Tourism is one of the most important industries in Africa with an estimated contribution of 8.5% (or US$194.2bn) of the continent’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2018 according to African Travel and Tourism Association [ATTA], 2019.
Pandemic lockdowns & movement restrictions meant that countries partially or entirely closed their borders. Some remained open but only to serve travelers from approved countries of origin.
As the restrictions are lifted, the hurdles a potential traveler has to go through – such as rigorous testing in the country of origin, to potentially quarantining for 10-14 days at their destination – travel for leisure is not looking too exciting right now.
These restrictions & cancellations effectively stopped approximately 850,000 people from traveling around the globe each month. It also meant that employment was affected by a reported 50 million job cuts worldwide.
Basically, the income of the entire value chain – from the airline industry, tour operators, hotel staff, community wildlife reservists & conservationists – was drastically affected to reduced or no incomes at all.
“We believe that traveling will resume and will make everything better.” Shadrick Luyanga, Luciano Tours & Travel – Zambia.
Even the ecosystem surrounding tourism was also highly affected. The drastic halting of gatherings meant huge losses because of canceled contracts. For example, the Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions (MICE) sector stands to lose, KSh163.56b in countries like Kenya, that heavily rely on this form of tourism.
The writing on the wall may seem bleak and hopeless – with no foreign trips, people mostly working from home, the uncertainty of the return of business travel – however, there is a resilience that will ensure the tourism industry continues to innovate.
Virtual tourism which presents consumers with an immersive experience of an activity, location, or destination through the use of technology is on the rise being used by hotels, tour operators, and destinations.
The trend capitalizes on the advent of faster internet speeds, affordable high-quality gadgets such as video cameras, phones, tablets, and computers across the globe.
Virtual tourism also makes use of technology such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) as offered by apps such as FlipparGO, which is now in Kenya. All with the aim of providing an experience that one cannot get through still photographs or videos on platforms like Youtube alone.
In Kenya, a virtual live stream campaign was launched in 2020, to showcase destinations such as parks and reserves across the country. The campaign was a part of the #MagicAwaits campaign led by the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB).
We spoke with Angela Njehia, Director & Co-founder of Tierranjani Africa about the rise of virtual tourism, to get a feel whether it’s a viable product during and post-pandemic:
Honestly, it is a possibility if you are looking at an alternative to physical travel if for some reason you cannot travel to the actual destination.
Consider how when all countries went into lockdown in 2020, virtual trips were being offered as an alternative but these were specific to sustain the destinations and the local community hosts… not as mainstream tourism but an alternative. Most of these were however only for the short-term or to keep the interest of tourists in the destination.
They can be offered to consumers who could not travel physically for one reason or the other or maybe to those who are interested in the experience but cannot afford the actual trip.
However, having that consumers are more interested in experiential travel than physical trips would still carry the day… but there’s nothing for certain. Consider how in late 2019 we were talking of over-tourism, and then a few weeks later we were experiencing no travel at all.
Tierranjani is more of a development consultancy so we do not sell tours. However, I do know that Ol Pejeta Conservancy had started offering “Sofa Tours” when we were in lockdown but they have stopped offering those tours now.
Virtual Reality (VR) tours are definitely something to watch out for, I don’t necessarily think they will take over the physical tours but certainly, with the growing digitalization, it’s just a matter of time they start to feature more.
I think of a few years ago when Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) had burst into the scene and most thought that tour operators would become extinct but they didn’t, the consumer still wanted that effect of dealing with a human and not just technology.
I believe the tourism industry still needs that “human touch” thus the need to want products that are local and that are consumer engaging, however, there are still a lot of untapped opportunities when it comes to tech and travel.
Virtual tourism definitely has great benefits to its consumers. They enjoy reduced costs thus saving money, there is less hassle to get to the destination, and one can see just about any place they’d like to see in the world. From the comfort of your home, you can visit the Great Barrier Reef, Jakarta in Indonesia, and experience places such as Porini Safari Camps.
While for the industry players, virtual tourism keeps its offerings and amenities at the top of the consumer’s mind. It effectively means that when regular physical travel does resume, these brands will most likely experience many bookings since there is pent-up anticipation & curiosity to see it in person.
As Angela has shared, the thinking behind virtual tourism is not to replace physical tourism entirely, but instead to maintain interest in a place while generating some sort of income as we all wait for the world to return to what will be the ‘next normal’ of traveling.
If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, is that nothing is permanent and it’s hard to predict what the future holds. Hopefully now with rapid testing for the coronavirus & increased inoculations across the globe, more and more people will get to travel safely.
As Shadrick Luyanga of Luciano Tours & Travel in Zambia shared with Safaribookings: “We believe that traveling will resume and will make everything better. In the meantime, we stay positive, and we test negative to COVID19; the future is definitely brighter.”
Interested in learning more about the resilience & innovative solutions that the tourism industry can employ to tackle the challenges it faces?
Join Angela Njehia tomorrow from 11:00 am in a webinar that plans to highlight examples of how, through Tierranjani Africa, they are aligning recovery plans and investments with a transition that meets the objectives of health and safety, sustainability, climate action, and biodiversity protection. RSVP here via Eventbrite.