Tourists arrival in Africa may be on the decline owing to some of factors ranging from herculean visa processes, poor air connectivity among African countries and the collapse of one of the world’s oldest travel agencies, Thomas Cook Group.
The collapse of the travel agency has impacted an estimated 600,000 travelers all over the world and has affected some countries in Africa and around the world.
According to atqnews.com, the collapse of Thomas Cook Group is jeopardising the efforts by one of Africa’s smallest countries to revive its fortunes.
Gambia, a $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) West African economy surrounded by Senegal aside from its access to the Atlantic Ocean, depends on tourism for nearly a third of its gross domestic product. Thomas Cook typically flew in 45 per cent of tourists that visited its white-sand beaches during the six-month peak season, according to official data.
The company, which filed for liquidation in the UK on 23 September 2019, had operations in Gambia for more than two decades.
Its failure could be a blow to the government of President Adama Barrow, which has earmarked tourism, infrastructure and trade to boost economic growth that slowed to 0.4 per cent in 2016. That was the final year of former leader Yahya Jammeh’s rule, a period characterised by rising poverty, corruption and human rights abuses.
The travel operator’s demise couldn’t have come at a worst time, weeks into the holiday season that starts on October 15.
Thomas Cook is a British company, but it attracted customers from all over the world, particularly Europe.
Also, atqnews.com reported that the number of tourists from the majority of the top 10 countries visiting SA declined on an annual basis in August, according to data released by Stats SA on Monday.
The tourism sector — seen as a means to unlock jobs and economic growth in SA — has been battling to stay competitive due to uncertainty over visa arrangements for visitors from certain countries, travel rules for minors and concerns over crime.
Tourism accounts for 9.2% of total employment, and represents 8.6% of all economic activity in SA, according to data from the World Travel & Tourism Council.
Though arrivals for foreign travellers overall increased 3.5% on a year-on-year basis, with departures increasing 2.8% — the number of tourists from seven out of the top 10 countries visiting SA declined in August.
Only visitors from Italy, the US and India increased. The number of tourists from the remaining seven countries — the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Australia, China and Spain all declined.
The biggest drops came from Australia, down 11%, China, down 10.6% and Germany, down 6.67%. Tourists from these countries accounted for 73.5% of all tourists visiting SA from overseas.
On a cumulative basis, overall tourist numbers between January and August 2019 declined by 1.5%, from the same period in 2018, according to Stats SA.
According to m.traveller24.com, In 2018 tourism was booming in Africa – a 9% increase from the previous year.
But in 2019, that growth had dropped to 4%, according to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) – despite limited data available for the continent. While North Africa did exceptionally well, including Egypt’s economic stabilisation, Sub-Saharan Africa only had a 1.5% growth.
According to the news website there are a few factors contributing to this slowdown – countries are clamping down on its borders, the global economy is stalling, the world’s biggest travel operator Thomas Cook shut down last year, security and geopolitical tensions have made certain destinations less desirable in mainstream media.
And if the hashtag #FlyingWhileAfrican is to be believed, airlines tend to put their worst foot forward on the continent – using older planes and ruder staff on African routes.
In South Africa, there’s been a big dip in international travellers – including fellow Africans – and with SAA’s business rescue and routes cancellations, an ugly gap in the continent’s much-needed air connectivity will be an antithesis to growth.
The rest of the world?
But it’s not only Africa that’s seen this decline – the number of international tourist arrivals rose by 4% last year to 1.5 billion, its slowest rate since 2016. However, AFP reports that according to UNWTO’s intelligence chief, Sandra Carvao, this decline is not ringing massive alarm bells.
“This is a growth that we can consider strong because it is within the historical average, but we see a slight slowdown compared to the last two years. But it should be noted that the last two years have been really exceptional with a growth that was not normal.”
Environmental concerns have also impacted on the industry, especially in Europe where flight shaming has generated a rise in slow travel to closer destinations instead of travelling to the other side of the world burning CO2.
Another concern has been the uncertainties around Brexit – UK travellers make up a big chunk of the market and their unknown status has led to less travelling.
But tourism remains an important economic driver for the world economy.
“The number of destinations earning $1 billion or more from international tourism has almost doubled since 1998,” says Zurab Pololikashvili, UNWTO secretary-general in the report.
“The challenge we face is to make sure the benefits are shared as widely as possible and that nobody is left behind. In 2020, UNWTO celebrates the Year of Tourism and Rural Development, and we hope to see our sector lead positive change in rural communities, creating jobs and opportunities, driving economic growth and preserving culture.”
Not everyone is feeling the pinch – the Middle East is growing at almost double the global average – 8% – due to Saudi Arabia’s campaign to attract more visitors, while Asia and the Pacific also had an above-average growth. However, with Australia’s bushfire disaster this might give the region a knock.
French tourists also seem to be spending the most as the world’s top outbound market, while Americans were enjoying the benefits of a stronger dollar. China however – the world’s biggest traveller market – is seeing a decrease in tourist spending.
Was does 2020 have in store for us?
The UNWTO is predicting a 3 – 4% growth this year, while 47% of participants in the report believe tourism will perform even better.
Two major events – the Tokyo Olympics and Expo 2020 Dubai – is also expected to be a major driver for travellers at the start of the decade.
Major changes to the Schengen visa coming into effect in February will also fuel more travel to Europe – while it will be more expensive, repeat visitors with clean records will be rewarded with longer visa stays and applications can be done much farther in advance.
For Africa, SAA’s fate still hangs up in the air for now, with little hope of a knight in shining armour riding in to rescue its routes. Visa access on the continent also remains stagnant, although the launch of eVisa application platforms is on the increase, including in South Africa with the launch of a pilot programme.
The Department of Home Affairs also started a campaign at the end of 2019 to celebrate the eased travel requirements for minors visiting South Africa. The unabridged birth certificate saga had been a serious thorn to the industry for many years until it was finally scrapped last year.
But as we know from the news – the world is an extremely volatile place, where only a soothsayer can say for sure where the world will be heading