Corona Collapse

Corona Collapse

I can’t convince myself there will be a second wave. I can’t convince myself that a vaccine will be available the first of next year. I guess in fact I can’t convince myself of much. Except one thing: African tourism is imploding so severely that it will gut the global market for safaris for decades to come.

Half of the 2019 African tourism will not exist in a year. By the end of 2021 there will be an unprecedented transformation rolling back decades of trends. (More on this later this week.)

“Travel and tourism will suffer the worst losses” in the coming world depression, according to Alex Awiti, Vice Provost of Kenya’s Aghan Khan University.

This weekend’s BBC report on what global tourism will look like as the virus subsides and disappears is sobering.

Noting that Argentina has banned all incoming passenger flights until September, the BBC’s Mal Siret assures us that there will be no (northern hemisphere) summer vacations. But he goes much further into the future, arguing that as far ahead as we wish to speculate, fewer and fewer people will travel far for their vacation. “Staycation” is the new buzz word in travel.

By the time anxious travelers get vaccinated aspirations for “vacations” will have transformed forever. The difficulties of traveling globally will be compounded by this reduction in demand.

Airport screening, for example, will take 3-4 times as long. That intensity will require more and better employees and much more expensive equipment. Airplanes with social distancing? Yes, says Siret. No middle seats booked. That means economy fares skyrocket, business class declines. Many airlines go bankrupt.

Once you arrive some place like Nairobi you’ll be carefully scrutinized for body temperature and ordered to quarantine even if the official’s thermometer just happens to have a dead battery. If you make it through the screening, you’ll have to prove your vaccination is valid.

Doesn’t this mean Kenya is killing itself? No. Tourism is no longer the bee-all of Kenya. Agriculture, especially tea and cut flower exports, mining and even finance with banking are now more important in Kenya than tourism. Those industries don’t require a lot of foreigners. But they require healthy Kenyans.

But why err against tourism, e.g. be so casual that a foreign visitor might be quarantined because of a dead battery? Because foreigners are being increasingly blamed for the virus’ spread, especially Chinese and Americans. And because old sentiments are being raised from the dead:

“The arrival of the foreign incursion changed everything,” the theologian Dr. Bamidele Adeoye told Kenyans this weekend.

“They disrupted our cultures and our Gods… Africans are prisoners of sorrows and lamentations… Africans have the ‘enclosure of the mind’ syndrome, in other words, inferiority complex. Africa always embraces detrimental foreign solutions to Africa’s problems, instead of the solutions for Africa by the Africans and for the Africans.”

The animus developing in Africa against the western world for suppressing then poorly managing the spread of Covid-19 is now being turned inwards as well, and most significantly, to all things that serve foreign vacationers.

Like, say, a tented camp in the Serengeti.

In the midst of this African depression tax collectors throughout East Africa are banging on the doors of soon-to-be-bankrupt African companies demanding tax payments with no illusion this hastens bankruptcy. Thousands maybe tens of thousands of long-term, loyal employees who know no other trade have been furloughed without pay, taking with them decades of experience. The supply chain for spare parts and other essential maintenance items will soon be exhausted.

Companies that run tented camps and lodges, that keep safari vehicles and planes running, that cater to exotic western food needs are folding left, right and center.

The head of Kenya’s travel agent consortium, Ms. Agnes Mucuha, said that only rapid mergers will save many travel companies from rapid disappearance.

The companies that remain have become predators of one another, seeking redress for back loans or staff shifts, altering almost daily their contracts with suppliers and vendors alike, threatening personnel whose performance doesn’t bring in another nickle, making up numbers and events to keep their dwindling stake-holders from abandoning ship. Trump would make an excellent African tour company CEO right now.

If by some miracle of miracles coronavirus disappears by this fall, I think recovery is possible. Every second thereafter is a half-life for African tourism.

I can’t convince myself that there will be a second wave. I can’t convince myself that a vaccine will be available soon. But I have convinced myself that the African safari business that I’ve known my whole life is on the precipice of extinction.