Case Study

The impact of COVID-19 on Africa’s safaris

Value to the economy When the system stops working

In Africa, tourism is a $39 billion industry, while safari travels account for over $12 billion in annual revenues for several countries, including Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, as some of Africa’s most popular tourist destinations.

With many tourists drawn from abroad, the safari industry relies heavily on air travel to remain sustainable. Since the coronavirus, 93% of tour operators reported at least a 75% decline in bookings and 90% of businesses expressed concerns that they would not be able to remain afloat. In South Africa alone, the lack of safari business risks as many as 600,000 jobs.

Over the past few months, the industry has appealed to local visitors to save their businesses. However, local revenue only accounts for a small percentage of overall income. It is not enough to keep the industry afloat since it largely relies on foreign tourists from countries such as Brazil, the UK and the US. Yet, even as borders reopen in parts of Africa, the possibility of quarantine restrictions remains a deterrent for many international travellers.

Aside from offering tourists a chance to appreciate wildlife in their natural habitats, the safari industry is an important source of income for wildlife conservation projects. The lack of tourism funding has led to increased poaching in rural areas due to the rise in financial insecurity and more opportunities to invade protected areas. There are also growing concerns that the COVID-19 crisis will revitalise the illegal trade in ivory, which has prompted several parks in South Africa to take the pre-emptive measure of dehorning dozens of rhinos.

For rural communities, the safari industry represents an important source of income for thousands of families and local businesses. The absence of tourism funds also hinders community development projects that support schools and health clinics. Air travel is a critical means of transport for the continent, as countries rely on international travellers to keep the safari industry buoyant.