African Reserves

What the COVID-19 travel bans have done to conservation …


It has been more than 20 months since the World Health Organization announced that Covid-19 was a global health emergency and a pandemic. It is estimated that the resulting travel cuts in 2020 alone have been wiped out $ 4.5 trillion of the global tourism economy and costs millions of jobs.

In Africa, half of people working in tourism lost their jobs. A recent report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimates that a $ 1.7 to $ 2.4 trillion could be lost to the global tourism sector by the end of 2021. In Africa, these losses are projected to 170-253 billion dollars.

Tourism is an important source of funding for the management of protected areas and provides employment for people living near national parks and wildlife. When movements to protected and conserved areas such as national parks and community conservatories are canceled en masse, jobs and conservation management are threatened.

We have studied several peer-reviewed studies and economic reports published over the past 12 months to examine the effects of the pandemic on tourism in conservation areas in Africa and to look for any signs of a recovery.

Count the costs

Overwhelmingly, the majority of Africa’s protected areas (both private and public) have suffered a severe blow from the collapse of tourism. In South Africa, the closures have caused a 96% decrease in tourist visits to national parks managed by SANParks. This was equivalent to around 90% of tourism income, highlighting the fragility and risk of a sector that depends on a single primary income stream. This also caused anxiety about health and job security among park staff.

Vets treat an injured elephant in Ishasha, Uganda. Tourism is the main source of income for such activities in many African national parks. (Photo: Alex Braczkowski)

In Uganda, national parks typically generate 88% of their income from tourist entrance fees. A collapse in tourist traffic between July and December 2020 almost erased $ 1.4 million of the annual budget of the Uganda Wildlife Authority. This hampered basic management activities such as anti-poaching and there is evidence that poaching double in the two largest parks in the county between February and May 2020.

The private wildlife industries have not been spared either. In South Africa alone, between March and May 2020, canceled hunting trips, sales of live animals and sale of meat products resulted in losses totaling $ 406 million.

While the contributions of travel and tourism to the GDP of African states have fallen in line with the world average of 2020 (Africa saw a decline of 49.2% while the global average was 49.5%) Africans working in the tourism sector suffered disproportionate job losses, down 29.3% (representing 7.2 million jobs) compared to global average of 21.5%. In Botswana, the 2020 lockdowns led to about 99% of the country’s tourist workforce being temporarily or permanently made redundant.

These cases of job loss are particularly notable because most African countries have not had the same economic safety nets and rescue packages like those in the richest regions of the world, such as Western Europe or Australia.

The lack of economic safety nets is mostly felt by people working in informal tourism economy (like porters in the gorilla trekking industry in Uganda, or mokoro polers in the Okavango Delta in Botswana) who tend to make only a few US dollars a day.

Look ahead

Although tourist arrivals for sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa are not better in 2021, and budgets for protected areas continue to be cut, extending an already severely depleted ranger force, there are some glimmers of hope. June, July and August saw considerably best occupation in hotels in North, South and Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, a recently convened panel of experts from the United Nations World Tourism Organization expects travel levels to Africa to return to pre-pandemic levels by the next year. 2023 or 2024.

A number of strategies have been tried by different stakeholders to strengthen protected areas and associated livelihoods in response to the pandemic. These include: domestic tourism; contactless and virtual tourism; and new funding for conservation such as direct payments for wildlife conservation.

Banks can help safari operators by lowering rates, waiving penalties, and rescheduling loan repayments.

Many countries encourage residents to travel locally and visit national parks. The Uganda Wildlife Authority, for example, reduced entry fees to 50% national parks. Botswana has reduced entrance fees by up to 70%.

A male lion walks on the Satara Road in Kruger National Park, dragged by tourist vehicles. (Photo: Alex Braczkowski)

There has also been an increase in the use of contactless methods for tourism. Virtual safaris have been an almost immediate response to the global pandemic in some wildlife areas in South Africa.

Finally, innovative ways of financing protected lands and communities supporting wildlife conservation are on the horizon. For example, the world Bank pledged $ 45 million for a wildlife bond for the endangered black rhino. Its objective is to sell a bond to investors who will produce investments directly linked to the increase in the population of the species in South Africa. Mechanisms like this could complement the carbon offsetting of conservation lands like those found in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It is important to note that the resumption of African tourism will depend on the progress made with vaccination rates, not only of international tourists but of citizens of African countries.

Currently, African countries suffer from the highest rates of vaccine inequality worldwide. Addressing this injustice is not only a global ethical issue, but will allow for a relaxation of travel restrictions linked to the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Without this, global herd immunity remains out of reach, as does the resumption of tourism that Africa so desperately needs. DM

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