The safari industry is having a serious case of deja vu as fear surrounding the coronavirus in Africa has already gripped and panicked travelers. Booking behavior has begun showing trends similarly experienced during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. And we don’t want to relive that.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of coronavirus (COVID-19), we have five words for you:
Don’t cancel your African safari!
Your 2020 safari dreams can still be lived out in one or more of the extraordinary wilderness destinations of your choosing. Africa is still open for business and is waiting to welcome travellers as safely as possible.
Now for the nuts and bolts of coronavirus in Africa. We take a look into what is the current status as well as what the safari industry experts and our clients are saying.
What is the reality of coronavirus cases in Africa?
“Unfortunately, many international travellers think of Africa as a country, not as a huge continent.” We wrote this in a 2014 article , when Ebola affected three countries in West Africa yet had massive negative repercussions for the safari industry throughout East and Southern Africa.
Six years later, tour operators, lodges and camps within the safari industry are reporting similar trends in how people are perceiving travel to Africa in relation to the coronavirus outbreak. At the time of writing, only six cases have been reported in the entire region of sub-Saharan Africa – one in South Africa, one in Nigeria and four in Senegal – when Italy’s current case number sits at 3858, according to The Telegraph’s coronavirus cases live tracker shown below:
Safari industry roleplayers are, quite understandably, frustrated as they are losing business despite offering travel to places that have few or, in the large majority of countries, zero cases. Ditching heavily populated towns and cities that have high infection rates for a safari in the bush where you encounter only a handful of people in the fresh air should sound like a pretty good idea!
What are safari industry experts saying?
Despite this being the ‘on-the-ground’ coronavirus situation in Africa, 86% of the 361 operators recently surveyed by SafariBookings.com “are experiencing a significant decline in bookings due to fears of the coronavirus”. The graph below shows that almost one-quarter of operators have reported a 75% decrease in bookings as a direct response by travellers to coronavirus:
What’s more, only a little over a quarter of tour operators reported in the same survey that they had no cancellations from those safaris already booked:
In spite of this bleak outlook, the team at NightsBridge is taking an upbeat stance on people travelling within the context of coronavirus in Africa:
“Let’s show we’re still open for business.”
This is echoed by the South African Tourism Services Association (SATSA) in light of South Africa confirming one case of coronavirus at the time of writing:
“South Africa should keep its doors open as a business-friendly destination.”
Safari operators, lodges and camps are encouraging people to not abandon their safari bookings because of coronavirus. This is on the basis that they, along with their affiliate airlines, are equipped to do their very best to avert further coronavirus cases resulting from travel to Africa.
How are our clients and industry friends dealing with bookings?
As coronavirus does, of course, pose a threat to human health, the safari industry in Africa is understanding of travellers’ fears and have changed their travel policies in such a way that reflects this compassion for their guests.
Paula Moore, Managing Director of New Frontiers Tours , says,
“Up until now, we have been encouraging people to postpone their trips to a later date if they are concerned (or if their health is compromised), so as to avoid too many outright cancellations.
We are being led and advised by SATSA, and will update our agents as we go, depending on how long the situation continues or as there are further developments!”
Robin Pope Safaris , a WildWeb client, has taken a similar approach. They have made booking conditions more flexible to allow for amendments if necessary and has applied this to bookings confirmed on or after 4 March 2020:
- Bookings can be amended up to 14 calendar days before travel if the guest is unable to travel because of Government restrictions due to the COVID-19 virus.
- Bookings can be moved by up to 18 months (from the original start date).
- The booking value of the existing booking is reserved for the new booking. Our payment terms remain the same.
Another client has implemented a new bookings policy for March (to be reviewed thereafter), which puts its guests first, within fair reason, in these ways:
- With immediate effect we will no longer expect deposits to be paid, until the current virus is depleting or ending.
- Guests who have confirmed up to 56 days (eight weeks) before arrival and wish to change their dates may do so up to and including 30th November 2020. If they don’t wish to change their dates and cancel completely then the cancellation charges will kick in accordingly.
- Guests who have paid and are booked 28 days prior to travel and cancel will not be refunded.
- Guests who have confirmed 57 days before arrival and cancel will not be charged any cancellation Fee.
One of our clients has sadly had nine booking cancellations so far. Unfortunately, we don’t think they are the only ones that have suffered as a result of travellers panicking about coronavirus.
Instead of giving up on an experience of a lifetime because of the alarm about coronavirus, make a fully informed decision by speaking directly to your safari tour operator, accommodation and airlines about your safety concerns. For further peace of mind, also chat with them about what your options are around changing your trip closer to your date of travel should there be a need.
Don’t let coronavirus steal your African safari holiday.