International tourism to Africa falls 85 percent, UNWTO optimistic of rebound

  • New COVID-19 strains further choked international arrivals
  • Slower than expected vaccination rollout also to blame
  • UNWTO optimistic of recovery in the second half of 2021

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) says international tourist arrivals to Africa fell by 85% in January 2021 as a consequence of the discovery of new COVID-19 variants that led to the reintroduction of lockdowns and travel restrictions in most countries and the slower than expected vaccination rollout.

According to the latest World Tourism Barometer, on average, international arrivals plunged by 87 percent worldwide in the month of January 2021, 14 percentage points below the average of 73 percent recorded for the whole of 2020.

“Due to the worsening of the pandemic with a surge of cases and the emergence of new variants, many countries reintroduced stricter travel restrictions, including mandatory testing, quarantines and in some cases a complete closure of borders, on top of local lockdowns, all weighing on the resumption of international travel. In addition, the speed and distribution of the vaccination roll-out have been slower than expected and quite uneven across countries and regions,” the organisation said.

Total international arrivals are expected to fall by an average of 85% in the first quarter, worldwide, compared to the same period in 2019, which will translate to a loss of 260 million international arrivals when compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The UNWTO is however confident of a bounce back in the second half of the year but they have outlined two different scenarios under which the rebound will take place mainly based on the outturn of vaccination programmes.

“The first scenario points to a rebound in July, which would result in a 66% increase in international arrivals for the year 2021 compared to the historic lows of 2020. In this case, arrivals would still be 55% below the levels recorded in 2019.

The second scenario considers a potential rebound in September, leading to a 22% increase in arrivals compared to last year. Still, this would be 67% below the levels of 2019,” they said.

Meanwhile, it is against the same realisation of the importance of inoculation for boosting traveller confidence that the government and players in the tourism sector in Zimbabwe are pinning hopes on a quick vaccination campaign to comeback from the US$1 billion revenue loss experienced by the tourism sector last year.

That same realisation saw President Mnangagwa travelling to the resort town of Victoria Falls to get his first shot of the Sinovac vaccine while simultaneously inspiring locals to do the same.

Zimbabwe is now planning to buy one million COVID-19 vaccines a month in the second quarter of 2021 towards its target of inoculating 60% of the population in order to achieve herd immunity. As at April 5, 2021, a total of 123 454 people had been vaccinated since the introduction of the vaccination campaign on February 18.

At the same time, to cushion the billion-dollar fall, last, the government announced a $5.8m scheme that will see the government provide a 50 percent loan guarantee for businesses in the tourism sector.

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