Is Brexit good or bad for African tourism?

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NigelATTANigel Vere Nicoll is Chief Executive of Atta, The African Travel & Tourism Association, which serves travel companies in the African travel sector in 37 countries around the world. For more information visit www.atta.travel

“We’re doomed!” said Private Frazer, the wild-eyed undertaker in Dad’s Army, in episode after episode. The Remain camp certainly caught his drift during the months leading up to the referendum vote in June. Dour, pessimistic warnings of job losses and companies fleeing abroad came so regularly that the Remain campaign became known as Project Fear.

Certainly, our tourism industry was concerned. How would a Brexit vote affect travel? Well, the answer is perhaps surprising. Predictably, UKinbound reports a massive surge in bookings of tourists from overseas to Great Britain fuelled by a cheap sterling. But how would that fall threaten outbound travel?

The word ‘safari’ is Swahili for ‘journey’, and I suppose all holidays are journeys. But that word, possibly because of its East African connection, has evolved to mean a journey to view animals in the wild, spread across the vast African plains, free from constricting borders. A high percentage of Africa’s tourism fits into this category of ‘safari’, often with a beach holiday added on.

The ingredients are expensive: transport, long-haul flights and complex ground transfers to the final destination. Then one must add the cost of getting food and supplies to your accommodation in these remote destinations. Would Brexit severely damage our industry, as spendable income available to pay for this type of trip dried up? Would that holiday of a lifetime be put off indefinitely?

To find out, we commissioned a survey of our members just two months after the vote to Brexit. On one side, we polled the buyers of African tourism around the world, and on the other, the suppliers based on the continent… And the answer?

Although our buyers (tour operators) and our suppliers (hotels, lodges and camps) were questioned separately, their responses were strikingly similar. To the question relating to business for the remainder of 2016, 26 per cent reported no change and 68 per cent that their business was up on the same period last year. To the same question for bookings in 2017, 30 per cent reported no variation and 62 per cent that business would increase.

So Private Frazer’s predictions of doom have not transpired. In fact, we’re talking bloom rather than doom. Yes, the fall in sterling against the US dollar, the currency used by most African destinations (with the exception of South Africa), has raised costs, but the industry has itself taken the hit rather than raising prices and has worked hard to soften the blow to their customers. It’s still early days, but it appears this approach may have paid off.

There we have it: the resilience of the African tourism industry. Ironically, although the Remain camp lost the vote, their title aptly tells the real story. One line in the poem ‘Say not the Struggle Nought Availeth’ reads, “And as things have been they remain.” Back in your box, Frazer, there’s nay doom and gloom here in Africa!

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