The world around is continuously transforming and becoming a dynamic place with new issues arising every day, which have an effect on tourism. The tourism industry faces several challenges and issues that must be handled effectively by stakeholders. Taking this into consideration, this particular summary attempts to highlight the current affairs and tourism in Africa and how the industry is responding to the current issues as per the #sttachangemakers discussion on 3rd April 2021.
Some of the current issues mentioned by #sttachangemakers are;
- The concern of how to restart tourism and build resilience is an issue defining tourism in Africa this is why recovery initiatives are now being mentioned more frequently.
- For a very long time tourism across the continent has over relied on international tourists therefore making the industry to shake in such a pandemic era depicting a dangerous combination of national lockdowns and tiny local tourism customer base.
- Changes in marketing strategies in line with the new normal for tourism is also shaping the industry. Most, if not all destinations, are now opting to communicate their promotion based on COVID-19 prevention measures with an aim to build confidence to prospective travelers.
- Previous events such as terrorist attacks and existing COVID-19 pandemic have made tourism industry not only in Africa but also globally to prioritize safety concerns.
- Market changes, particularly demographics changes among travelers is also a trend due to the pandemic crisis. By the end of 2020 the average age of travelers had dropped to 38 that’s from 50 in 2019.
- Risk and crisis management in tourism and the future of travel industry are also given a lot of weight at the moment.
- Technological advancement is also a new normal trend since it has been adopted as a competitive edge, it has also given space for tourism to intervene in public discussions.
- Tourism is faced with uncertainties and is also prone to risks. This factor has shaped tourism planning.
- Vaccine passport roll out; an easily accessible and verifiable certification that persons have been inoculated. Going forward shots are going to be mandatory requirement before getting on planes. The implication of this is that it must be carefully handled since it might result to discriminatory issues for those who might find it difficult to access the vaccines.
- Travel advisories related to current crisis by various countries are now influencing how tourism operates.
- Politics, unfavourable policies and tax regimes. For instance, the taxing of Airbnb, looming elections in most African countries every year creates tension in the industry rendering the witnessed swift and gradual recovery unguaranteed.
- Recent economic downturn is a critical issue undermining the development prospects in most African countries and globally.
- The issue of climate change is a concern for travel in not only Africa but globally as tourists are seeking safe travel.
- Human resource. Training of tourism staff to adopt to the dynamism of the marketing strategies coupled with the rapid incorporation of computers and the knowledge of the current market mix to stimulate tourism demand.
Which current issues is Africa’s tourism paying attention to?
Most challenges present an opportunity for growth, and African countries have not hesitated in paying attention to the most critical ones. Some of the critical issues being emphasized are;
- Governments in Africa are currently focused on comprehensive tourism recovery plans; these entail the formulation of new policies, relief plans and promotional activities especially meant for instilling confidence in travelers.
- Target Marketing and market retention strategies are now a priority to many destinations.
- The new normal protocols especially security is currently receiving a lot of concern since travelers/guests are now making safety and hygiene measures a priority when choosing accommodation and destinations. Additionally, they will demand that hotels implement strict cleaning protocols to deal with covid-19
- Technology adoption through digitalization of services is now used as a contingency tool. Emergence of the covid-19 has brought a new normal for tourism which has made the sector to realize the importance of investing in innovative and agile technology.
- There is gradual shift to adopt sustainable operations with tour operators & hotels going for eco certification. However, this must be driven by real change in organizational values rather than incentives reasons.
- At the moment a lot of focus has been shifted to domestic tourism; this has seen domestic tourism recovery plans, promotion through campaigns and marketing initiatives.
- Sustainable tourism; tourists believe that people need to take actions now and make sustainable travel choices in order to save the planet and preserve it for future generations.
- Innovative destination management, product diversification and packaging strategies are also being emphasized as competitive edges.
- Government focus on Tourism industry; the formulation of new policies
- Labour market issues as there are limited people with limited skills
- Globalization and changing markets; adaptation of new marketing and servicing skills.
Are there missed opportunities in selective response to issues that define tourism in Africa today?
Much has been done in taping to the new normal for tourism and in addressing the existing issues in African tourism. However, with the selective manner of approaching the current affairs, some important issues have been abandoned including the following;
- Tourism is known for its economic growth role for a very long time in Africa, therefore with the current crisis more focus has been on economic impacts of tourism. This has resulted in missed opportunities for creating a sustainable sector.
- There are missed opportunities in restarting tourism with more progressive policies that promote sustainability principles and inclusive models of tourism that appreciate voices from all stakeholders.
- Most of the tour operators depend on international travelers putting less efforts on domestic tourists hence many tour companies remain closed during the current crisis.
- In the era where travel industry is facing serious impacts from the pandemic, most governments have forsaken tourism stakeholders in decision making. The most recent directives to close restaurants plainly points out lack of concern for our ailing industry despite the efforts by some stakeholders to restart tourism.
- There is a missed opportunity in balancing focus between the current pandemic situation with its impacts and the future of tourism. We clearly don’t know when the pandemic shall end but then we should also anticipate and plan for more unforeseen challenges for the industry.
- There is a missed opportunity in proper planning and management as well as building community resilience through engagement.
- There are missed opportunities to protect the environment, as tourism increasingly uses disposable protective gears and masks. Climate concerns are almost being forsaken.
- The industry is missing out on reinventing itself forward, still struggling with old ways of operations
- There is a missed opportunity for Africa to re-evaluate tourism assets and rethink their management in order to appreciate authentic Africa’s offerings.
What would it take for Africa to address any challenges arising from current affairs?
Tourism being a dynamic and fragile industry, implies that African destinations should also be dynamic and quick in adopting to the changes that might occur. According to #sttachangemakers these are some of the steps Africa should take going forward;
- Africa must genuinely restart tourism taking into account voices of all stakeholders.
- There is a need to strategize and streamline operations to fit the current flow of events. Africa has been rigid and skeptical to new reforms that are inevitable. It is time to adopt new ways of building tourism forward.
- Africa must have renewed focus and investment in harnessing and cultivating partnerships with industry, various governments and key stakeholders. such a platform will ensure that horizontal issues are effectively addressed and ensure development of shared governance and policy response.
- Governments should start supporting businesses including SMES, to help them adopt and survive with the current issues.
- Seeking collaborative strategies instead of competition-oriented ones.
- Africa should invest on resilience building strategies for the sector to remain resilient and relevant to challenges such as the current crisis. Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre is good example of institutions that Africa should focus on.
- There is a need for effective coordination of travel protocols between countries so as to boost tourism recovery strategies while preventing another year of massive losses in the sector.
- Marketers to harness technology and creativity to find their ways into tourism travel plans.
- Need for sustainability to prompt stakeholders into goodwill in acting.
Tourism is a highly dynamic and a rapidly growing industry that has been credited for improving many livelihoods in Africa and also globally. Challenges are prone to the sector and nearly inevitable which inturn calls for a collaborative and selective approach to the most critical issues that may arise from time to time. While at it, it is imperative to strike a balance between overall development and environmental conservation and sustainability. Therefore, continuous monitoring of implemented policies, identification and addressing of challenges is crucial.
Nicholas Kipkorir (Chuka University)
Sharon Akoth (Kenyatta University).