Windhoek – The Southern Africa region should tap into potential regional and continental tourism source markets to resuscitate a sector that has lost more than R20 billion (US$1.34 billion) and shed thousands of jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations Development Programme says.
In a new report authored by Professor Heinrich Bohlmann for the UNDP, the pandemic has disproportionately affected growth forecasts across the region by creating uncertainty over travel from traditional European tourist source markets.
The report came as Namibian Environment, Forestry and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta last week released statistics showing an over 80 percent shrinkage in arrivals to the Southern African country since the pandemic started in early 2020.
Other Southern Africa countries that have felt a similar tourism-related pinch are Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has tried to counter this by quickly vaccinating more than 60 percent of the population in its tourism mecca of Victoria Falls.
“As of January 2021, great uncertainty remains about the impact of COVID-19 on global tourism markets in the short to medium-term. Policy responses and their success in terms of limiting both health and economic impacts have varied a great deal throughout the world,” the Prof Bohlmann report says.
“Whilst many countries have reopened their borders, others have either maintained or returned to various levels of lockdown during the second half of 2020. Optimism that recently approved vaccines will become available on a global scale during 2021 has been offset by the effects of a (subsequent waves) of infections in many parts of the world since 2020, including South Africa and key European and North American markets.”
The report continues: “Northern hemisphere tourists wishing to travel during the December holiday period would have provided a welcome kick-start for the sector’s recovery effort. However, given the likelihood of continued international travel restrictions and uncertainty, Namibia’s short-term focus will have to shift to domestic tourism and attracting more tourists from other Sub-Saharan countries, such as South Africa, that have partially reopened their borders.”
It says Namibia’s short-term focus will have to shift to domestic tourism and attracting more tourists from Africa rather than hope for a sudden spike in arrivals from Asia, Europe and North America.
The UNDP says the economic fallout from COVID-19 has affected all tourism-related industries, including travel agencies, accommodation providers, food and beverages suppliers, restaurants, and wildlife conservancies and other destinations.
“Combined, these industries directly employ over 50,000 workers in Namibia out of a total of nearly 750,000 economy-wide, with many more jobs indirectly supported by tourism activities,” the report says.
Meanwhile, Minister Pohamba said concerted efforts were being made to improve the performance of the industry.
He said experiences from elsewhere in the world had shown that economies could fully open with widespread COVID-19 vaccination.