CEO of South African Tourism, Sisa Ntshona

There is still a strong demand for travel to South Africa for the fourth quarter of 2020 from European travellers.

“If South Africa can get the pandemic under control and borders open, it could have an okay summer high season,” said Tim Cordon, Radisson Hotel Group Area Senior VP for the Middle East and Africa, noting that travellers from the UK were particularly interested in travelling to the country.

He was speaking on a panel of three during this week’s Euronews Debates looking into whether Africa’s tourism sector could recover and meet the demand from European travellers.

During the debate many of the questions to the panellists centred on when the trade could send tourists to South Africa.

One of the panellists, CEO of South African Tourism, Sisa Ntshona, admitted that this was one of the biggest tensions in South Arica at the moment. “Government has to make big decisions about the health and safety of the country’s citizens but at the same time we need to look at the supply side of the industry and ensure it survives.”

He projected that, according to the Ministry of Health, South Africa would hit its COVID-19 peak in late August, early September this year. “As to when the borders will open, we cannot say, but we – as a tourism collective in partnership with private sector – have been focused on our health and safety protocols to ensure travellers have confidence that they can travel safely to SA’s shores.”

Cordon agreed, noting that it would be irresponsible of the tourism industry to welcome tourists until it could open its borders in a safe and sustainable way.

Ntshona said South Africa was thus focused on opening up from the inside out. “We are looking at phases of reopening, starting with business travel domestically, then domestic leisure, then intra-continental travel and finally, opening up international borders.”

He acknowledged a point raised by Cordon that Africa’s tourism sector was still very dependent on international visitors for economic growth. “We are therefore starting to adapt our strategies to align with a rapidly changing market. That means diversifying our product offering to still meet the needs of the long-haul market but also to cater for newer markets that are closer to us geographically.”

Ntshona pointed out that segments of specific markets had changed as well. “We, as an industry, are almost starting at base zero as the market evolves and that’s also why up-to-the-minute data, statistics and analysis are so key in gaining insights to those segments and adapting our product offering as we go along.”

Regional Director: Africa at the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, Elcia Groundcourt, agreed, adding that Africa’s tourism sector held so much appeal to the rest of the world.

“I believe in fact that travel to Africa will hold even more appeal in a post-COVID-19 world as its very nature is conducive to socially distanced travel with wide open spaces and smaller groups,” she said.

She concurred with both Ntshona and Cordon that it was crucial for the sector to restore trust and confidence in international travellers. “Travellers to the continent need to have the peace of mind that, should a second wave of the pandemic hit, their health and safety needs will be met.”

She echoed Ntshona’s statement that global health and safety protocols therefore needed to be benchmarked and aligned.

Stats paint dire picture

Statistics from leading global regional bodies highlight the devastating effect the global COVID-19 pandemic – which resulted in strict lockdowns across the continent – has had on Africa’s tourism, hospitality and travel sector.

  • The latest data from the UNWTO show that international arrivals to Africa were on an upward trajectory, with 6% growth recorded between January and May 2019. This year (for the same period) international arrivals to the continent contracted to minus 47%.
  • Travel and tourism contribute over €150bn to Africa’s economy combined, representing 7.1% of GDP and supporting millions of jobs, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. The situation is critical for businesses as travel and tourism comprise 80% of small and medium enterprises.
  • Earlier this month the African Union reported that a total of €46bn in tourism and travel revenue had been lost to the continent for April, May and June.