Dorine Reinstein
Dorine Reinstein

Africa has slowly started to reopen its borders, as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania are all welcoming international travelers. Namibia soon will be, too. However, the question remains whether travelers will be confident enough to venture into Africa again.

To alleviate travelers' safety concerns about their vacations to Africa, several initiatives aimed at reassuring travelers have taken shape.

Alana Hayden founder of Born Free Safaris & Tours and the Association for the Promotion of Tourism to Africa, recently established TourSafe Africa with the help of a team of Africa travel specialists. This not-for-profit lists properties in Africa that follow the safety regulations developed by the World Travel and Tourism Council, the CTC and the United Nations World Tourism Organization as well as local governments.

"The TourSafe website is a resource for the travel agent to utilize to assure clients that all steps are being taken to keep them safe and healthy during their trip to Africa," said Hayden. "The website will give potential travelers an additional sense of assurance when researching where they can feel protocols are being followed."

Another notable initiative is the introduction by African Bush Camps of "travel bubbles," enabling families and group travelers to buy out any one of the company's 16 bush camps across Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Travelers can also opt to book two or more camps in succession for their exclusive use and connect to each via private charter flights to minimize and even eliminate contact with other travelers.

Singita spokeswoman Lisa Carey said the company has also launched long-stay/private jet/private villa promotions that ensure seamless, low-contact travel. Booking one of Singita's exclusive-use villas is the ideal way for a family to travel with little to no other interaction at a lodge. She said: "Travelers have sole-use of the villa with all meals and activities tailor-made to them with a small staff complement, which only serves the villa."

Despite these initiatives, there are still several challenges to overcome for travelers; testing is one of them.

"We had a customer scheduled to travel, but the customer could not get the Covid test required by the airline in the stipulated timeframe, as it is impossible to get a test done in the U.S. market in specific areas with immediate results," said Raza Visram of African Mecca Safaris.

Raza Visram
Raza Visram

He said he has found that travelers are keen to book, but only on the condition that they can control the entire process. "Clients want to be able to claim health reasons at any time between now and the day they depart with zero restrictions on when they can cancel and receive a 100% refund," Visram said. "If they arrive in countries where they will be tested on arrival and are found to be positive, they do not want to be quarantined in a foreign country. They want to be able to return home immediately and recover in their home country. Due to the false positives of immediate tests being done locally, if they test positive, they want a full refund of the tour."

The issue of insurance is also a stumbling block, according to tour operators. Carey said people are eager to book, but travel insurance and the lack of full coverage or even a lack of a cancel-for-any-reason policy is a problem.

Although still early days, operators say the feedback from travelers who have visited Africa has been positive. Ryan Brown, head of marketing at Go2Africa, said: "We've had a few clients in Tanzania the past few weeks, and all had great things to say about safety protocols throughout their trip. One couple even extended their stay in Zanzibar."

Brown saw a spike in July for 2021 bookings in comparison with the previous months, which he attributes to travelers being eager to start traveling again and feeling optimistic that things will return to normal soon.

Suzanne Bayly-Coupe, owner of Classic Portfolio, said travelers who traveled to Tanzania and Kenya in the past month had incredible experiences. She said: "Space has been available at Giraffe Manor, the hotel with the highest demand in Africa, and travelers have had front row seats of the migration at Sala's Camp in the Maasai Mara where the crossing and wildlife sighting have been outstanding. Intrepid travelers with a true love for Africa have been richly rewarded with exceptional wildlife sightings, beautiful weather and vast wilderness areas all to themselves."

Sherwin Banda
Sherwin Banda

Forward bookings are also picking up rapidly, according to Bayly-Coupe. She said: "If you had asked me two weeks ago, I would have said it was still a little slow with a wait-and-see approach, but we have seen a sharp shift in interest and new bookings. I think this is due to Covid fatigue. Bookings are beginning to flow in for 2021, and together with the postponement from 2020 we are facing some availability issues in the peak seasons."

Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel Inc., found that 90% of customers who planned 2020 travel with the company rebooked for 2021. He said: "In the last month, new clients are also reserving as they feel more comfortable with the idea of travel, including new safety policies and ways to travel without the crowds implemented in Africa."

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