The big challenge coming out of Africa regarding opening up tourism is the lack of statistics around the epidemiological picture and progress of vaccine roll-outs, believes Chris Mears, CEO of the African Travel and Tourism Association (ATTA).
He was providing a UK source market perspective during a panel discussion entitled ‘The Changing Landscape of Africa’s Source Markets’ during Africa Travel Week Virtual 2021 last week.
“Once the government here (UK) has a strong and clear picture of what is happening, they are more likely to open those corridors once again,” he said.
Panellists were unpacking how their markets had responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the resulting impact on travel to Africa as well as how traveller demands were changing.
Mears said the UK’s Global Travel Taskforce was due to report back this week to provide a clearer picture of what travel would look like, what would be allowed, how it would work and the protocols involved.
The next key date was May 17, the earliest date it would be possible for international travel from the UK to resume and after that, June 21, the earliest possible date for the lifting of domestic restrictions, he said.
He imagined there would be some form of travel corridors and a traffic-light system to understand which destinations the government approved for travel. “We are pushing heavily for Africa to be included on those because of the protocols in place across the continent and we’re encouraging tourism boards, governments and other parties to submit their data and share their information.”
Pent-up demand bigger than ever
The pent-up demand for travel that everyone predicted is here now and bigger than ever, according to Gabriella Ribeiro, owner of TruMarketing, a boutique sales and marketing firm in the US dedicated to luxury travel clients. She also heads up Explorateur Journeys, which curates immersive journeys for globally curious travellers.
“The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 1.5m passengers a couple of days ago. This is up 1m people day over day versus last year. So you can imagine the appetite is there.”
Americans had not had illegalities in terms of being able to travel, she said, but there were recommendations not to travel. “However people haven’t paid much mind to that and have been exercising their right to travel.”
Ribeiro said as far as South Africa went, people would always want to return. A challenge, however, was compromised airlift and getting the pieces of the puzzle to work in terms of the testing window, connections and lack of a non-stop flight.
“Americans are going where they can and taking the path of least resistance. This doesn’t bode well for SA at the moment, but that doesn’t mean people won’t return, because everything is cyclical.”
Concerning bookings in Africa, she felt Kenya had seen the most movement, and Tanzania.
Ribeiro said the narrative had changed about how to promote travel. “No amount of advertising will bring back this industry. It is now all about social proof. How has your friend travelled safely and returned home fine? This is what will change people’s minds, not protocols and not advertising. Proof of concept is more important, and using social media messaging to help with that.”
Travellers were now also looking for a bigger return from a trip, especially with all the extra logistics involved. The trip had to mean more and they wanted immersive experiences, as well as trips that had family bonding or reunion potential, exclusive access, wellness, cleanliness and that were naturally socially distant, she clarified.
People want to be in that bubble. “Just get it right. Over-deliver. Make someone so happy they came. Envelop them with love and welcome. Make it easy, like a doctor coming to the hotel to administer the COVID-19 test. Americans don’t like hassle. It is not about price for us any more and it isn’t the time to sell cheap deals. Travellers want to stay safe. Keep the price point, but over-deliver on value.”
Destinations that can deliver on that – and South Africa can – are going to win in the short term, she believes.
Dr Marcus Lee, President of the International China Investment Forum, said trends relating to the Chinese market presently included a shift from large group travel to small groups, FIT and tailor-made itineraries.
“For those operators in Africa, it is time to consider smaller groups, self-driving and how you handle FIT. Safety is the number-one criterion,” he said, in addition to secluded or isolated spaces and clean, open air. The preference is also for four- to five-star hotels and direct flights. “Chinese travellers used to be crazy about shopping, but it has now dropped to the bottom of the list.”
He added: “In terms of what the authorities need to open up travel depends on how fast we get vaccinated and how fast you, our friends in Africa, get vaccinated.”
German market good to go
Jörg Ehrlich, MD Diamir, said while Germans were not forbidden to travel, it was not attractive to do so because of the strict two-week quarantine period upon return.
“People want to travel again. When restrictions and bans are lifted my guess for the German market is that people will come back pretty soon. The ban to Majorca was lifted 10 days ago and immediately we got 300 aircraft filled up with gas.”
He said as long as other parts of the world like New Zealand remained closed for a long time, it was an advantage for African destinations. “Africa will be a winner after COVID-19 due to its space and nature.”
German guests were travelling at the moment, but at about 5-10% of the numbers before the pandemic. “We are booking Kenya, Tanzania, a lot to Namibia and less to South Africa because those travellers are organising their own trips since it is easy to do so. They are repeaters or they live part time in SA.”
He predicted it would take three to four years to reach 2019 traveller numbers, but he would be happy to have 75% of passengers travelling on a higher level.
“I expect 50% will come back next year if not the second half of this year. The German market will be quick to return if restrictions are lifted.”