Hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic , Africa’s hospitality industry has been adversely affected due to the cancellation of hotel reservations, events and travel restrictions. Just as international tourism represents an important revenue generation source for the continent, and amid the growing challenges of sustenance, there is need for the creation unique offers to attract new customers.
In the past month, I have been leading advocacy for the continent’s hospitality industry in the face of the unrelenting pandemic. As a stakeholder in Africa’s hospitality sector, I am well aware that adaptability is a necessity, knowing that the sustainability of 60% of hotels and restaurants in Africa is under threat.
There can be many solutions to these threats and I stand to be corrected that the challenges posed by the pandemic to the hospitality industry will not be eternal just as our mission at Leeds Hospitality is to provide the best possible strategies to enable the hospitality industry to navigate the pandemic era.
According to the World Bank, tourism is one of the engines of the transformation of the African economy. Sub-Saharan Africa, which only attracted 6.7 million visitors in 1990, welcomed 67 million in 2018. During this period, revenue generated from tourism exceeded $ 38 billion, contributing 2.8 billion. % of the region’s GDP according to a 2019 study published by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).Due to the pandemic, 2020, saw an average loss of up to 70% of the turnover. Following the closure of the borders, many hotels had no income for many months with fixed charges that remained constant.
However, by analyzing the unique tourist locations of each African country, several unique products could be created. Rwanda is an example of an African country that is creating eco-lodges. This is an area that needs to be looked into in creating unique offers for domestic customers who can take advantage of border closures to discover various tourism destinations of their various countries. The development of local tourism is one of the ways to go as the pandemic continues to surge across the continent. As of September 2020, two and three-star hotels have resumed their activities recording an occupancy rate of 26% in some capitals.
A major reason for hope in the hospitality industry is hinged on the integration of digital product enablers that were designed during the pandemic. In Kenya, Nairobi National Park has organized virtual safari tours and other parks have not closed completely.
In addition to the health and safety measures which hotels must constantly update, they will also need to invest and innovate. Several hotels have not really done much on the sanitary protocols put in place to protect customers and staff. Finally, I would also like to reiterate the importance of flexibility in reservations regarding the cancellation and refund policy because of the many large international groups and national structures. The post-covid situation could exacerbate competition, thus creating a hard time for hotels working together.
In large capitals, some hoteliers refuse to communicate their figures (occupancy rate and average price). This leads to a lack of correlation between price, service and quality . However, pan-African groups are at a high level of service quality, although they are in the minority at the moment. While the private sector has its share of responsibility, public authorities also have their role to play. They should take a cue from The Republic of Benin which has been pro-active in this area, with the National Tourism Development and Promotion Fund which will finance numerous tourism projects with a fund dedicated to employee training.
In the wake of the surging pandemic, Africans now have a preference for local destinations over other international destinations. This is why I think that domestic customers can strengthen hotel management contracts and improve service efficiency. I am confident that the hospitality industry in Africa can compete with the rest of the world, only if it is redefined.
Laetitia GNASSINGBE is the Founder/ Managing Director of Leed Hospitality.