As a second wave of COVID-19 pandemic lingers on

Omicron will obstruct all the gains made towards tourism recovery…who bears the blame?
Philip GEBU

…domestic tourism will continue to be on the increase

In recent weeks, there has been talk of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic following easing of restrictions and people not adhering to the COVID – 19 protocols. It is a fact that many people especially in Ghana have relax when it comes to the wearing of nose mask.

Some churches have also taken it easy on the implementation of the safety protocols. Some are even allowing children in churches and do not see the need to wear a mask. Drinking bars and pubs are equally guilty and when the week-ends arrives, if you were someone was brought from another planet, the scene experienced is nothing close to the new normal. It may seem business as usual. Internationally, many countries that have eased restrictions and due to the same challenges, we face here, have had to battle with this second wave surge.

In Europe the new surge in Covid-19 cases and the reintroduction of travel restrictions have halted European tourism recovery with international tourist arrivals to Europe down 68% halfway through the year relative to 2019. That is according to the European Travel Commission’s (ETC) latest quarterly report “European Tourism: Trends & Prospects” for Q3 2020 which has been closely monitoring the evolution of the pandemic throughout the year and analyzing its impact on travel and tourism.

The easing of pandemic restrictions across Europe led to a slight pick-up in July and August 2020 compared to earlier months, signaling people’s enthusiasm and desire to travel again. However, the recent re-imposition of lockdowns and travel restrictions has quickly halted any chance of an early recovery. Looking at the months ahead, heightened uncertainty and downside risks continue to dampen the outlook with European arrivals set to decline 61% in 2020.

Digging deeper into the above numbers, Mediterranean destinations Cyprus and Montenegro saw the steepest falls in arrivals at a distressing 85% and 84% respectively, attributable to a higher dependency on foreign travellers. Among the other countries most impacted are Romania where arrivals plunged 80%; Turkey (-77%); Portugal and Serbia (both -74%). Island destinations, Iceland and Malta (both -71%) also performed poorly, challenged by their geographical location and strict border restrictions.

On the contrary, Austria appears to have benefitted from pre-Covid-19 winter travel at the start of the year, resulting in a decline of just 44% for the year to September. A greater reliance on short-haul trips also placed Austria in a strong position to attain a less volatile recovery as restrictions in the country have eased much quicker than other countries.

This further highlights the need for member state cooperation across Europe as the disparity of approaches regarding travel restrictions has depressed travel demand and consumer confidence. A recent survey by IATA suggests that travel restrictions are as much a travel deterrent as the perceived risk of catching the virus itself. Harmonised solutions towards testing and tracing, along with quarantine measures will be crucial to mitigating the downside risks across Europe.

The future trend from expect as we can see from the data in Europe- which may be applicable in Africa- is to turn to domestic tourism which is seen as the best short-term solution.

I travelled last weekend and decided to make a short stop at the Bonsu Arboretum. The purpose was to find out if domestic tourists were visiting the facility. I was exited to hear from them that the attendance has been massive especially from Thursdays to Sundays. With the introduction of new activities tourists have many interesting things to make their visit a memorable one. According to the guide it took the local engineers one year to build the walkway using materials such as wood, safety net, aluminum ladder, nails, bolts and knots among others. The walkway is Two Hundred and Eighty (280) meters long, forty feet (40ft) high and has five (5) bridges. Other features of the edifice are the six platforms and fences where tourists can rest whiles on tour of the walkway. The forty (40) acres arboretum is home to diverse plant species with over 600 timber trees, 110 species of birds and 300 species of butterflies.

The Bunso Arboretum is situated about 165km from Ghana’s capital city Accra and about 3km from the Bonsu junction from the Accra-Kumasi road. It is about 30 minutes? drive from Koforidua, and is sited close to the Seed Production Unit of the Ghana Cocoa Board. Until recently, the centre was managed by the Plant Genetic Resources Research Institute (PGRRI) of the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and has been the habitat of some over 300 butterfly species, 600 tropical trees and over 110 birds, some of which are rare and could only be found at this forest. The 320-metre long walkway has five bridges and six platforms where tourists can make stopovers to explore and soak in the breath-taking fauna and flora. The centre can also serve as venue for corporate games or outings where after a hardworking week, one can escape to the cool and natural environment at the centre to relax and have fun. You can count on the well experienced tour guides at the facility to answer all your questions and take you round for a very exciting historic experience.

Future outlook & shift in traveller preferences

Domestic tourism is the future of tourism. COVID-19 has highlighted this very importantly. In Europe, they acknowledge the importance of domestic and intra-European travel cannot be understated in terms of the role it will play in the recovery of the tourism sector over the coming months. In a welcome update, the latest forecasts predict a quicker rebound for domestic travel in Europe, surpassing 2019 levels by 2022. European short-haul arrivals are also projected to bounce back faster by 2023, being helped by a swifter easing of travel restrictions and a lesser perceived risk compared to long-haul trips. Overall travel volumes are now projected to return to pre-pandemic levels only by 2024.

The Covid-19 pandemic is also impacting destination choices within particular European countries. The summer season has shown a significant increase in those seeking to travel to rural and coastal locations, clearly as a result of concerns regarding visits to highly-populated urban locations, where it is more difficult to practice social distancing. This change in travel preferences may ultimately mitigate the issue of over-tourism and allow destinations to boost sustainable tourism demand. Increased travel interest for secondary destinations will relieve some popular tourist hotspots that previously struggled to cope with excessive travel demand and will help spread the economic benefits of tourism more evenly within countries. After our general elections next week, it is likely our borders will reopen and that will enhance trans ECOWAS movements. That will also enhance domestic tourism within the region. We however must ensure the safety protocols are adhered.

Philip Gebu is a Tourism Lecturer. He is the C.E.O of FoReal Destinations Ltd, a Tourism Destinations Management and Marketing Company based in Ghana and with partners in many other countries. Please contact Philip with your comments and suggestions. Write to [email protected] / [email protected]. Visit our website at or call or WhatsApp +233(0)244295901/0264295901.Visist our social media sites Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: FoReal Destinations.

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