Reinvent tourism to thrive post-Covid-19

Tuesday May 18 2021
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Tourists take some photos as they drive through a national park in Uganda. While many view the restrictions as disruptive in the tourism sector, they could be a weapon to reignite the industry. PHOTO/Edgar R. Batte

By RICHARD LUYOMBYA

The tourism industry must co-exist with a future that has been permanently altered, thanks to Covid-19.

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken all countries back to the drawing board to realign priorities to reignite their economies.

As travelers consider safety first before selecting any destination, the tourism sector will have to re-route itself to thrive in the years to come despite the pandemic’s disruptions.

According to Ms Babra Adoso, managing director Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Events (MICE) Uganda, the impact of Covid-19 on economic development is arguably the biggest compared to the September 11 terrorist attack against the United States.

Tourism, one of the key sources of revenue International arrivals were intercepted as foreign tourists could  not travel because of the travel bans of flights to various destinations last year. Many countries are now developing measures to build a more resilient tourism economy post Covid-19.

Back home (Uganda), tourism growth projections for tourist arrivals are expected to reach 1,250 by the end of 2021, according to an online publication: “Trading Economics Global Macro Models.”

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However, this could remain a fantasy if the free movement of people is not normalised. The new Covid-19 variant is another threat that is likely to worsen the situation as government plans new restrictions following an outbreak in India. 

But how can tourism thrive amidst the pandemic’s disruptions?

Industry players have suggested several master actions points to reboot, rebuild and reconnect tourism. 

The Mice tourism strategy recently dominated deliberation at the sixth Pearl of Africa expo as the ‘magic bullet’ to reignite the sector. Mice is primarily an acronym for “Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Events”. 

Mice are usually single-day events that bring together a group of professionals to address a key challenge or set goals for the organisation by holding meetings, as well as travel rewards incentives and organising events virtually. Mice tourism primarily brings in tourists beyond those who mainly visit for safaris.

Traditionally, meetings have been predominantly face-to-face. However, the pandemic has accelerated a shift towards virtual meetings.

According to Mr Peter Kaggwa, the chairman of Events Association, tourism is two-sided; leisure and business tourism. For example, an event such as Nyege Nyege qualifies for business tourism which Mice strategy seeks to achieve.

To shade more light, he continued: “For example, a conference will bring in about 1,000 people at once and that particular conference can employ hundreds of people, earn government about $100 million because of the logistics used as opposed to leisure tourism that attracts individual tourism.

Meanwhile, incentive travel is another way under Mice to reboot tourism. Incentive travel primarily refers to travel aiming at motivating or rewarding company stakeholders.

Incentive travel caters well to domestic tourism since much of its operation currently is inland travel. 

There are different types of incentive travel, including familiarisation trips, team building trips and reward trips.

“Companies normally take their employees to visit a different place in Uganda for either holiday or team building. On such visits, companies are usually given travel discounts. This is what we can bank on to get back to business,” Mr Kaggwa says.

What stands in the way, however, is the ability for companies to spend amid the challenging economic times. Already, company restructuring by downsizing is taking a toll is most local companies.

Although economists project stabilisation by the end of 2021, the new Covid-19 variant is posing a threat to the world.

Mice tourism is not exceptional from observing the Covid-19 Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs). Perhaps the main reason why industry players front it as the cure is that it attracts large crowds who are professionals with travel incentives which attract a lot of competition.

Besides, some conferences, events, and meetings are held virtually hence factoring in the SOPs.

In most cases, the latter are must-attend arrangements to business networking and are a prominent part of the business.

Exhibitions also provide an opportunity for businesses to showcase their products or services. They are often in the form of trade shows such as the pearl of Africa expo.

“We need to develop our professional conference organisers, destination management companies, and the different logistical aspects required to support a mice event,” Ms Babra Adoso, the managing director Mice Uganda.

Technology

Technology is undoubtedly key in positioning Uganda as a mice destination through using modern technologies such as augmented reality, Internet of Things (IoT), virtual assistants, big data, blockchain, and 5G.

For example, the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) has already developed the pearl of Africa expo App where they showcase the available tourism opportunities therein the country.

Mr Jean – Philippe Bittencourt, the general manager of Sheraton Kampala Hotel says: “If we have an event coming to Uganda, the opportunity is to virtually showcase the cuisines in the country.”

However, the 12% levy on Internet data is likely to hinder technology in tourism.

The pandemic disruptions, the endless political tension, and “bad social media” posts pose another threat for the industry.

In the wake of the pandemic, the government imposed a raft of measures to control the spread of the virus. International arrivals were intercepted as foreign tourists could not travel because of the travel bans of flights to various destinations.

While many view the restrictions as disruptive in the tourism sector, they could be a weapon to reignite the industry.

According to Ms Adoso, there is a need to display these measures to the world to build confidence among travelers that the country is serious about the safety of its people and visitors.

“Showcasing these Standard Operation Procedures (SOPS) to the world to show that we are a safe travel destination is important because people fear going to places that are not safe,’’ she says.

In the mix of the several options, is hybrid tourism that combines both physical and virtual approaches.

Covid-19 hits tourism

Utilising open economies

At the peak of the pandemic, the world closed doors to any foreign travelers. Some countries however did not completely close for various reasons ranging from political to economic interests.

According to Mr Mwanja, there are countries especially in Africa that closed partially hence players ought to take advantage of them.

“Countries in Africa that closed account for 24 per cent. Therefore, the biggest part of Africa (76 per cent) is not closed. We should take advantage of this to reboot tourism,” he says.

According to Ms Adoso, tourism players are still counting losses, with more than Shs3 trillion lost in travel and tourism. Mr Jean adds that Sheraton Kampala Hotel  has lost $50,000 in bookings in a year.

From the country’s perspective, the Ministry of Tourism economic growth forum budget for 2019/20 financial year, tourism is the leading foreign exchange earner for Uganda generating $1.5b in revenue.


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