COVID-19 restrictions continue to take toll on African safari industry

AdobeStock_By Mathias

SafariBookings’ fourth surveyof 308 safari tour operators has revealed that the majority has seen a minimum of 75% drop in business as the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause global upheaval. The impact is being acutely felt in Africa’s US$12.4 billion¹ safari industry – many parks and reserves have lost most of their revenue and job losses are being felt in local communities which rely on the safari industry for employment.  

SafariBookings.com, an online marketplace for African safari tours, recently ran its fourth monthly survey of 308 safari tour operators. The survey aimed to acquire a detailed understanding of how the downturn in travel due to the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted the safari industry. The results were in line with the previous three surveys – an overwhelming number of tour operators are seeing a 75% decline in bookings. This is a huge blow for an industry on which many people in East and southern Africa rely.

A Tanzanian operator from Tanzania told SafariBookings;

“We have not received any bookings from potential clients since the COVID-19 spread worldwide.”

And it’s a similar story in neighbouring Kenya.

“At the moment, customers are not willing to make any reservations due to COVID-19.”

Around 93% of the operators said they had lost at least three-quarters of the bookings they normally rely upon at this time of year. This constitutes a sharp drop in business, which ultimately means many operators can’t afford to hire local staff.

A Kenyan operator put it in perspective when he said; 

“We don’t have bookings and we don’t have the money to pay staff salaries, office rent etc. Things are really bad.”

70% of the operators who responded to the survey said that cancellations had increased by at least 75% on existing bookings. Less than 3% said it was business as usual. 

“Corona has definitely affected our booking request levels and increased cancellations. For now, there isn’t much we can do but we choose to embark on putting a digital marketing strategy in place post-Covid-19. We look forward to a better tomorrow.”

As countries such as Tanzania become beacons of hope for the safari industry, reopening their borders to international visitors, there is a positive tone taking its first tentative steps from some tour operators. 

“Coronavirus has been a nightmare in our tourism industry, it has wounded everything. The safari business is no longer the same. But all in all, our hopes are still alive. We shall rise again, we shall shine again, we shall bounce back stronger like never before.”


¹Africa’s US$12.4 billion Safari Industry

The US$12.4 billion is based on the 2018 international tourism receipts of the major safari countries in East and southern Africa, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Source: https://unwto.org/country-profile-inbound-tourism 

The major safari countries included in this US$12.4 billion are Botswana, Kenya Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. The UNTWO did not have data for Zimbabwe. For international tourism receipts per country, SafariBookings referred to the UNWTO link above.

The total international tourism receipts for these seven countries was US$15.5 billion. Wildlife watching tourism makes up 80% of the total trip sales according to this UNWTO research paper from 2015 (See page 3, 2nd paragraph).


Source: The full survey results are available at www.safaribookings.com/blog/coronavirus-outbreak

SafariBookings.com is the largest online marketplace for African safari tours. Over 1,000 specialised safari operators from Africa and western countries offer their safari tours on the SafariBookings platform.

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