While 34.3% of safari operators have seen cancellations on bookings in southern and East Africa for this year, since the outbreak of COVID-19, the majority (65.7%) have seen their clients postponing their trips rather than cancelling them.

This according to Your African Safaris’ (YAS) Co-founder, Jennifer Goetz, who shared the results of a survey conducted among over 175 safari operators, to see how they had been impacted by COVID-19 and to help educate trade and potential travellers on the benefits to tourism and conservation.

YAS is a small but growing safari-planning website based in Denver, Colorado, and features nearly 2 400 safari operators in southern and East Africa. “We started this company to help protect and preserve the wildlife by creating a platform where companies could promote ethical tours,” said Goetz.

She said, for now, most companies were asking their customers to rebook for later this year but this might change as the year unfolded and lockdown restrictions in some countries remained in place longer than in others.

Already, Tourism Update has reported that Namibia, Botswana and Tanzania have begun easing travel restrictions, with Tanzania having recently opened its borders to include international passenger flights.

Goetz said, by travellers postponing rather than cancelling, the funds from their deposits were not only used to help cover staffing and operating expenses, but that many tour operators used funds to assist their local communities with food, education and shelter.

“Other tour operators help protect wildlife by supporting rangers, or by volunteering their time and/or vehicles. Pulling that deposit has a domino effect on an African community,” she pointed out.

Sue Preater, MD of UK-based Tracks Safaris – which specialises in safaris to East and Southern Africa – agreed and said tourism was a huge lifeline to many in Africa.

“Operators and accommodation providers on the ground often keep their staff paid and fed in hard times and indeed help local villages around the camps with schooling, medical facilities and even school lunches. Take away tourism and this lifeline stops,” she said.

She said guests could look at the safari destination they were visiting, look at the operators, look at their foundations and what they were trying to achieve, and donate knowing that their funds would reach those most in need.

"The most important thing is to communicate clearly and proactively. Outline all the options and their cost implications. We have been negotiating with suppliers to ensure clients can postpone without penalty, even if they don't have new travel dates yet,” said Onne Vegter, MD and co-founder of Wild Wings Safaris.