Africa’s Game Reserves, Parks, Beaches and Historic sites that attracted a large number of foreign tourists before the coronavirus pandemic is in trouble – the type that may take long before it recovers from.
The pandemic has put businesses all over the world on their toes, forcing many to devise other means to sustain cash flow while some have had to lay off a chunk of their staff to survive.
Africa’s recreational industry and the aviation sector are the most affected with the month-long Covid-19 lockdown that confined everyone to their homes. Even as many African nations are easing the lockdown, most safari tourism businesses, a multibillion-dollar sector, on the continent are still under lock and keys.
Like others, Somkhanda, a community-owned “Big 5” Game Reserve in South Africa has pivoted to meat selling as it now faces a loss of up to 90 percent of its revenues.
The reserve had in the past sold its meat, albeit cheaply, or sometimes they are given away to reduce the population of its animals every year – depending on the weather condition and the availability of pasture needed to nurture wildlife. This was done as a stock management strategy.
“During dry winter months when water and nutrition for game were reduced, sustainably harvesting Somkhanda’s game numbers helped to protect the remaining animals from starvation,” said Meiring Prinsloo, the game reserve’s manager.
However, the last five months have forced the company into commercial meat marketing.A Game Reserve in South Africa
The game reserve, which before Covid-19 was said to be a sought-after for restaurants and foreign tourists, is now raking in about USD 2,875 to USD 5,730 monthly from the commercial sale of meat.
“Instead of culling and just giving that meat away or selling it at a very low price locally, we tried to market it. We would rather have the doors open,” said Roelie Kloppers, Chief Executive at the Wildlands, a co-manager of the reserve in the heart of northern Zululand.
A monthly survey by SafariBookings shows that the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the African safari tourism landscape. It reveals that three out of four tour operators have experienced about 75 percent decline in bookings.
It was also found that 93 percent of operators have lost at least three-quarters of the bookings they normally record at this time of year.
The figure is disturbing given that so many people in East and Southern Africa rely on the industry as the operators are unable to hire local staff in light of the current realities.
Prior to Covid-19, the Somkhanda Game Reserve supported more than 200 families surrounding the facility because the reserve is the only source of income for the community.
However, there is a rescue mission underway to support the community. The Wildlands, the non-governmental conservation program that co-manages the reserve, has collaborated with other South Africa-based reserves – Bosveld Game Meat and KZN Game Meat – to expand wildlife ranching and game meat harvesting of Somkhanda.
The partnership is aimed at reaching a wider market, and the income generated would be used to fund ongoing sustainable conservation and community development efforts within and without Somkhanda.
Earlier this week, the South African government had said that more than 400,000 workers in the tourism industry could lose their jobs due to the pandemic.
According to the UN’s World Tourism Organization, Africa received 71.2 million tourists in 2019 and the sector employed nearly 25 million people.
The African Union had reported that African countries have already lost nearly $55 billion in revenues so far – as travel and tourism contribute 9% to the continent’s economy.
On the reopening for international travels, only Tanzania and Tunisia, which are popular for their game parks and beaches respectively, are the major African countries that have lifted the ban on international flight as they are now welcoming foreign tourists amid fears that coronavirus cases will surge.
Morocco and Mauritius have eased their national lockdowns but foreign visitors are still not allowed into the countries.
Kenya, Seychelles and Rwanda resumed international passenger flights on August 1 but with a caveat – visitors will be tested for Covid-19 and the result must come back negative before they can be admitted into the countries.
In 2019, Rwanda reported its highest annual growth in tourism and attracted 1.63 million visitors, earning $498 million.
The most populous African nation, Nigeria, has also slated August 29 as the tentative date for the resumption of international flights.
As much as the gradual opening of international borders is good news to African tourism, the business will not be as usual again and recovering from the economic loss will take a long time.