Return of significant travel and tourism activities … key restrictions hampering return to normalcy
With the Covid-19 virus constantly transmuting and resurging, the question of whether life will ever return to normal is relevant. Especially for economic industries, such as the tourism industry, which have been battered by Covid-19, such an issue is urgent. Sectors linked to tourism are too precious to perish and should be resuscitated. But how? Asking how to revive the Namibian tourism sector is another way of thinking about the main obstacles that currently hinder sufficient travel and tourism activities. Understanding and resolving these pitfalls could accelerate the recovery of tourism and economic activities. Hence the question: what are the key factors that could contribute significantly to the return to a semblance of “normalcy” in the tourism industry?
Perhaps two factors can be put forward as essential, namely the lifting of lockdowns and travel restrictions as well as the convenience and ease of air travel, and the availability of associated airlines.
Lifting of containment measures and travel restrictions
After the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments imposed physical distancing, through lockdowns and travel restrictions, as measures to combat the spread of the virus. In other words, the infection and snowballing death rates from Covid-19 led to a nationwide lockdown and travel restrictions in the first place. For example, Namibia was placed under full containment on March 24, 2020 with three cases of Covid-19 detected. Likewise, rising Covid-19 infection and death rates have resulted in a national lockdown and travel restrictions in the first place, decreasing Covid-19 infection and death rates will lead to- therefore lifting lockdowns and travel restrictions? But how will a drop in infection and death rates come about?
Medical advances seem to suggest that a higher total number of vaccination doses administered in the total population (e.g. per 100 people) could significantly reduce infection rates and, concomitantly, death rates from Covid infections. 19. Vaccines are a technology that humanity has often relied on in the past to reduce the number of deaths from infectious diseases. For example, we now know that the European Union (EU) has drawn up a “white” list of seven countries (as of May 6, 2021, these countries are Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand) whose citizens can freely enter the EU. The “safe list” is periodically reviewed and adjusted based on the latest Covid-19 developments in each country. Of course, the EU does not represent the whole world and neither should all other countries follow their example. However, the same thought processes manifested by the EU are likely to be broadly reciprocal by other countries by gradually reopening their borders. The “white” list is a list of countries outside the EU and the European Economic Area that are considered “safe” due to the low infection rates in these countries. To emphasize this point, it is worth comparing the vaccination and infection rates in the EU list of seven countries.
A higher total number of vaccination doses administered may have a psychological effect on the state of mind of people to resume sufficient travel and sightseeing activities. In addition, a higher total number of vaccination rates may guide government decisions to open borders and allow unrestricted movement.
Is it a higher total number of immunization doses administered in the source market (e.g. mainly Central European countries, North America and South Africa in the case of Namibia) that will have an effect convincing about people’s decisions to resume travel or is it the total number of doses of vaccination administered in the destination market, eg Namibia? The response may be both, that is, the greater total number of immunization doses administered in the originating and destination markets. But here is the dilemma: How will higher vaccination rates come about, especially for African citizens with pervasive mythology, legends and excessive rumor generation? As Thornberry (2004: 199) suggested, gossip could be a cross-cutting phenomenon in Africa due to traditions of storytelling and legend and, therefore, needs to be debunked through coherent and well-developed information campaigns.
Rwanda, as the only African country on the EU’s “white” list, presents an interesting case study. The question is, what has Rwanda done so well, which other African countries have not done, to be on the EU’s “white list” as a country with seemingly low infection rates.
Based on available non-empirical data, such as online websites, Rwanda appears to have done three things well: an earlier designed vaccination plan, setting a goal of vaccinating 60% of the population of nearly 13 million. ‘by the end of 2022. This has led to Rwanda putting in place logistics plans in advance, such as storage space for substantial doses before the vaccines arrive as well as the purchase of refrigerated vehicles for. ensure that all over the country can be reached. The vaccination plan included a priority list to ensure that essential workers and those most at risk of Covid-19 infection and death receive the vaccine first, which included frontline healthcare workers, the elderly, those with underlying conditions and those living in overcrowded settings such as refugees and prison populations. In addition, Rwanda has made efforts to stimulate demand for vaccines. Especially in the age of social media and ‘fake news’, an effective information and education program to convince citizens is essential. The Rwandan Ministry of Health worked with civil society, faith-based organizations, local authorities and young volunteers to disseminate a one-page fact sheet with information on vaccines. Radio and television channels were also used to provide more information on vaccines. Finally, to target vaccine reluctance, the government has set up a toll-free number so people can report side effects or share positive stories.
Ease of air transport and availability of airlines
Tourists arrive at their destinations across continents primarily by air. So, after the lockdowns and travel restrictions are lifted, convenient air travel and the availability of airlines to transport people across continents is a key requirement.
Travelers want to get to their destination as quickly as possible, without too much hassle and without spending hours through countries and airports. In a way, this suggests direct flights, not connecting flights, as a convenient way. Before Covid-19, Namibia saw an unprecedented entry of international airline brands, such as Qatar Airways, KLM Royal Dutch, Ethiopian and Condor Airlines (The Namibian, 2016). This is in addition to the national airline, Air Namibia, and neighboring South African Airways (SAA) which has been instrumental in getting tourists to Namibia. Air Namibia has since been liquidated and SAA has gone into receivership. Qatar Airways and KLM Royal Dutch have both ceased operations in Namibia.
Only Lufthansa / Condor Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines still fly direct to Namibia, although with reduced weekly scheduled flights than before. What do the previous developments imply? That the ease of flying directly to Namibia has been diminished and, as a result, the number of tourists restricted, therefore, talking about reviving the Namibian tourism industry is like devising a strategy that convinces airlines that have ceased direct flights to Namibia to return. Without enough direct flights to Namibia, it will take many years for the tourism industry to regain its pre-Covid-19 level, if not lost forever.