A new EABC study on the impact of COVID-19 has revealed that the EAC Partner States are estimated to have lost international tourism receipts to the tune of Ksh. 517.6 billion ($4.8 billion) in 2020, following the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, about 2.1 million jobs were lost in 2020 in the EAC region. The study was conducted by the East African Business Council (EABC) with the support of the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The study further revealed that tourism, which contributed an average of 9.5% in GDP in 2019 and an average of 17.2% to EAC total exports, was one of the most affected areas in the region. This was reflected in massive reductions in international tourist arrivals, receipts, jobs, visitors to parks and hotel occupancy rates.

Since the onset of the pandemic in the region in March 2020, the report reveals that 4.2 million foreign tourists were unable to travel to their preferred destinations in the bloc.

According to the report, visitors to national parks declined significantly by about 65%, impacting negatively to wildlife conservation efforts in the region. Hotels in the region also registered average occupancy rates of below 30% thus affecting their operations significantly including maintaining staff.

An online survey conducted as part of the study indicated that 26.5% of the businesses lost their entire projected revenues during the pandemic period, 44% lost 75% of their projected revenue and 17.6% lost 50% of their projected revenues. The respondents indicated that 35% reduced staff by more than 50%, 20% reduced staff by below and up to 50%, 32% maintained staff at partial pay and only 8% maintained all staff at full pay.

Speaking during a webinar unveiling the findings, Mr. Dennis Karera, EABC Vice Chairman, noted that the study will contribute to developing macro-economic policy options for consideration and adoption by EAC Partner States. “Adopting an EAC coordinated approach in reviving the tourism sector by marketing the region as a single tourist destination, opening EAC skies, rolling out national-wide vaccination drives and mutual recognition of COVID-19 test certificates in the region is certainly critical,” he said.

The Study recommended for tourism destinations to have pandemic preparedness and risk management plans to minimize such instances in the future.

Tourism stakeholders have called upon the EAC Governments to continue offering stimulus packages to help in re-defining tourism products by leveraging digital technologies in tourism marketing and promotion.