Enduring the devastating impact of travel bans and an overreliance on tourism, we give you our top 5 travel picks following the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2021 – during the Covid-19 pandemic – South Africa made headlines when scientists in the country were the first to discover the Omicron variant. When the US, UK, EU and Australia banned travel from South Africa and other southern African countries, including Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi and others, African leaders hit back.
One such leader was Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera. “We are all concerned about the new Covid variant and owe South Africa’s scientists our thanks for identifying it,” he said, “but the unilateral travel bans now imposed on [the Southern African Development Community] countries by the UK, EU, US, Australia, and others are uncalled for. Covid measures must be based on science, not Afrophobia,” he declared. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa also said that he was “deeply disappointed” by what he saw as the “completely unjustified” actions by the West.
Despite studies showing travel bans did little to impact the spread of disease, with the director of the Yale Institute of Global Health saying, “there is very little utility for these kinds of bans”, many countries had a knee-jerk reaction. The bans halted the tourism industry and devastated local businesses and subsistence entrepreneurs who are dependent on international visitors. Travel bans due to the Omicron variant cost South Africa’s tourism industry US$61.9 million (£56 million).
When South Africa’s largest tourist market, the UK, finally removed the 18-month travel ban in December 2021, the country was left wondering what long-lasting effects it would have on South Africa as a travel destination. But South Africa wasn’t the only country hit hard.
Across Africa, the ban caused merchants and retailers to turn inward, creating new products and focusing on the domestic market. Tired of waiting for international travellers to return, they tapped into local markets to increase their customer reach and foot traffic. A ‘plan B’ emerged, but so did a glaring weakness: Africa’s reliance on tourism-based economies, especially its reliance on foreign travellers.
Morocco also closed its borders but not without criticism. The head of Morocco’s hotel federation, Lahcen Zelmat, said these restrictions were unjustified, and Morocco lost tourists to alternative destinations such as Egypt and Turkey. In 2019, tourism generated US$8 billion (£7.2 billion) for the country, with 13 million tourists. In 2021, tourism was greatly reduced, generating US$3.2 billion (£2.9 billion), with 4 million tourists.
How tourism recovers
To capture the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on the tourism sector in Africa, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other global, national, and regional partners have created the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform. Aimed at gathering data on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on 11 countries and small and medium enterprises, its goal is to facilitate knowledge and identify funding opportunities. The summary data from the surveys reveal that before the Covid-19 pandemic, the tourism industry employed 31,528 people across 646 enterprises in these 11 countries. Following the pandemic, it now employs a significantly decreased 13,512 people across the same enterprises.
The WWF states, “The men and women living in and adjacent to protected areas are often wholly reliant on tourism for their income and employment, especially in remote areas. When travel stopped, community members working as drivers, cleaners, and trackers were often the first to lose their jobs.” With 17% of Africa’s lands protected and as much as 80% of some protected areas’ annual budgets relying on tourism, diversification is a necessity. The problem of overreliance on tourism predated the pandemic, but the platform is committed to helping communities recover and diversify their economies. In Zambia, for example, the initiative is helping people to explore fish farming, beekeeping, and other nature-based activities.
“When travel stopped, community members working as drivers, cleaners, and trackers were often the first to lose their jobs.”
Despite the need to urgently think about diversifying economies, the future remains bright for Africa’s tourism industry. In 2022, Africa’s tourists started returning, and projections for 2023 are even better. In-person trade shows are back, and in June 2022, United Airlines announced a direct flight from Newark, New Jersey, USA, to Cape Town, South Africa, shaving 5 hours off the previous flight time.
While intercontinental travel has been pushed by the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, most Africans still need VISAs to travel around the continent. Still, it boasts incredible future potential, especially with Africa’s growing middle class and rising population of young travellers. Rwanda’s recovery plan includes developing local and regional markets, and Kenya leads the way as a promoter of local tourism.
Africa is now open for travel and depends on our bucket lists and holiday bookings as well as focusing on its diversification efforts. While it welcomes international travellers with excitement, it remains a key destination for the growth of intercontinental travel, which is why – wherever we find ourselves – we must look to stay and enjoy its hot spots and hidden gems.
Here are our top 5 travel picks for 2023.
Top 5 Travel Picks for Africa in 2023
- Livingstone, Zambia – A stunning location near the thundering Victoria Falls and banks of the majestic Zambezi, Livingstone offers serene views, wildlife encounters, and cultural wonders. It was hit hard by a lack of tourism due to the Covid-19 pandemic and welcomes visitors with open arms.
- Lamu, Kenya – Magnificent and often misunderstood, this beautiful island is part of the Lamu Archipelago. Bursting with Swahili flavour and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its rich history and ancient architecture are a traditional traveller’s dream.
- Ethiopia – During the Covid-19 pandemic, Ethiopia became a gateway to Africa, with its airlines running flights throughout the continent. With fun festivals, beautiful scenery, and ancient civilisations and history, it’s a remarkable travel destination that’s often overlooked yet easily accessible to many countries, being in the Horn of Africa.
- Cape Town, South Africa – Another country hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, Cape Town is located on a peninsula and is a medley of magnificent mountain ranges and breathtaking beach views. Ranked numerous times as one of the best cities in the world, it’s an eclectic mix of music, food, and festival life. Cape Town has the buzz of a bustling city and the charm of a quaint beach town.
- Namibia – Home to the world’s oldest desert – the Namib, Namibia offers remarkable scenery from sea dunes to sandy plains to majestic mountains. Why travel to Dubai when Namibia offers just as much desert beauty?