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

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Fourth survey of 308 safari tour operators revealed that most are suffering from 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 billion? safari industry – many parks and reserves have lost most of their revenue, and job losses are being felt in local communities which rely on the safari industry for employment.  

SafariBookings.com, an online marketplace for African safari tours, recently ran its fourth monthly survey among 308 safari tour operators. The survey’s aim was to acquire a detailed understanding of the impact in the safari industry from the downturn in travel associated with the coronavirus pandemic. The results were in line with the previous three surveys – an overwhelming number of tour operators are suffering from a decline in bookings of at least 75%. This is a horrendous figure for an industry which so many people rely on in East and southern Africa. As one operator from Tanzania told, “We have not received any bookings from potential clients since the COVID-19 spread worldwide.” And it’s a similar story in neighboring Kenya, “At the moment customers are not willing to make any reservations due to COVID-19.”

Around 93% of operators said they had lost at least three quarters of the bookings they normally rely upon at this time of year. An extraordinary drop in business with many operators unable to afford to even hire local staff. A Kenyan operator put it in perspective when he said, “We don’t have bookings, and we don’t have money to pay salaries for staff, office rental etc. Things are really bad.“

Seventy percent of operators who responded to our survey said that cancellations had increased by at least 75% on existing bookings. Less than 3% said it was business as usual. “Corona has definitely effected our booking request levels and increased cancellations. For now there isn't much we can do but we choose to embark on putting a digital marketing strategy in place post Covid-19. We look forward to a better tomorrow.”

As countries such as Tanzania become beacons of hope for the safari industry, reopening their borders to international visitors, there is a positive tone taking its first tentative steps from some tour operators. “Coronavirus has been a nightmare in our tourism industry, it has wounded everything. The safari business is no longer the same. But all in all, our hopes are still alive. We shall rise again, we shall shine again, we shall bounce back stronger like never before.”

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