Tourists soak up the African bush at SA’s Phinda Private Game Reserve. Picture: LEISA TYLER / GETTY IMAGES
Tourists soak up the African bush at SA’s Phinda Private Game Reserve. Picture: LEISA TYLER / GETTY IMAGES

Africa’s ailing tourism sector is seeking $10bn (about R186bn) in urgent relief funding to save it from imminent collapse, agencies representing the industry said.

Stakeholders said the sector, considered to be the backbone of the continent’s economy, has been hardest hit by national lockdowns imposed to stop the spread of Covid-19. The highly contagious virus has infected more than 3.78-million people globally and killed at least 264,000.

The stakeholders said it would be crucial for funds to flow down immediately to save businesses that needed them most, with minimal application processes and without impediment from normal lending considerations such as creditworthiness.

Five international air transport and tourism bodies — the International Air Transport Association (Iata), the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the African Airlines Association (Afraa) and the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (Aasa) — launched the appeal to global financial institutions, country development partners and international donors to support the embattled sectors that have been the hardest hit by Covid-19.

The air travel and tourism sectors employ about 24.6-million people in Africa and contribute $169bn to the continent’s economy combined, or 7.1% to GDP.

SA has one of the largest airline and tourism industries on the continent, which are both on the brink of collapse after the government introduced strict movement controls and closed borders in a bid to contain the spread of the disease.

The international associations are calling on global financial institutions and donors to provide $10bn in relief to support the travel and tourism industry and help protect the livelihoods of those it supports directly and indirectly. They have also called for access to as much grant-type financing and cash-flow assistance to inject liquidity and provide targeted support to severely affected countries, as well as financial measures that can help minimise disruptions to credit and liquidity for businesses. This includes the deferral of existing financial obligations or loan repayments.

Some African countries, such as SA, are trying to provide targeted and temporary support for hard-hit sectors such as travel and tourism. However, many countries lack the resources to help the industry and these livelihoods through the crisis, the global bodies said.

They said the situation was now critical. Airlines, hotels, guest houses, lodges, restaurants, meeting venues and related businesses face mounting losses. Typically, travel and tourism comprises 80% small and medium enterprises. To preserve cash, many have already begun laying off staff or placing them on unpaid leave.

“The impact of the Covid-19 outbreak is being felt across the whole travel and tourism value chain,” said UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili.

“The sector is particularly exposed with millions of livelihoods across the world, especially within vulnerable communities, supported by the sector. International financial support is key to ensuring that travel and tourism can lead to wider economic and social recovery in these communities.”

Iata’s director-general and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, said containing the pandemic was the top priority. But without a lifeline of funding to keep the travel and tourism sector alive, the economic devastation of Covid-19 could take Africa’s development back a decade or more. “Financial relief today is a critical investment in Africa’s post-pandemic future for millions of Africans,” De Juniac said.

Gloria Guevara, WTTC president and CEO, said travel and tourism was the backbone of many economies across Africa and its collapse would lead to hundreds of millions of livelihoods being affected and enormous financial pressure for years to come.

“Now, more than ever, it is vital that governments work together on a global co-ordinated approach towards a swift recovery and ongoing support for travel and tourism,” she said.