Dorine Reinstein
Dorine Reinstein

Covid-19 has hit the global tourism industry with incredible force. Africa is no different. To ensure recovery, Africa will need an all-hands-on-deck approach with the international travel industry.

In South Africa, my home country, the tourism industry is fighting tirelessly to draw the attention of the government to the plight of hundreds of thousands of South Africans who rely on tourism to feed their families. Since the pandemic began, these households have been left with no income, no food and very little support from the government.

Despite that devastating impact, South Africa's president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has remained mum on the issue of tourism. A recent peaceful protest march by members of the tourism industry in Cape Town was met with disproportionate police force, water cannons and stun grenades.

The reaction of the government to the efforts of the tourism industry, or lack thereof, has not gone unnoticed with colleagues in the U.S. Jim Holden, president of Holden Safaris, said he shared the frustration of the tourism industry in South Africa at the apparent lack of government appreciation for its predicament and a sense of urgency to try to help it.

Said Holden: "I listened to a speech given recently by president Cyril Ramaphosa [that was] posted on Twitter, and the comment attached to the post regretted that the speech made no reference to the tourism industry at all! I find it odd that the tourism industry can't get the ear of government when it makes up such a large percentage of the country's GDP."

The local tourism industry is appealing to the trade in the U.S. to share positive stories about the destination, help amplify the #SouthAfricaisTravelReady hashtag and share a new Women's Day campaign -- #IAmTourism. The campaign puts the spotlight on the fact that 70% of the tourism sector in South Africa comprises women. It not only celebrates the women who make up the heart of the tourism industry but also aims to give women a chance to demand change and open up the industry.

It is not all bad news for the African tourism industry. Kenya announced it will reopen its borders to international travel on Aug. 1, while Rwanda, Tanzania and Seychelles have reopened their borders, as well.

The three African destinations have opened their borders to international travelers. Listed below are the protocols for visiting those countries.

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The Kenyan industry has been inundated with requests as U.S. travelers seem very keen to explore the possibility of a safari after having been locked down for months. Tamsin Corcoran, managing director for New African Territories, even explained that 2021 won't require any marketing as everything is almost fully booked for the year.

"Believe it or not, there is indeed a pent-up interest here in the USA to break out of lockdown and social isolation," Holden said with a laugh. He explained that most travel advisors and their clients acknowledge that one major aspect of a safari is a built-in form of social distancing, particularly when staying at small. owner-managed boutique safari lodges, with no more than four to six clients to a safari vehicle and separate dining.

According to Holden, Americans who are considering a 2021 safari are interested in any African destination where the country borders are, or might be, open to international travel and Americans; where boutique safari lodges are open with new protocols in place to safeguard against Covid-19 infection; and where deposit and cancellation terms are flexible in response to the current uncertain environment.

However, even where borders have reopened, a collaborative approach to recovery is needed with a much greater role for travel experts to play and more expertise and knowledge required.

Raza Visram of African Mecca Safaris, noted that the first questions clients ask is whether his company is knowledgeable and in sync with the ground situation. Travelers also want to know the number of infections, access to good hospitals and how safaris are designed to minimize the risk of Covid. They want to know how they will be treated should an escalation of Covid happen and are asking for more clarity with regards to airline schedules, which are often unreliable, quarantines and travel insurance.

Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel, agreed, saying travelers rely on his expertise to know when to travel to Africa. The answer depends on his knowledge of the traveler.

"There are two types of travelers right now planning travel: the 'seize the day' and the 'let's wait and see,' and we are here for both," he said.  "There will always be those who want to travel regardless of risks.  When countries like Kenya open, we urge these people to travel cautiously and work with experts like us who have thorough well-being protocols.

"The things we offer -- like medical evacuation, a 24/7 concierge with nimble staff in Africa and the U.S. and strong local relationships -- will be needed if changes arise," said Banda, adding that for those with health or other concerns, he recommends waiting to travel in 2021 or 2022 and reserve the trip now.

Availability also requires specialist advice in Covid times. Banda explained Africa is already a top destination for 2021, with more people looking for the natural spaces and intimate experiences that a safari provides.

"Those who planned to travel in 2020 have moved these trips and availability can be a struggle if you don't know where to look," Banda said.

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