African Safari industry suffering as COVID-19 restrictions continue to take their toll on tourism

Photo credit: Matt Artz (Unsplash)

The 6th survey of 344 safari tour operators has revealed that most have experienced a drop in business of at least 75% 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 local communities, which rely on the safari industry for employment, are facing job losses., an online marketplace for African safari tours, recently ran its 6th monthly survey of 344 safari tour operators. The aim of the survey was to acquire a detailed understanding of the impact on the safari industry from the downturn in travel associated with the Coronavirus pandemic. The results were in line with the previous five surveys – an overwhelming number of tour operators are facing a sharp decline  -a 75% drop at the very least. This is an alarming figure for an industry on which multitudes of people in east and southern Africa rely. 

As one operator told;

“The impact of the virus is global and has been devastating for many people. Of course, the safari business in Tanzania is no exception. We have seen a decrease of more than 90% in bookings and requests, and we have been closed for more than 4 months now.” 

And in Uganda one operator said;

“This pandemic has affected the tourism sector to the extent that since February, I have not received any quotes or bookings for safaris.”

Around 91% of the operators said they had lost at least three-quarters of the bookings they normally rely upon at this time of the year. This constitutes a huge drop in business, with many operators struggling to pay staff. 

A Namibian operator summed up the situation in southern Africa;

“In Namibia, South Africa and Botswana, our tourism is suffering badly without our usual international clients. Many places have closed until further notice, many people have lost their jobs. It’s really sad times for tourism.”

Of those who responded to the survey, 70% said cancellations of the existing bookings had skyrocketed by at least 75%. Less than 4% said it was business as usual. 

“COVID-19 has affected our business negatively, and caused us to lose some of our staff members as most of our clients have cancelled for this year,” an operator from Namibia lamented.

As countries such as Kenya and Tanzania become beacons of hope for the safari industry, restarting international flights, there is also a more positive tone taking its first tentative steps from some tour operators. 

“There are signs that some recovery will start probably in the next month once the border between Tanzania and Kenya opens, and as more flights are resuming – we believe that the chances are high that business will improve by at least 50%.”

This Kenyan operator even saw the pandemic as an opportunity for improvement;

“The pandemic has definitely affected business in the negative. However, it has made us think deeper about our business model, which has resulted in us designing a more strategic model that will remain viable even in a crisis.”

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: 

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, please refer to the UNWTO link above.

*For interactive charts and 60 quotes from individual operators, please see the full survey results.


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