African countries need to open borders for tourism – to jump start economies devastated by Covid-19

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Roleplayers within the tourism and hospitality industry gathered at the Hermanus Old Harbour at the start of the long weekend to welcome visitors with a banner conveying the message “Hermanus is open”.Photo: Noluvu Ludidi
Roleplayers within the tourism and hospitality industry gathered at the Hermanus Old Harbour at the start of the long weekend to welcome visitors with a banner conveying the message “Hermanus is open”.Photo: Noluvu Ludidi

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As the Covid-19 pandemic hit the continent, the majority of African nations rushed to impose lockdowns on their populations. The lockdown levels varied but one thing for certain was that the countries closed their borders in a bid to contain the pandemic.

Botswana and South Africa imposed strict lockdowns by closing schools, universities, hotels and businesses. In Tanzania no lockdown was imposed as government cited fears that restrictions would be detrimental to the economy.

The truth is that the economies of all African countries suffered because of the pandemic despite different approaches in trying to contain the pandemic.

The WTTC states that the tourism sector in Africa lost about 8 million jobs as a result of the global health crisis

Tourism was one of the hardest hit sectors and this article tries to make the case as to why African countries need to reopen their borders to avoid a catastrophic economic crisis. Travel and tourism contributed more than €150 billion (R2.8 trillion) to Africa’s economy combined, representing 7.1% of GDP and supporting millions of jobs, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

The African tourism industry became the second fastest growing in the world before the pandemic hit. The WTTC states that the tourism sector in Africa lost about 8 million jobs as a result of the global health crisis. Kenya lost more than $750 million in revenue from tourism since the first case of Covid-19 in the country.

The importance of tourism as we have seen cannot be underestimated. It is the driver of many economies in Africa.

Read: Reimagining the future of SA tourism

Importance of the tourism industry

The tourism is vital for the success of many countries around the globe. Tourism has a favourable impact on the development of the host country. It boosts income, creates jobs and fosters infrastructure development. The number of jobs created through tourism are substantial in many areas of the economy – as they may include other sectors such as the communications, health sector, education and agriculture.

The direct contribution of the tourism sector to the South African real GDP to be at 2.8%, with the absolute value of R139 billion
WTC

Tourists sometimes travel to experience the culture of the host country, learn the language and this is profitable for restaurants that sell local cuisine, shopping centres, local bed and breakfast establishments and local stores. For more tourists to visit a country, they need safe and advanced facilities – this leads to new roads, improved parks, new airports, and better public spaces.

South Africa as a case study

South Africa, due to its diverse and world-renowned tourist attractions, reap the rewards of tourism. Tourism remains one of the key drivers of economic growth in South Africa and makes a significant contribution to employment creation.

The WTTC calculated the direct contribution of the tourism sector to the South African real GDP to be at 2.8%, with the absolute value of R139 billion. It projected that this amount should increase to R145.3 billion for last year.

The sector’s indirect contribution to the South Africa’s GDP growth in 2018 stood at 8.2% – this percentage is encapsulating the strong economic connection that the tourism sector has with other sectors in the economy.

Zooming in on job creation, employment in the South African tourism sector accounted for 4.2% in 2018 total employment in South Africa. The SA Tourism hoped for the tourism sector to create an addition of 225 000 jobs by 2030, but due to the travel bans that are still effective. The sector may fall short of the target.

Read: The evolving nature of tourism: Innovation and flexibility are key in rebuilding the industry

Popular overseas visitors

The following are the top five countries (with percentages) with the largest number of tourists that visited South Africa between May 2018 and May last year. The first is the US with 21.5%, the UK with 13.1%, India with 8%, Germany with 7.1% and France with 6.7%. All these are countries that are still under the travel ban and countries that made up 46.4% in that period of 12 months.

South Africa needs to recognise the contribution that the tourists from these countries have to the economy, the employment, the contribution to the GDP – now more than ever government needs to explore all avenues possible to aid the state in job creation as well as driving the economy to full capacity.

The pandemic is real and we don’t deny that, but the ultimate truth is that poverty is the biggest pandemic in Africa and if the tourism sector remains paralysed, inequality and poverty will rise

The pandemic has crippled the South African tourism industry. The lockdown shut down businesses in tourism, causing massive job losses as well as loss of profits.

Government is devising and implementing economic recovery plans, with tourism as one of the key contributors to economic growth and employment. Government has to lift some of the international travel bans to stimulate the recovery of the tourism sector and thus its contribution to economic growth and employment.

The pandemic is real and we don’t deny that, but the ultimate truth is that poverty is the biggest pandemic in Africa and if the tourism sector remains paralysed, inequality and poverty will rise as businesses would not be able to keep their employees on the wage bill if they have no revenue.

This in turn will cause social instabilities in the region.

We do not have to look far but at home where the hotels and the lodges that have shut their doors permanently to see the effects of not allowing tourism to take place.

Read: ‘No quick reopening’: The travel industry will take years to recover

The statistics that show that Africa was home to the second largest tourism market before the pandemic so we should not to underestimate the importance of tourism in reviving an already fragile regional economy.

The road to recovery for many African economies remains uncertain, but one thing for certain is that no economy will be revived without the tourism sector being allowed to operate normally. It goes without saying that African countries should not establish lacklustre regulations when it comes to issues of tourism in a bid to revive their economies.

The poor healthcare systems that plague the region demand that African governments should continue with their standardised protocols such as requesting tourists to bring a 72-hour Covid-19 test results, screening and emphasising quarantine procedures for tourists.


Olwethu Shedi is reading for a Master’s degree in economics at the Wits University She also holds a BCom Honours in economics. Olwethu is an executive member of the Wits chapter’s Rethinking Economics for Africa. She writes in her personal capacity.

Patrick Kadima holds a BA degree and LLB degree from Stellenbosch University and Wits University, respectively. He is currently pursuing an interdisciplinary Master’s at Wits University’s Public Affairs Research Institute. Kadima also served as a student leader at both institutions and writes in his personal capacity.


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