Tour operators and accommodation establishments have noticed a shift in interest to East Africa as South Africa’s borders remain closed to international travellers while the East African region has slowly started to open to inbound tourists.

This comes as major international airlines have resumed flights to Kenya. Rwanda has also started resuming commercial flights and has received its official Travel Safe stamp from the World Travel & Tourism Council.

COO of Sense Of Africa, Rest of Africa, Paul Brinkman, told Tourism Update the company had noted an increased interest in the region but added that East African countries’ governments had not provided a solid tourism plan and some uncertainty remained.

“Most bookings are rebookings and, although initially we were receiving new bookings, due to the current uncertainty, this has slowed everywhere,” said Brinkman. “It is possible Southern Africa might lose out on bookings with border closures but the demand for travel will initially be slow.”

He said countries in East Africa were now trying to position themselves as a hub for Botswana, Zambia and the Victoria Falls area. “They’re doing this through Air Namibia, Ethiopian, Qatar or even a new possibility, Lufthansa. With less demand, choice becomes an option and so the region may have enough alternative solutions to the standard South African packages to those regions.”

City Lodge Hotel Group COO, Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo, said the hotel group had seen a shift in its bookings as well. “Most companies, NGOs and private reservations have postponed travel arrangements to our East Africa hotels for one year.”

Despite Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania opening their borders, Sangweni-Siddo doesn’t foresee a rush of tourists to their shores. “Looking at the forecast for the next six months until the end of the year, we expect to see international travellers to East Africa return only in February 2021.”

VP of Sales and Marketing at Dragonfly Africa, Yolanda Woeke, told Tourism Update that opening borders was not enough to bring tourists. “The fear is real, and if we do not have a healthy society in South Africa, whether it is COVID cases at a controlled level or people starving due to our economic situation, we will have a hard sell against these other destinations.”