Regional tourism players are banking their hopes on the Covid-19 vaccine as the pandemic sucks life out of the holiday season.
In Uganda, tourism businesses are also grappling with election violence, as well as the pandemic, leaving a cloud of pessimism across the industry.
During such period last year, tourists coming to enjoy the region’s holiday attractions would have already booked hotels, tour and other services.
Andrew Gatera runs a tour and travel business in Rwanda, with China as his source market. Like others, his business has been seriously hit this year but it survived thanks to foreign nationals who have taken advantage of the reduced rates to visit.
He said save for a few countries which don’t subject tourists visiting Rwanda to a 14-day quarantine, like Israel, UK, Dubai and Kenya, many tourists from other source markets are not coming to Rwanda because they don’t want to undergo the quarantine inconvenience.
“We are not getting any tourists from some key source markets, because they don’t want to go through the two-week quarantine, which explains the low bookings for this holiday season” he said.
Mr Gatera noted that although the restoration of passenger flights in October has not brought any significant improvement for the industry, inquiries are at least beginning to come in.
“Business is at 35 percent now, our hope is to be at 50 percent next year,” he said.
“We had hoped to tap into local tourists, but the mandatory Covid-19 test has been an obstacle, the $50 cost to take the test has locked out many local tourists, who had been excited by the reduction in park rates” said Mr Gatera.
The situation is slightly different in Uganda, where it is not mandatory for nationals to have a Covid-19 test to access parks, which has galvanised local tourism.
“We are getting some visits but they are still low,” said Richard Kawere, chief executive of Uganda Tourism Association.
He said the violence that came with the on-going election campaigns in Uganda, has dealt a big blow to the tourism sector.
“The political situation has worsened the situation, because the source markets are easily swayed by negative news, this is a deterrent to the recovery and growth of the sector, we pray things improve gradually.”
At the height of the political violence, the US issued a travel advisory to its citizens travelling to Uganda.
About the state of holiday bookings, he said “the bookings for holidays are largely domestic, some properties are fully booked for between December 23 and 31, we have limited bookings from our source markets.”
“The vaccine will give some level of confidence to the travelers, which is positive for the industry.
“I am sure even the immigration requirements may change in relation to the vaccine, and those who postponed their travel can then take advantage of this to travel” Kawere said.
Tourism industry analysts say even with the emergence of the vaccine, the least it will take tourism to recover is two years, with recovery only expected to start in 2022.