Many rural communities in Southern Africa rely on the tourism industry for their livelihoods and the COVID-19 lockdown has had a major impact on jobs and food security.
“The communities are feeling the brunt of this, much more than we are feeling it in the urban areas,” says Blacky Komani, TBCSA Chairman.
“The nature of tourism, because of its geographical spread, means it impacts outer areas. I recently had the opportunity of talking to someone outside Kruger who said that whole area that was thriving with crafters, with people selling curios, arts and crafts, has been decimated. And that has a direct impact on things like poaching because for Kruger, that’s the first line of defence that you need to have with our neighbours who are pro-tourism.”
Cindy Sheedy Walker, who heads up Extraordinary Marketing (which includes a number of properties in private concessions in the Greater Kruger) says it is imperative that the borders open up to international visitors as soon as possible.
She says that majority of the funding for conservation comes from tourism and game lodges, but with no income coming into this sector for anti-poaching surveillance and other key activities – many protected areas are vulnerable to poaching.
“Our wildlife is the top attraction influencing the international traveller’s choice of South Africa as a destination and the increase in poaching could therefore have widespread consequences,” she says.
Cindy says that due to the development of world-class safety protocols which many lodges and hotels have already implemented, South Africa is definitely ready to welcome back both domestic travellers right now and international tourists from September 2020.
“If casinos and restaurants are opening up now in South Africa, our low-impact game lodges certainly pose little threat by comparison but will make an enormous difference to livelihoods in the rural areas. Tourism accounts for a large number of jobs in the Greater Kruger area, and we all really need to get back to work,” she says.
Sarah Bergs who manages the Nourish NPO(non-profit organisation) in Hoedspruit says the situation is dire.
“As an NPO, Nourish benefits from and linking to inclusive and cultural tourism has been severely impacted by the lack of tourism; not only because all international volunteer groups and guests for 2020 have cancelled, but also because our spa, bakery, coffee shop and craft centre have lost all access to income. Our immersive village walking tour, which brings income to five homesteads, has come to a stop, and so too has all income to these families who are part of our Nourish business incubator and grassroots income-generation projects.”
She says the organisation has lost a lot of funding from lodges and individuals who are unable due to provide support, as they struggle for their own survival.
“If South Africa is the macro economy, Nourish is a micro economy, and we feel the impact in our area of the loss of tourism in so many ways. The increasing need in the villages we work with, the rising poverty and hunger, and resultant fear and desperation from people who had good steady secure jobs in the tourism value chain, being now reliant on government aid that might or might not come.
Families, who used to have a tourism-breadwinner supporting their whole family, now rely on NPOs such as Nourish to provide them with food parcels just to be that little bit more resilient and carry on just that little bit longer.”
For Melba Dhlamini (known as “Mel B”) who works at Nourish as a tourism facilitator, so many of her young colleagues are now without work due to the fact that tourism has come to a standstill.
She says, "The Covid-19 has had a negative impact on tourism and our careers, because since it started so many people have lost their jobs. I’ve witnessed some of my colleagues have lost their jobs and it was a hard decision to take because we know very well that those people need their jobs to sustain their families. When it comes to tourism it’s very difficult to our business to keep on moving because we depend on it, we need tourists to come and support us. Indeed, Covid-19 has taken a lot from us, I mean even our careers."
The African Safari Foundation (ASF) has been working closely with community partners around southern Africa to try and support communities directly affected by the fact that inbound tourism has ceased during the lockdown.
Steve Collins, CEO of theASF, says, “International tourists are the main market for the four- and five-star lodges built on community land. They employ more staff per tourist than cheaper accommodation. They also have less of an environmental impact which is why communities have chosen to develop their partnerships with luxury lodge operators. The sooner we can entice foreign tourists back to Southern Africa the better.”