Africa suppliers see post-Covid trends working in their favor

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Dorine Reinstein
Dorine Reinstein

Although most African borders remain firmly closed for the foreseeable future, there are some signs of positivity with a few countries tentatively exploring the possibility of re-opening their tourism industry.

Tourism industry players on the continent agree that when travel is able to resume, Africa is ideally positioned to become a go-to destination for international travelers for a number of reasons.

"There are a number of trends relating to what a post Covid-19 world will look like; they include a desire to be in open spaces, to explore the natural world, to get away from the crowds to more remote and exclusive areas," said Craig Glatthaar, Wilderness Safaris' U.S. business manager.

An escape from lockdown: With so many countries around the world having enforced lockdowns, people have been unable to enjoy the outdoors, said AndBeyond's group conservation manager, Les Carlisle. "We believe that this is something travelers will sorely have missed during this time and hope they will look to Africa to re-engage with nature and wildlife. The wide-open savannah is a great place to decompress after months cooped up indoors in isolation. Getting sneezed on by a giraffe in an open vehicle beats the daily tube ride any day."

Gordie Owles, commercial director at Asilia Africa, agreed that with more than a fifth of the world's population in lock down and movement restricted people have never craved the great outdoors as much. "This is what a safari offers travelers, a close-up with nature, an opportunity to reconnect with the wild and a glimpse of what the world was like before we became slaves to our phones and offices."

"We're not built for lockdown," added Sean Kritzinger, executive chairman of Giltedge Africa. "We need connection and exploration. We'll be seeing a return to slow travel, to being in nature -- especially things like walking pilgrimages or wellness sabbaticals -- but also to activity-filled and adrenaline-pumping vacations. I think there'll be a greater sense of purpose; we've been cooped up for weeks and so travel, especially to Africa, will have a greater sense of meaning."

Reconnecting with nature: If the coronavirus has achieved anything, it is putting a greater emphasis on the importance of protecting the Earth's biodiversity and connecting with it, said Glatthaar. "Africa is not only home to the world's most diverse megafauna (the big mammals like lions, elephants, giraffes and gorillas), but it's also a continent with some of the largest and greatest remaining tracts of natural habitat and astounding biodiversity. The healing power of nature is accentuated in the wildlife-rich ecosystems of Africa."

Health and a reconnection with nature will be a major drawing card, agreed Lindy Rousseau, chief marketing officer at Singita. "In a post-Covid world, we believe travelers will have the need to connect with nature, they will look for locally sourced, healthy food, and spiritual and mental wellness will be important. Africa has all of this in abundance."

A look at where some of the most popular tourism destinations on the continent stand in their comeback plans.

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Giving back: Philanthropy and ecotourism are expected to play a major role in people's lives post-Covid. Said Rousseau: "Africa has many meaningful opportunities for travelers to give back. Tourism is the live-giving force for the conservation of iconic areas. Nature could become our inspiration to live a simpler, more sustainable life after Covid-19. Africa touches travelers on an emotional, physical and spiritual level. Ecotourism provides vital revenue to keep wilderness areas going (these are diminishing all the time due to rapid population growth), so guests leave Africa having made a lasting contribution to its legacy."

Also, Owles said he believes that when people are able to travel again they will be looking more than ever to use their travels as a force for good, to travel to somewhere where they know they are making a positive difference. "There are not many places that tourism has more of a positive impact than in Africa," he said, adding that it is estimated that one in 10 people globally are employed in tourism, and in many safari regions tourism is actually the only job opportunity.

A more exclusive experience: Compared with many of the world's top tourist destinations that are suffering from overtourism, Africa offers an extremely uncrowded alternative, according to Glatthaar. "With the likely fear of large crowds that will come out of this crisis, this could be a major incentive to travel to Africa."

Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel, also stressed that while many travelers are concerned for their health and safety while abroad, Africa is a good fit for those concerned with visiting crowded destinations because African travel has options for those looking for secluded getaways and private hideaways.

"Only 5% of global travel goes to Africa," said Banda. "Lodges and camps frequently have a small number of guests at one time allowing guests to enjoy wide open spaces where it's a few in their safari vehicle, their ranger and cavorting hippos or a pride of lions keeping them company."

Trish Mambinge, general manager of sales and marketing for Shearwater Victoria Falls, added Africa offers a relatively safe haven for travelers. "If you look at the whole world and the records on the infections and deaths, Africa still has the lowest numbers compared to some individual countries. I am pretty much certain that people will be wanting to travel to a safer place and escape from the virus threat for some time. For now, Africa is the destination that is much safer."

Brett Gehren, CEO of Isibindi Africa Lodges, added that health regulations are more easily observed in Africa's ecotourism industry, where camps and lodges tend to be small, boutique-style operations that can quickly and effectively implement and monitor distancing rules and cleanliness protocol.

Due to the favorable exchange rate, travel to Africa would be quite attractive and excellent value for money, Rousseau added, especially considering long-stay promotions and off-peak rates.

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