The global tourism community is today (September 27) celebrating World Tourism Day under the theme of ‘Rethinking Tourism’, following unprecedented upheaval for the industry. COVID-19 forced the entire sector to re-evaluate itself and the worldwide recovery is being driven by significant shifts in priorities for buyers and suppliers alike. 

According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourist arrivals have recovered to almost 60% of pre-pandemic levels. 

“Tourism continues to recover steadily, yet several challenges remain, from geopolitical to economic. The sector is bringing back hope and opportunity for people everywhere. Now is also the time to rethink tourism, where it is going and how it impacts people and planet,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili

In 2019, tourism accounted for 10% of the world’s GDP. The destruction wrought by the pandemic highlighted the enormous economic importance of the sector, as EcoTraining Sales and Product Development Manager Corné Schalkwyk points out. “During COVID, we were made aware of the impact that tourism has and the income opportunities that tourism has brought and continues to give to a range of people everywhere. However, we also recognise that we cannot return to the old working methods. As the world opens again, we must learn from the pandemic and its impact on travel in Africa.”

Responsibility and sustainability

Tourists have emerged from COVID with an increased awareness of the impact their travel is having on the environment and on social causes. 

Suzanne Benadie, Sales and Marketing Director of DMC Sense of Africa, highlights that increased emphasis has been placed on the brand’s Green Seat initiative, which channels revenue into a variety of community and conservation projects.

“Our focus is even more intently on responsible and sustainable tourism. Two of our recent trade partners have committed to our Green Seat initiatives, and so each booking will include a valuable contribution from our German and French source markets. Guests are aware of this, so they know that they are travelling and contributing to the rebuilding of the tourism industry and supporting communities and wildlife.”

Schalkwyk explains that community development and contribution to conservation are key considerations in southern and East Africa.

“We have enhanced our product delivery and outcomes as part of travel to ensure more is contributed to conservation activities and community empowerment. Our Custom Travel department includes additional fees to select and train community members. We have also reached out to larger corporate companies to assist us in ensuring more transformation is achieved within the safari industry.

“The pandemic showed us where we could build more resilience. And exposing inequalities also showed us where we can deliver more fairness.”

Bespoke is king

The hunt for the ‘Greatest of All Trips’ has intensified post-COVID, and bespoke itineraries are a top trend. 

“We are rethinking tourism by actively including more bespoke activities with soft adventures, such as walking, cycling and golf. We are promoting longer stays in each destination, and villa accommodation continues to be an integral part of our curated itineraries,” Benadie points out. 

Domestic tourism vital

The pandemic highlighted the crucial importance of the domestic market, which sustained South Africa’s tourism industry through COVID. In the first half of 2022, 15.2 million domestic trips were recorded in the country, almost double the 8.6 million trips taken in pre-pandemic 2019.

This trend was also reflected by a Cape Town Tourism survey that found that 64% of the organisation’s members had experienced a significant rise in domestic visitors. 

“As the pandemic has taught us, the locals sustain businesses, so rethinking tourism should consider the domestic market as well. International tourists love Cape Town, but it’s the locals who keep the city thriving,” said Enver Duminy, CEO of Cape Town Tourism.