Do you remember that old children’s song where Nellie the Elephant lost her trunk and cried for help with a “trumpety trump”? The million dollar question is: did her “trumpety trumping” make things better or worse? I ask the same question: will a Trump president make things better or worse for African tourism?
Soon after the election, my crystal ball kept clouding over with contradicting arguments. Both were based on the direct effect of this election on US tourist arrivals to sub-Saharan Africa, bearing in mind that most destinations quote in US dollars. Tourism from the USA is huge and last summer saw arrivals from America to Kenya exceed those from the UK for the first time ever. Kenya is one of Africa’s largest benefactors from tourism.
Staring into the crystal ball, on the dark side, I could see a Trump presidency influencing growing economic hardship across the USA, an isolated, inward-looking regime heralding a massive worldwide loss of confidence, leading to a dramatic fall in the dollar. That scenario would be a disaster for tourism, as African holidays for Americans would quickly become far less affordable.
But then my crystal ball cleared to reveal a brighter, vibrant North America, steered far more carefully than we had anticipated by a confident Trump who, like Nellie, has “said goodbye to the circus”. A new era when a businessman, not a politician, holds the reins of power. A ‘deal maker’ has become one of the most travel-friendly presidents in modern history. A world leader who, long before taking his oath, has been part of the hospitality industry, giving him a ready and receptive ear to our fraternity.
I also saw a hand stretching out a lifeline to the UK, struggling post-Brexit. After all, remember that Britain remains the largest provider of tourists to Africa, yet its own future remains in the balance too. This ‘special Trump treatment’ might help tip the scales in the UK’s favour as he has declared his support, fulfilling his promise, as he puts it, to “treat the UK fantastically”. What a change after President Obama’s unwelcome threat during the EU referendum campaign that Brexit would push Britain to the back of the queue for trade deals with the USA.
I saw a new ‘pro UK’ president, wheeling and dealing, restoring confidence across both countries. In this game, he trumps all, and prosperity grows on both sides of the Atlantic. The result? The African holiday becomes more affordable to both US and UK travellers.
Of course, there are many more dimensions to be considered and at this early stage it is impossible to predict an outcome. We must look for the positives, we cannot turn back the clock and we must respect democracy, however unpalatable the outcome. What is certain is that politics and tourism are not easy bedfellows. The former by definition is a science of extremes from far left to far right, often breeding chaos and uncertainty. The latter, on the other hand, is quite the opposite and requires peace, security and stability. Nellie did indeed “say goodbye to the circus” and “trumpety trumped” her way to a far brighter, more peaceful and secure world. We can but hope that the incumbent of the Oval Office has heard her call and does not become the elephant in the room.
Nigel Vere Nicoll is Chief Executive of Atta, which serves travel companies in the African travel sector in 37 countries. For more information visit www.atta.travel.