How coronavirus threat is affecting Africa’s travel industry

RwandAir cancelled their flights to China immediately after the outbreak of the virus and later announced the suspension of flights to Israel. / Sam Ngendahimana.

As the world continues to grapple with the rapid spread of the Coronavirus pandemic, the travel industry has been one of the sectors that have been hit the most with thousands of travel schedules halted since the outbreak.

Series of airlines across the world have suspended flights to countries that have been affected by the outbreak.

 

Africa has followed suit with the likes of Kenya Airways, RwandAir, Air Tanzania, Air Mauritius, Egyptair and Royal Air Maroc, among others, cancelling flights to mainland China, Italy, South Korea and other countries where the pandemic has spread very fast.

 

RwandAir cancelled their flights to China immediately after the outbreak and later announced the suspension of flights to Israel.

 

China, just like many Asian routes is considered by many air travel companies as one of the most lucrative and profitable routes in the world.

Suspension of flights has restricted the movement of passengers across the world as well as the flow of goods and services.

Africa, which heavily depends on the rest of the world, experts say, has felt the impact, especially the travel industry.

In Rwanda, tours and travel companies have started counting losses already with many clients cancelling and postponing their trips – a direct hit on the economy that currently relies heavily on tourism.

Lilian Komuhangwe, the Managing Director of A Step into Nature, a safari company based in Kigali, told The New Times that already some of their clients have started withdrawing their travel plans to Rwanda.

“So far, five of my clients have cancelled their trips (to Rwanda), and we expect more losses happening in the near future, affecting the whole tourism industry,” she said.

According to Komuhangwe, the clients who cancelled were supposed to trek gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, visit Akagera National Park and make individual trips to other areas of the country.

While the travel and tourism industry is driven by luxury tourists, conferences and air travel makes it possible for the sector to thrive.

Yet, most conferences, meetings and large gatherings across the continent have been cancelled or postponed, while most airline services have also been cancelled.

Uncertainty

Oreste Kirenganya, the owner of Hermosa Life tours, another local company, says they have received cancellations and postponements from their global clients who are uncertain of the outbreak.

“In Rwanda, we are facing a challenge of cancellations, despite this being a good time of the year to receive bookings. Two people have cancelled their trips with us and many others have postponed,” he said.

Kirenganya’s clients normally go for gorilla trekking, Nyungwe and Akagera national parks, as well as participate in other cultural activities.

Chris Outch Nsengiyumva, the owner of Kagoma Eye Safaris, a local tour company, says they haven’t seen the impact of coronavirus but anticipates they might be affected in the future given the levels of the spread.

“There is a lot of fear and uncertainty so we are all worried. I personally haven’t received any cancellation at the moment, but I have received inquiries from clients about the situation. We are definitely going to incur losses in the future,” he told The New Times.

Tourism is one of the country’s top foreign exchange earners. The same can be said for the whole region.

August statistics from last year showed that Rwanda raked in $19.2 million from gorilla tourism alone and visitors to Rwanda had reached 1.7 million, according to Rwanda Development Board (RDB).

Tourists who visit Rwanda are said to be spending more. In 2018, visitors spent on average $43 each, per day. Regional visitors generally spend less than their international counterparts.

International visitors spend 6 times more than regional visitors. Those who come by air also spend 6.4 times – $128, higher than those who came by road who are mainly regional visitors – $20.

According to the Report by the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) on tourism development in the East African Community (EAC) in 2018, tourist arrivals in the sub-region increased from 3.5 million people in 2006 to 5.7 million persons in 2017.

Tourism contributed to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the EAC partner states by an average of 12 per cent in 2017.

The percentage contribution was higher than the average in Rwanda (14.9 per cent).

A recent assessment by the East African Business Council showed that tourism in the region is being affected by the spread of Coronavirus as many operators in the region have suspended air travel services.

They say this will impact earnings from tourism as well as air travel services.

Already, in countries like Egypt where there are gazed pyramids and Zanzibar known for stunning islands, coronavirus fears have left tourism hotspots empty, which translates into losses.

Likely impact

The UN World Tourism Organisation (WTO) estimated early this month that international tourism arrivals could decline by 1 per cent to 3 per cent in 2020 globally, down from a 3 per cent to 4 per cent growth estimated in early January.

Asia Pacific regions would be hit hard with minimal impact on Africa.

However, as the outbreak continues to spread the region is likely to face challenges given its significant role towards the travel and tourism industry.

The region grew 5.6 per cent in 2018 and contributed $ 194 billion to the GDP just behind Asia Pacific, according to the 2019 Global Economic Trends released by WTO.

On the other hand, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) economists say if the levels of the spread of coronavirus strikes, it could have a negative impact on air passenger traffic globally and Africa would not be spared even though the impact could be minimal.

Last week’s assessment of IATA shows that Africa could lose 0.4 per cent of passenger revenue in 2020.

jbizimungu@newtimesrwanda.com

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