight the plight of residents in destinations from lack of travel. This was particularly the case with safari tourism in Africa which had many appeals to travellers to save wildlife from poaching and host communities from economic losses by paying forward.

In the recent past, the industry has seen a rise in initiatives to demonstrate commitment of the sector to do better. Notable ones are the Build Back Better initiative, the Future of Tourism by The Travel Foundation, and the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance which is about responsible hospitality for a better world. Before the pandemic, there was a rallying call for tourism to declare climate emergency. There have been reminders that climate crisis is the bigger pandemic and must not be forgotten.

All these calls are focusing on sustainable, and responsible practices by the sector. At the moment, the need to put communities at the centre of renewal and to pay attention to climate and other impacts of tourism is urgent. By doing so tourism will be better. Better is the next big thing in tourism. It is what destinations should be jostling for in the quest for renewal, in every effort to self- lift out of covid-19 storm.

Renewal seems to have many different faces for different destinations. For some it is about services and others about products. Yet for others it is about systems overhaul. Where renewal is about services and products, it has to have mutuality with rediscovery. This is because renewal is what the destination offers, and rediscovery is tourist acknowledgement of newness in the place offer. In Africa, the renewal is focused on new experiences and products, hence use of terms like rediscover places. Already, renewal in some places offers guideposts for domestic markets to rediscover destination attractions. In Uganda, the government successfully launched a wildlife monuments project, to encourage city dwellers to learn and experience wildlife “from Kampala City as well as in the wild, national parks and other tourism destinations”. For Kenya and Zimbabwe, part of this renewal lies in opportunities for destination branding through sports tourism. It will take markets to rediscover sports attractions in these countries, to authenticate their renewal efforts through sports tourism.

In a poll to understand the thinking behind renewal of tourism in Africa, we asked our audience on social media, what this renewal meant for Africa’s tourism. Our poll was guided by the inclination to product and service as key elements of renewal. More the 45% of respondents believed that community-based /led tourism was the next big thing for Africa’s tourism. Another 20% believed MICE was the next big thing for Africa in its renewal agenda.

The results of the poll lead to another question. Is Africa on the right path for tourism renewal? One way to answer this question is to look at the focus of the COVID19 economic stimulus funds. Much of the funds have gone to rebuild the old. This means that when tourism fully bounces back, it will pick up from where it was before COVID19. Thus, Africa is deep in a tourism renewal crossroads. This is the dilemma of renewal messaging without system reviews, deep reflections and intentional strategies to transform tourism for better.  Should destinations need to be held accountable for renewing better? Who should hold them accountable? Travellers? For without accountability, renewal will be a buzzword by destinations to help them fit in, and not necessarily navigate turbulent storms from this crisis.


Read more of #sttaconsulting briefs on COVID19 and tourism in Africa here Tourism During Covid-19 Surveys


Judy Gona


October 24th, 2020