The world is closing its borders to fight the spread of Covid-19, and Africa is no exception.
South Africa, my home, went into complete lockdown at midnight on March 26.
All borders as well as the airspace will be closed with the sole exception of essential cargo services. No passenger airlines will be allowed to fly into or out of the country until at least April 16.
Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, Tanzania, Namibia and many other countries in Africa also have either closed their borders or imposed stringent bans on travelers from affected countries, including the U.S.
For a continent like Africa that is deeply dependent on its tourism industry (research by the WTTC shows that in 2018 travel and tourism contributed $194.2 billion to Africa's economy, representing 8.5% of the continent's GDP), the effect of Covid-19 is expected to be substantial.
African tourism establishments and lodges often support entire communities and rural villages. These establishments are desperate to keep the dream of Africa alive in the minds of travelers and with it the livelihoods of entire families and villages that depend on them.
The overriding message from Africa to travel advisors across the world is to urge clients to postpone and not cancel their trips to Africa.
“Be kind to Africa. Postpone your safari. Do not cancel,” said Mefi Pishori Alapat, safari designer for Journey to Africa. She said that by postponing trips to Africa instead of canceling, travelers can help save wildlife conservation and anti-poaching efforts. They will help children in schools, ensure clean water in communities and so much more.
Said Alapat: “Your safari not only gives you a life-changing experience, but the dollars trickle down to so many people and causes. I can't thank you enough for that.”
Putting those plans on hold also benefits the agents who booked the safari, said Jim Holden, president of Holden Safaris. “Canceling sends a message of finality, that the traveler’s dreams of going on safari to Africa are over, leading to disappointment and resentment. Instead, by postponing a booking, lines of communication stay open between the agent and the traveler, hope and expectation are transferred to the postponed dates, and the client and agent have a reason to stay in touch and keep the interest and anticipation of an upcoming vacation and safari alive.”
That desire to travel will ultimately return, said Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel, so it’s important for suppliers to keep that appetite alive in the coming weeks and months. “Our job is to inspire and educate advisors on destinations in Africa and what it has to offer, so that their clients will want to put a safari on their bucket list in the upcoming year. We are supporting advisors every step of the way during this crisis and want them to still feel secure in selling Africa, even during hard times. Africa will still be waiting for us when this is over.”
To keep the dream alive, many tourism brands have taken to the online realm to share snippets of the experiences Africa has to offer. Although Holden argued that virtual safaris do not do justice to the real deal -- and he is absolutely right on that -- it is unfortunately the best travelers can hope for right now.
One company that got that message exactly right, according to Holden, is Singita. The company shared a video while crossing a bridge over a river at Sabi Sand, with the sound of birds and the river gently flowing beneath the bridge. No wildlife in view, just the sound of the birds and the calming flow of the river. The message accompanying the video, which was shared on multiple social media platforms, reads: “When you do get stressed, the sounds and scenes of nature can help you to soothe your soul."
Great Plains Conservation has also appealed to travelers' senses. "Just because borders are closed and airports have become like hot zones, preventing you from experiencing a Great Plains Conservation safari for real does not mean you have to shut down your senses and not experience our wildernesses at all," said Dereck Joubert, CEO of Great Plains Conservation.
Joubert promised to send travelers a weekly email with a Great Plains virtual "experience" from the wild. "It may just be a simple thing -- a thread, a hint, a connection to your safari -- or something wholly unexpected and different," he said.
His first email shares an amazing sound recording captured in Kenya's Maasai Mara while he was sitting with a herd of elephants. He said: "A small female angled herself into the range of a massive bull and presented herself. Quite suddenly, we were in the middle of a very anxious herd of elephants as the pair mated within mere paces from us, but it was the 'after-mating' calls that were so exciting."
Appealing to travelers' taste buds, the South African legacy wine estate Boschendal has announced it will be sharing some of its favorite recipes from the Bakery and Werf Kitchen online, encouraging people to cook along at home and learn some new skills.
"All recipes will champion fresh, seasonal produce and local, ethically sourced ingredients, echoing the farm-to-table approach taken at all of the eateries at Boschendal. They will be delicious, easy to make and bring a taste of the farm into the home," the company said.
The first of the recipes will be for their signature hot cross buns in preparation for at-home Easter celebrations. Light, comforting and delicately spiced, they are the perfect breakfast or tea time treat for the long weekend, best served lightly toasted and slathered in fresh farm butter. They will also share a traditional recipe from the Cape: a masala fish dish, inspired by the classic Malay flavors of pickled fish.
Watch for a series of videos, blog posts and downloadable recipes on www.boschendal.com or by following them on Instagram and Facebook.
As tourism establishments across Africa are grappling to come to terms with a new reality, they are often at a loss on how to communicate with the world without seeming out of touch with reality. If sometimes the message misses the mark and seems too promotional, please try to remember that African safari companies are often supporting entire villages and communities. They are simply trying to keep the African safari dream alive for when life returns to normal.