We know that the corona crisis has had a massive impact on the tourist industry, but what about the small, independent businesses that make travel meaningful? Safari travel, for instance, has dropped off completely and – with unpaid salaries and inundated emergency services – it’s sadly been accompanied by a rise in poaching. To get a clearer picture, we spoke to our local expert Inge, who works for a tour company based in Tanzania, offering specialized safari trips in Africa. We have partnered with Inge and her tour operator for years now, offering tailor-made trips across Africa: from Ethiopia over Rwanda to South Africa, Inge and her team are ready to plan, book, and execute your Africa trip – when travel is safe again, of course.
Q: What restrictions are currently in operation in Tanzania and the other East African countries where you operate?
A: All East African countries have closed their borders, so at the moment we are not receiving any international visitors at all.
Q: How has Covid-19 affected Shadows of Africa as a company and your operations “on the ground”?
A: Because we are not currently receiving any visitors, we are trying to make the best of the situation by focusing on training and some long overdue back-of-house work. We’ve been fixing our website, developing new itineraries, training our guides via WhatsApp and so forth. Although this time is not going to waste, we really can’t wait to welcome guests back again.
Q: What has been the impact on the safari industry in general?
A: In general the impact has been devastating. Tourism has completely disappeared and there is no real answer as to when it will start up again.
Q: What impact has this had on the local communities that are employed? How many locals do the parks and the safari companies employ?
A: Tourism contributes roughly twenty percent of the overall economy of Tanzania, where about 15 percent of the population works directly in the tourism sector. This percentage does not include the secondary jobs – the mechanics that work on the car maintenance, the shops selling safari clothes etc. Unlike in the European Union or in the US, the state is not providing any support to the private sector. Most companies have had to take the tough decision to put their teams on unpaid leave, which of course will have great personal consequences.
Q: How will social distancing impact safari companies and their operations “on the ground” when travel begins again? Are there any limitations that travellers may have to expect for a while when coming on a safari?
A:The bright side for the safari industry is that there is no place better suited to practicing social distancing and avoiding crowds then the rolling savannahs of East Africa. While we expect to see some small changes – for example extra sanitizing in the lodges or perhaps facemask for our guides – the overall safari concept seems almost designed for a time when crowds are banned.
Q: Because safari travel tends towards smaller groups – it’s whole selling point is “exclusivity” over mass tourism – does that give you an edge and an advantage in these difficult times? Is this something you might be able to use as an opportunity going forwards?
A: Yes definitely – this is something we feel will very much work in our favour going forwards.
Q: Has animal welfare been affected by the pandemic?
A: Yes, very much so. Although it is hard to give exact statistics because of the recent nature of the crisis, we have heard reports coming in from all around the country and continent that poaching is on the rise. Previous economic crises have shown that successful conservation efforts are only possible when they go hand in hand with the situation of the human population. With incomes disappearing and money streams drying up, it is inevitable that poaching will increase.
Q: Is there an opportunity here to help us travel more sustainably post Covid-19? Either in terms of combating overtourism or making people more aware of the benefits of avoiding tourist hotspots? How could it help community projects?
A: The situation in Africa is very different to the likes of Venice or Amsterdam – here in East Africa, tourism is still far less developed and we are not experience the issues associated with overtourism. In 2018, Tanzania received 1.9 million tourists – Amsterdam alone receives twenty million visitors a year. The numbers take on even greater significance when you realize that Tanzania is not 23 times bigger than Amsterdam, but than the whole of the Netherlands. We do have destinations that are better known then others – like the Serengeti – but as an example, Katavi in west Tanzania receives just one thousand visitors a year. Tanzania has been moving towards promoting the lesser-known visitor sites for a few years now, but one of the biggest challenges is making it financially viable. With tourism dropping off, this might actually get delayed instead of fast tracked. On the bright side: hopefully people will increase their appreciation for the wonders the country has on offer.
Q: What are your projections for your operation, and the safari industry more widely, going forwards?
A: We are working with a projection that travel will start again slowly at the end of August this year. We expect a very small amount of visitors from August until roughly December. We are hoping to welcome travellers back in January in significant numbers – in the most positive scenario, up to 75 percent of travellers on previous years. But in all honesty, this is a scenario we have not faced before: our projections and expectations are managed and updated on a day-to-day basis.
Q: More widely, how do you think Covid-19 will affect Tanzania where you’re based and its African neighbors?
A: Overall – besides the obvious health issues – in Africa, we are also very worried about the financial situation of the population. Depending on when we are able to emerge from various states of lock-down, incomes will be severely impacted.
Q: What lessons would you most like to see ordinary people and travelers taking with them once the pandemic has passed?
A: We are hoping that kindness and empathy will increase. When people are kind to each other during hard situations, things become more bearable. Small acts of kindness, from respecting social distances while out shopping to not cancelling but postponing your trip, make all the difference in the world. Understanding that different people have different priorities, fears and needs will make for kinder reality and a better future for us all.
Top image: Resting after safari in a luxury tent in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania © Shutterstock