The tourism industry globally is one of the most sensitive sectors easily affected by political, economic, and social issues. 2020 has been one of the worst times for tourism in almost all destinations with countries losing billions of dollars as the world shut down over the COVID-19 pandemic. The United Nations World Tourism Organization estimates that global international tourist arrivals have decreased by 58 percent to 78 percent in 2020, leading to a potential loss of US$0.9 to 1.2 trillion in international tourism receipts. In many of the world’s cities, planned travel went down by 80 percent to 90 percent.
More than 2.5 million Kenyans working in the tourism sector lost their jobs in the first half of 2020 due to COVID-19 related disruptions, according to the government. This has devastated communities that depend on this important sector.
To address the challenge, governments, industry players and tech-startups across the world have looked to answers from the technology front. This has included the use of virtual reality to take would–be tourists to animal sites as well as use of easy–to–use technologies to present wildlife and game parks.
From mobile apps that put travel guides at the fingertips of visitors to platforms that allow tourists to design their own vacation or experience, startups have tapped into the wants and needs of people taking a trip to countries across Africa.
Stuck with empty parks and hotels, African safari organizers are stepping up digitally to cater to millions of people under lockdown globally. For weeks now, thousands of virtual avid travelers have appreciated the beauty of African wildlife, beaches and other tourist sites online.
Several African tourism associations have come up with the idea of supplying such travelers with digital impressions of the continent during the pandemic.
The tourism authority in Cape Town has launched the campaign ‘We Are Worth Waiting For’ offering ways to enjoy the city virtually, including tours on Robben Island, with its former prison, and Table Mountain. The managing director of Cape Town Tourism, Enver Duminy, was quoted by German media DW describing it as a long-distance love affair.
“What we have done using technology during COVID-19 is to use social media and campaigns to remind tourists of why they fell in love with the destination in the first place,” Duminy told DW.
“We give images of what you are longing for, of what you experienced the last time you were here. And hopefully we can connect and continue that love affair when you visit us. Technology is more of an enabler that allows us to transit in space and time.”
In Kenya, the government has launched a virtual Safari live stream campaign to showcase game safaris in some parks and reserves across the country. The campaign will cover various regions and will be part of the ongoing Magic Awaits campaign led by the Kenya Tourism Board. The Magic Awaits campaigns aim at ensuring that the world is connected to Kenya during the COVID-19 period which has interrupted the flow of tourists and visitors globally.
“Our international tourism business is completely cut off and we have to still share destination memories with travelers and that is why we are unveiling a virtual tour safari to connect visitors with the destination,” Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said during the launch earlier in the year.
“This venture which begins here at the Nairobi National Park will allow us to document our diverse wildlife in the national parks and game reserves, thrilling adventures, beautiful lodges, and unique cultures and conservation projects that Kenya has become world-famous for. We shall be live–streaming and sharing this content every week to bring Kenya to Kenyans and to the world at large,” he added.
In 2019, Jonah Orumoi, managing director of Tourism Finance Corporation (TFC), said the government will create a conducive policy and regulatory environment to facilitate uptake of disruptive technologies in travel and hospitality industries.
“The tourism sector is very critical to this country’s economy and we have intensified efforts to leverage on emerging technologies to ensure it is more competitive, profitable and resilient,” said Orumoi.
The sector has also for some time now explored the use of Google Maps to show wildlife in various parts of Africa with Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve in Street View pioneering this trend in Kenya.
Google Street View is one of the coolest dimensions about Google Maps where one can travel around the world while sightseeing without leaving their seat. The maps were initially launched in the US in 2007 and other developed countries have had their cities and landmark sites being mapped on Street View ever since. However, in the case of Africa, only Egypt and countries in the southern part of Africa have had their landmarks photographed and added to Google Street View.
The rise of travel-tech companies has also accelerated the manner in which visitors can access tourism services.
Kenyan based travel-tech outfit HotelOnline has made a strategic acquisition of companies across Africa, positioning itself at the helm of the industry. While many companies in the travel industry have been facing a major dip due to COVID-19, HotelOnline has diversified and acquired other entities solidifying its position in the African travel industry.
Innovation in tourism and travel is expected to outlast the COVID-19 period offering a formidable chance for the sector to outfox political and economic disruptions.