The new normal for tourism is not that bleak afterall

Property analyst Tumisang Loeto of Vantage Properties advises a closer look at measures devised by OECD countries to sustain tourism in Covid times to see if they cannot be adopted by Botswana as a means of survival for its tourism sector and even its return to boom times.

The new normal for tourism is not that bleak afterall

The expectation is that even with cross-border travel permitted, the key short-term driver of the tourism sector will be domestic tourism, particularly throughout the festive season, a report by Vantage Properties has revealed.

Industry players don’t foresee any lockdowns in future as the Government of Botswana is slowly opening up economic activity across sectors, including allowing international tourists to enter the country. However, Tumisang Loeto, the Property Analyst at Vantage Properties, says there are still restrictions that will pose barriers to tourists such as requiring travellers to have a COVID-19 polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test done within 72 hours of arrival for people who have been outside the country for 36 hours or longer.

Although this is meant to control the spread of the virus, Loeto cautions that this may become a hindering factor that results in reduced numbers of tourists and impact revenue because Botswana’s tourism is driven more by foreign arrivals. The established pattern of coming to Botswana through neighbouring South Africa could also prove tricky because the transit country has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Africa at  821 889  compared with 70 195 for the continent’s most populous country Nigeria, and one of its least populated, Botswana, with 12 058 cases (Statista 2020, December 8). A decrease of more than 70 percent in the number of international travellers will be realised from the previous year, according to research by Vantage Properties.

Loeto says the challenge with domestic tourism being the key driver of the sector is that a number of Batswana cannot afford to travel, given the job losses, the salary/wage cuts and the risk of not getting a permit to travel across zones. “It is therefore up to the government and business owners to come up with strategies that make it more affordable for people to travel and certainty must be provided by the government on (permits) to travel across zones,” Loeto says. To that end, several tourism players have resorted to reducing pricing of their packages to accommodate Batswana, which has seen locals flock to the most sought-after tourism resorts in the far north.

For international travellers, Loeto says the government could propose travel bubbles to countries that are least affected by the virus as a way of encouraging tourism in between countries. “The crisis is at the global level,” he points out. It is therefore pertinent for the government to work with the relevant stakeholders to try and come up with measures to assist the sector beyond salary and wage subsidies.”

The United Nations World Travel Organisation (UNWTO) says a five-point road map to transform tourism should be based on mitigating socioeconomic impacts on the livelihoods of those that depend on the sector, boosting competitiveness and resilience through economic diversification, promoting domestic and regional tourism, as well as creating a habitable business environment for SMEs. Further, UNWTO encourages improving and transforming into innovative and digital tourism, as well as fostering sustainability and green growth to shift towards a resilient, competitive, resource-efficient and carbon-neutral tourism sector. Loeto points out that green investments for recovery could target protected areas, renewable energy, smart buildings and the circular economy, among other opportunities. “Coordination and partnerships to restart and transform the sector towards achieving SDGs, ensuring tourism’s restart and recovery puts people first and work together to ease and lift travel restrictions in a responsible and coordinated manner.”

The industry is currently suffering from external shocks caused by the health crisis that set in between the last quarter of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, giving the industry an uncertain economic outlook. The Government of Botswana responded with an impressive wage subsidy scheme to cushion the blow across economic sectors, including tourism, and a comprehensive economic recovery plan.

Loeto says the key recovery plans for the tourism sector should include promotion of domestic tourism as a way of sustaining and preserving some of the jobs and to offset a part of the losses from reduced international visitors. “Waivers are to be considered for the currently payable substantial levies in order to relieve cash flow pressure on the sector and to support continuation of employment,” Loeto says, adding that utilisation of other sites such as Gaborone Dam that have not been exploited for tourism purposes should be encouraged in order to reduce pressure on the northern part of the country.

In addition, Loeto advises relaxation of regulatory barriers as a way of encouraging agro-tourism to help facilitate diversification of incomes and the rural economy, availing direct international flights to and from Maun or Kasane for tourists with a negative Covid-19 status to take them directly to bush camps and keeping them in a bubble with minimal interaction with other visitors in a manner that permits social distancing with respect to staff.

All players would like to see the tourism sector return to normal levels. However, Loeto notes that the longer the emergency remains in place, the more the impact on organisations and jobs, resulting in greater difficulties to reboot the travel industry economy. But the sector’s difficulties point to opportunities to encourage advancement, drive new plans of action, investigate new specialties/markets, and to identify new objections.

Experts believe the tourism sector in 2021 will not be the same as it was in 2019 due to the drastic changes that occurred in the year 2020. Accordingly, the recovery of the sector will be very slow and there is a high chance of no return to the pre-pandemic way of doing business. Thus Loeto says it is important for businesses to modify their daily operations in order to give customers a better experience and to adopt new technological systems to ensure that they are not affected in this manner again. “A reflection on visitor flows may not be mirrored by a reflection on visitor spending while changes in tourism flows may also have a strong impact on product pricing,” he observes, noting that although it is difficult to determine the recovery of the sector with much precision, stability is likely to be achieved in 2025 or later in the decade. But, Loeto warns, a lot will depend on how long the sector stays in survival mode.

While the greater part of the travel industry objections have broadly endured, recuperation will differ from one place to another and on various elements, including the idea of the travel industry offer, the effect of movement limitations on guest streams, the degree to which limitations correspond with peak travel industry periods, the speed with which the economy recovers, the scale and unpredictability of business tasks, the size of the homegrown travel industry markets and introduction to worldwide source markets.

Furthermore, Loeto points out that places where there is an absence of monetary variety and a hefty dependence on the travel industry to help neighbourhood occupations and organisations are more defenceless.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development - which is better known by its acronym of OECD countries - is currently putting in place measures that will allow member-states to coordinate better across and between different levels of government, improve destination management, modernise regulations, adopt digital solutions and work more closely with the private sector and civil society when designing policies.

“And while Botswana is still a developing country, it is vital that it adopt some of these as a way of adapting to the ‘new normal’ and the fast changing world in order to ensure that Botswana tourism stays relevant throughout,” Loeto says.