East Africa is one of the leading tourist destinations in the world due to it’s breathtaking safaris in wildlife, adventure, culture and vacations. But the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and its negative impacts has left the region’s tourism industry on its knees.
East Africa has experienced a sharp decline in the number of tourists since the first coronavirus cases were reported in the region in early 2020. It is supposed to be high season in the sector but for the second year in a row, national parks across the region remain unusually quiet.
Tour operators had hoped for a revival this year after enduring a difficult 2020 but the third wave of Covid-19 sweeping across the continent means the tourism industry is still struggling to get back to its feet.
Being the leading foreign exchange earner in most of East African countries if not all, the decline of the tourism industry is also directly affecting the entire economy in the region. According to the recent report published by the UN, East Africa’s economy will this year decline by 9.3% due to a slump in the tourism industry caused by Covid-19. This will make East Africa the second-most affected region in the world after Central America.
Strict lockdown measures keeping tourists at bay
Although East Africa remains open to visitors, the strict measures adopted by individual countries to control Covid-19 are keeping many travellers at bay. Uganda and Rwanda are currently under lockdown while curfew remains in place in Kenya. This is in addition to other procedural requirements visitors have to undertake in order to be allowed to travel through these countries. These include presenting valid negative results of a Covid-19 test, mandatory tests on arrival, isolation in designated hotels while waiting for test results, among others. The combination of all these measures has resulted into scaring away potential tourists who would have loved to visit the region.
Hundreds of bookings cancelled
Since last year, hotel and tour operators across East Africa have gone through a bitter experience of having their clients cancelling bookings after finding out that they are no longer able to travel. This loss of business has left many of such companies in dire financial situations with many closing down leaving their employees jobless.
Travel restrictions worsening the situation
The strict travel restrictions to East Africa enforced by governments across Europe have further retarded the recovery of the region’s tourism industry. All East African states are listed on the UK’s red list which means tourists returning from East Africa must undergo a mandatory hotel quarantine for ten days. The United Kingdom is one of the major sources of tourists who visit East Africa.
Tourism losses affecting region’s economy
The recent wave of Covid-19 has further worsened the situation of tourism which had already suffered heavily during the first outbreak. Reports indicate that over 2 million jobs have been lost in East Africa while states have lost a combined tune of $4.8bn since the outbreak. This has significantly impacted the region’s economy which heavily relies on tourism. The sector contributes 10% to the GDP of East African Community member states and employs 7% of the region’s working population.
Reduced tourism activity exposes wildlife
The decline of tourism activity in national parks and the need to protect vulnerable animals like gorillas and chimpanzees from contracting coronavirus has left the species exposed to danger. Poachers have exploited the loophole of reduced patrolling in national parks to sneak in and kill animals for food and income. This was evident when poachers killed one of the famous silverbacks “Rafiki” in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park last year in June.
Vaccination brings hope
Since the global vaccine rollout began, there have been some positive signs in the East African tourism sector. Tour companies are relatively busier now compared to last year with a few trips to run and this has been attributed to the fast vaccine rollout especially in Europe and United States. East African states have also tried to speed up their vaccination processes with Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda having vaccinated at least 1.2 million people each so far despite the difficulty in procuring the vaccines.
Why East Africa is attractive to tourists
East Africa is probably African’s one stop centre for tourists given a variety of stunning attractions across the region. From breathtaking wildlife encounters like gorilla trekking and watching the great migration to adventurous experiences like climbing the great Kilimanjaro, and more, East Africa offers can is a gem to everyone. The region offers an endless list of tourist activities to travellers ranging from wildlife and adventure experiences to cultural and historical tours.