New Normal and Tourism in Africa

Every person in tourism including #sttachangemakers, tour guides, tourists, hospitality staff and CEOs is facing a new world emerging in the sector. We waited for the new normal, few prepared for it. The choice for tourism to do away with normalcy after the pandemic aims at having a sector that has transformative impacts.

 

The meaning of new normal for tourism

Although the concept of new normal in tourism may be perceived to be familiar to many experts, there is no settled definition of it, especially in practice. The following are some of the definitions of the same by #sttachangemakers.

  • New normal involves disrupting the old ways of operations in tourism to see what is still relevant in building tourism forward.
  • New normal in tourism entails critical steps, measures and coordinated actions including new health protocols in response to the pandemic. Notable in these is the entrance of health sector as a priority stakeholder and the digitalization of tourism services. The ultimate aim in these elements of new normal, is to foster tourism resilience and give travelers assurance of destination safety.
  • New normal for tourism also means shifting focus of source markets for destinations. There is inclination to target domestic tourists, which appears to be a good opportunity due to restrictions in international travel.
  • New normal in tourism relates to innovative measures that travel industry has emphasized on so as to foster resilience and continue influencing travelers’ decisions positively. It refers to embracing digitalization of tourism for instance virtual reality for Meetings Incentives Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) is the way to go.

 

What is being brought forth strongly in the new normal for tourism in Africa?

The covid-19 crisis has been a shock to many tourism dependent countries in Africa. As a result, the tourism industry has been trying to go beyond the normalcy while trying to adapt to the current situation so as to remain relevant going forward. Some of the issues that have been emphasized the new normal tourism era include;

  • COVID-19 prevention measures have been prioritized; for enterprise level, guest safety has been given priority therefore creation of protocols and health guidelines is the trend now
  • Domestic tourism promotion with a strong adherence to health guidelines is now emphasized as recovery initiative that has been seen to try boost the tourism industry.
  • Tourism is now being influenced by terms such as resilience, sustainability, and safety. These are supported by increasing partnerships to build tourism forward post COVID-19 induced crisis.
  • Destination marketing and rebranding initiatives for instance adoption of virtual reality. There is also expansion of roles from promotion of communities to building community resilience.
  • Recovery of tourism is the main agenda amongst stakeholders. More strategies are geared towards achieving the 2019 arrival and revenue statistics.
  • Innovation in tourism industry through digitalization of tourism services is also a competitive edge for now. Digitalization is also used as a tool for reducing congestions in destinations which are known for mass tourism. We have also seen the concept of virtual tours coming up, by use of ICT, videography and other digital tools to visualize experience to tourist who are far.
  • Product improvement and innovative packaging is also a key concern now and product diversification is being aimed as a way of profit optimization

 

All having been said and done it was agreed by the #sttachangemakers that continuous transformation is inevitable in tourism, just to brace up for uncertainties facing the industry.

 

What is being obscured in conversations of new normal for tourism in Africa?

The current conversation about new normal for tourism in Africa has captured various ideas ranging from necessity of health guidelines and the entrance of health sector being a new stakeholder in tourism, to digitalization of tourism services and focus on domestic markets. However, #sttachangemakers   through their discussion note with a lot of concerns that some critical issues are still out of sight in stakeholders’ conversations on new normal. Such issues include;

  • Old policies are still being applied while the business is not usual. The implication of

this is that formulation of new policies that are geared towards promoting tourism resilience should be included in the new normal for Africa’s tourism.

  • Most of the conversations have been aiming at recovering tourism to 2019 levels with less concerns of environment. The sustainability of tourism has been ignored in the new normal for instance in Kenya, mask disposal which has been a great concern by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) ever since the pandemic started. This implies for integration of recovery strategies with environmental concerns since one of the sustainable principles in tourism is that environment should be considered in any decision making.
  • Risk planning and preparedness ahead of unforeseen challenges in Africa are also not part of the current conversation since most of the stakeholders are drawing their attention to the current pandemic and how they are going to survive. Risk preparedness is very critical since it will help stakeholders prepare for unforeseen future.
  • Workforce has been ignored with much attention to visitor safety. The workforce is central to recovery and rebuilding the industry. This implies a need for retraining of the workforce, to equip them with skills needed now for changes in new normal.
  • Most of the focus recently among the tourism experts has been calling for a restart or a fresh start rather than recovery whose implication is the likelihood of return to old ways of doing things. There is a need of adopting clever marketing methods as well as innovative ways of packaging tourism stories.
  • Discussions on reinventing better approaches for tourism growth are being obscured. Much attention narrows on recovering visitor numbers or rather the high arrivals that are the norm for defining tourism success. Therefore, the concern for sustainable growth in tourism risks going unnoticed in the new normal.

 

What should Africa’s tourism prioritize in age of new normal?

Going forward, for tourism in Africa to effectively tap in the new normal it has to be dynamic and innovative in terms of its strategies so as to remain relevant. According to #sttachangemakers African tourism should prioritize the following;

  • Over time tourism has been used as a tool for economic development with the main agenda always being profit maximization. It is high time that the focus should shift to tourism resilience and it should be viewed as a roadmap for sustainability.
  • If tourism in Africa has to be up-to-date, then prioritizing the people and workforce is really necessary. For instance, retraining workforce on the new health guidelines pertaining the pandemic implies that they will be tuned to the new ways of delivering tourism services in the face of the current crisis.
  • There is a great need to integrate tourism services with 24/7 medical care health sector being the possible new stakeholder in tourism. This should be meant to build confidence and trust among prospective travelers.
  • Africa should prioritize development and promotion of domestic tourism. In the immediate post lock down period, domestic tourism in most of our destinations led in sustaining the industry. It is important to diversify source markets and limit overdependence on international tourists.
  • New strategies for marketing, visitor management and re-branding destinations are supposed to be derived since the old ones have been phased by the covid-19 crisis. The way of communicating issues regarding the pandemic should shift to inspire cooperation among tourism stakeholders, without making destinations discriminative.
  • Africa must also prioritize sustainability while rebuilding tourism must be anchored on sustainable development models and principles integrated approaches should be adopted for this to be achieved

 

Conclusion

The new normal for tourism in Africa invites all stakeholders to build strong partnerships for resilience. Particularly, this new normal requires innovative tools and skills to align tourism development in terms of sustainability and community resilience. Essentially, there is a need to bridge industry and tourism education system so as to bring fresh voices to conversations about new normal for Africa’s tourism.

 

Summary by Collins Atieno and Nicholas Kipkorir of Chuka University