The world’s reaction to the fact that South Africa’s scientists identified the omicron variant, was nothing short of devastating, especially for the South African tourism industry. In a knee-jerk reaction, countries around the world closed their borders to Africa one by one. The effect? In just 48 hours, South Africa’s tourism industry lost over $64 million in travel bookings. That is according to the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa and the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association, representing the South African hospitality and the international inbound tourism private sector, respectively.
Even though the industry breathed a huge sigh of relief when the Biden administration said it would lift the travel ban from Dec. 31, many wondered whether it was too little, too late with traveler confidence already eroded.
But, according to safari operators, U.S. travelers have reacted with resilience, and they are eager to explore Africa once again.
“In the short term, the uncertainty omicron has created as well as the travel bans that were placed on the region have impacted bookings to some degree but not to the level we have seen in the past. The early indicators show that many guests still are determined to travel,” said Wayne Nupen, regional touring director at AndBeyond.
Wilderness Safaris chief commercial officer Hadley Allen agrees and said it has been encouraging to see most U.S. travelers remaining positive that they will be able to travel in the coming months, while those with immediate travel plans are mostly postponing to early spring.
For Kota Tabuchi, Travel Beyond’s managing director of Africa, new enquiries are much more serious about traveling and more resilient to the news cycles. “Of the clients that booked a trip to Africa during Covid, omicron rarely comes up in conversation,” he said. “Of those clients who paid a deposit prior to Covid and opted to continue deferring their trip, omicron is certainly a topic we discuss. We have a small handful of ‘deferred’ bookings still on the horizon, and once they are off the books, we feel that Covid-related discussions will become less frequent.”
Omicron has definitely created a temporary setback for Africa, but the future looks bright, according to industry players.
“Almost everyone has safari on their bucket list,” said Jim Holden, president of Holden Safaris. “When the time is right, they’ll take a safari. Patience is a virtue.”
Sustainability and regenerative travel
The reason for this optimism is that Africa is what African Travel president Sherwin Banda calls the gold standard for sustainability. He explained that sustainability is at the core of Africa and is part of Africa’s fabric. That is what will set the continent apart for years to come and what will attract travelers who are looking for a “regenerative travel experience” in the coming months.
This is an excerpt from an article by Dorine Reinstein, originally published by Travel Weekly.