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Covid-19: We need to play the long game
Message from Steve Collins, CEO of the ASF, on the Covid-19 pandemic and the effects on the safari tourism sector.
Covid-19’s effect on safari lodges, wildlife parks and reserves, communities and hospitality organisations across Africa is widespread and its negative implications for tourism are already being felt far and wide.
The long-term effect on travel and hospitality is going to be massive; the drop in tourism numbers already has and will continue to have far-reaching effects. We need to prepare to play the long game when it comes to restoring tourism numbers and learn lessons about keeping our staff and guests safe in future. For now, it’s just a question of survival, as we face this unprecedented global humanitarian challenge.
Of particular concern to the ASF is the effect on communities, the possible job losses at lodges facing the challenge of just staying open and paying staff salaries. Many programmes aimed at uplifting local communities may experience a lack of funding and could stop altogether, and we need to brace ourselves in terms of how we (the safari hospitality industry) handle the crisis. We are forging ahead in uncharted waters and, as an organisation, we will continue to be proactive in finding solutions for both the safari sector and communities to cope during these trying times.
It’s important to look at what we do know: Covid-19 has already and will continue to have a devastating impact on both local travel and tourism, and the economic fallout is going to be profound for all businesses involved in the sector. Governments across the board, need to get involved in supporting the industry economically. Many will have seen that the South African government will be making special funding available for SMMEs through the Tourism Relief Fund and hopefully this will happen on the rest of the continent.
We appeal to travel and tourism companies to consider staff and communities when making financial decisions. While the bottom line is of course crucial to any business, taking care of the people in your business now will have long-term repercussions for the future. We are already seeing companies that have put measures in place to soften the Covid-19 blow for surrounding communities and who are finding ways to ensure their feeding and training programmes, etc. continue to make a difference to the lives of the people surrounding our parks and wilderness regions.
Please look out for regular updates on our ASF blog, where we highlight solutions and efforts by the safari and hospitality industry to deal with the Covid-19 issue. Let’s take the opportunity to learn from each other and collaborate on finding ways to soften the blow of this pandemic on all livelihoods.
As the ASF we have given our community and private sector partners a 6-month loan repayment holiday. We are also paying out our annual community development donations earlier this year to fund COVID related interventions, one of which could be helping the lodges remain open.
On the conservation side of things, Covid-19 and the fact that tourist numbers are down also has repercussions, with many of our partners voicing concern about the economic impact of Covid-19 resulting in further poaching, among other major issues. As community members lose regular jobs and incomes, they will be tempted to raise cash through poaching or hunting animals for food in cash strapped homes. We need to look at solutions in addressing the various conservation issues that will arise.
On a more positive note, the safari, hospitality and conservation industry is one of the most vibrant sectors on the African continent, we have worked together for years across country borders, using our expertise and knowledge and the wisdom and skills of communities in and around our parks. If there is one industry that knows how to fight the good fight, it is ours. So let’s share knowledge and information, collaborate and conserve and do what we can to get through this crisis.
CEO The African Safari Foundation