Coronavirus shuts down Africa’s tourist industry

Africa’s hotels, tour operators and airlines are all reeling from the impact of coronavirus. Liam Taylor surveys the situation

The Serena Hotel in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, is a luxurious complex of conference facilities, fine dining spaces and landscaped gardens.

In normal times Geoffrey Ssejongo, a waiter, would be serving dinner to businesspeople and tourists in one of the Serena’s gleaming restaurants. But in April he was sitting at home, fretful for the future, as Uganda went into lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus. He has lost income from tips, and worries he may lose his salary too if the crisis continues.

“Life at home becomes so difficult because your family have to look at you and they expect something from you,” he says. “It causes a terrible stress.” The collapse of the travel and tourism industry – from airlines to safari guides – could be catastrophic for African economies April was due to be a busy month for Uganda’s high-end hotels as the country prepared to host heads of state for the G-77 summit – a meeting that like so many others was cancelled. The Serena was expecting 85% occupancy, says Anthony Chege, its general manager. Instead he and his team are scrambling to revise contracts with suppliers, from rubbish collectors to software services, as all of the hotel’s rooms lie empty.

“The revenue lost by the industry and the economy as a whole is massive,” says Chege. “The only control we have now is on costs.”

The collapse of the travel and tourism industry – from airlines to safari guides – could be catastrophic for African economies. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), an industry association, estimates that tourism and its associated activities generate about 9% of the continent’s income. The sector employs 10m Africans directly, and perhaps 14m more jobs are created by its knock-on impacts.

Tourism is also a major foreign exchange earner. It brings in more dollars than coffee sales in Uganda. In Ethiopia tourist receipts account for nearly half of total exports. Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African president, has called tourism the “new gold”.

But by the start of April, coronavirus had shut down most of Africa’s tourist attractions. The cable cars hung motionless on Table Mountain. The deserted pyramids of Egypt were lit up at night with a message telling people to “stay home, stay safe”. Gorilla trekking in Central Africa was suspended for fear that the […]

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