By Jessie Taylor
Travel bans and the economy
Almost two years after Covid-19 was first declared a global health emergency and pandemic, the travel and tourism industry is still trying to find its feet.
The global tourism economy has lost an estimated $4.5-trillion due to travel restrictions, and it has resulted in millions of jobs being shed. Africa has not been immune to the downswing in travel – almost half of those working in tourism on the continent have lost their employment. And the continent is expected to have lost around $170-billion to $253-billion from reduced travel in 2021.
Driving job creation
Tourism is an important sector for the continent, as it provides income for the protection of natural areas, such as nature reserves and national parks, and creates job opportunities.
African states saw an almost 50% decline in travel and tourism GDP – a figure in line with the rest of the world – but the continent was disproportionately affected by job losses. There were around 29.3% of jobs lost (representing 7.2 million jobs) compared to the global average of 21.5%.
In the wake of the pandemic, the tourism sector in Africa shed around a third of its jobs and posted a loss of R1.2-trillion. Some countries were more severely impacted than others. In Botswana, the 2020 lockdowns led to about 99% of the country’s tourism workforce being temporarily or permanently laid off.
At home, the volume of tourists decreased by 72,6%, from 10,2 million in 2019 to 2,8 million in 2020. Prior to the pandemic, the tourism sector contributed about 4,5% of total employment in South Africa. According to the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, the industry has lost 470,000 jobs out of 1.5 million.
And with the drop in visitor numbers, funds for protected areas have dwindled. In South Africa, there was a 96% drop in visits to national parks under SANParks management, the equivalent of 90% of tourism revenue. But this brings additional risk – jobs and conservation management are placed on the line when funds decrease.
Reducing travel bans is essential to the recovery of the economy and the tourism sector. Business For South Africa’s steering committee chairperson, Martin Kingston, said international travel bans have the potential to decimate what is left of the local tourism industry, especially as government relief packages begin to run dry.
This has again been cast into the limelight following the discovery of the Omicron variant and the resulting travel restrictions. It is estimated that the Cape Town tourism sector alone lost around R255 million a day due to cancellations and travel bans. Across the country, an estimated R1 billion in bookings was lost due to the reimposed travel restrictions – and this excludes the loss to airlines and of visitor spending.
These losses could result in further job cuts in an already struggling sector.
Early signs of recovery
South Africa has already begun to see tourists return to the country, and locals – who have also faced restrictions in travelling abroad – have been supporting the sector. This is likely to continue as long as interprovincial travel can be sustained.
Key industry role players had noticed an increase in bookings prior to the announcement of the Omicron variant.
“SA Tourism’s short-term strategic initiatives and trade engagements in key source markers were starting to pay off as we saw an increase in bookings with more and more travellers wanting to visit South Africa again. Over the last few months, we also witnessed increased optimism and confidence towards our country, with more airlines reinstating direct flights to South Africa and more strategic partners engaging with us in the promotion of the South African tourism sector,” says South African Tourism’s Acting Chief Executive Officer, Sthembiso Dlamini.
“We were truly on the right trajectory to save jobs in our industry. This latest development is certainly going to have a devastating effect on our tourism industry, airlines and business partners.”
Over the past few months, the recovery of the sector has picked up the pace, even though numbers remain below pre-pandemic levels. Stats SA estimates that in August, the total income of the sector was 88% the previous year, but it remained two-thirds below August 2019.
However, following a slew of cancellations, the industry could again see itself reliant on the domestic market for the festive season, especially if increased vaccination numbers reduce infection rates and allow restrictions to remain relaxed.
As such, local holiday destinations are still expecting a great end-of-year tourist season, despite international cancellations. While the season may not be as strong as initially expected, it is still likely to top the 2020 season, experts say.
However, encouraging international visitors to travel to South Africa remains a priority, especially in terms of job creation. For every tourist that travels from overseas, around ten jobs are supported, economists have estimated.
Dlamini adds: “We would like to emphasise that our country remains open for all those travellers who wish to visit. We also encourage all South Africans to continue with their plans to go out there to explore and enjoy travelling within South Africa while observing guidelines laid out by the national command centre from time to time. The resilience of domestic tourism is key to the recovery of South Africa’s tourism sector and to the economy, as this helps avoid any further job losses.”
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