February 1

What will African travel look like in 2021?

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By David Ryan on
February 1, 2021

If ever a single word can be used to describe a year, I think the word “uncertainty” sums up 2020 and our travel expectation with significant aplomb. As we find ourselves already moving swiftly through 2021, have we found much certainty in the new year? What should we expect from 2021 – and even more – what does travel to Africa realistically look like this year?

“Africa — You can see a sunset and believe you have witnessed the Hand of God. You watch the slow lope of a lioness and forget to breathe. You marvel at the tripod of a giraffe bent to water. In Africa, there are iridescent blues on the wings of birds that you do not see anywhere else in nature. In Africa, in the midday heat, you can see blisters in the atmosphere. When you are in Africa, you feel primordial, rocked in the cradle of the world.”

Jodi Picoult

Reset and do better

Covid-19 has given us all a chance to reflect and reset, and hopefully we will all make the most of this opportunity. The story of Rhino Africa was founded in the simple purpose of bringing international guests to Africa, and in so doing, help to uplift vulnerable communities and protect endangered wildlife.

man and rhino
Africa’s wildlife needs our protection more than ever

Covid-19 has prompted much reflection for all of us about our relationship with the planet. Our hope is that this reflection will push for more sustainable tourism in the coming years, that will lead to a rethink of international travel. This change needs to have more innovation and a renewed commitment to addressing climate change, while ensuring travel to Africa continues to positively impact the landscapes, people and wildlife of this incredible continent.

Travel in 2021

As Covid-19 brought the global tourism industry to a screeching halt in 2020, the rollout of numerous vaccines has ignited a fierce debate about the future of travel, particularly here in Africa. We all arrived in 2021 with the hope that international travel would resume with the immediate rollout of multiple vaccines; but exactly when (and how) remains the million-dollar question!

As an apex industry, most Sub-Saharan African countries, including the Indian Ocean Islands are highly reliant on international tourists. For these countries, tourism is a, if not the major export earner. The 80% drop in international tourist arrivals in 2020, with no substantive government stimulus packages to speak of, means, the people and wildlife of Africa have been the hardest hit.

While Africa remains open, attempts to reboot international travel on a wider scale have so far failed due to successive waves and new variants of the Covid-19 virus. As a more transmissible and harder-to-control coronavirus variant has emerged in recent weeks, dozens of countries have announced they would be closing their doors again, restricting the prospect of an international travel revival.

Africa is travel ready, explore the Giraffes of the Okavango Delta
Up-close with giraffe’s in the Okavango Delta

Hopes for a swift recovery of international travel in 2021 are now pinned on a silver bullet, the rapid and widespread distribution of a vaccine. Beyond this, we know that getting back to Africa will be shaped by three key factors:

1. Vaccine Adoption

Lengthy quarantine periods are the biggest obstacles to restarting international tourism, and thus our hope is that travel health requirements will soon start to resemble the not-so-distant past requirement of vaccine passports; aided by modern-day technology. For anyone that has travelled to Africa before, this is not new, but much like the 1970s, having the appropriate vaccinations and health clearances were essential for travel to and from many countries. 

Covid-19 vaccinations will very likely become the standard for international travel, and our expectation is that they will be rapidly adopted and quickly standardised across all borders. The Covid-19 vaccine could eradicate the need for cumbersome Covid-19 testing, which currently hampers both international and regional travel and remains our greatest hope for a return to some normalcy, mid-2021.

Vaccine and Covid will still remain an element of Travel for some time to come
Travel, Covid and vaccines will continue to be an element of travel for some time

In order to succeed, governments across the globe will need to pass strong laws and regulations. But what is clear is that other health measures, such as mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing will remain vital for some time. 

We expect touchless travel to become standard at airports throughout the world, and while our expectation is that the vaccines will allow the resumption of international travel, guests should expect temperature screenings and reduced in-flight services to become the new norm. In addition we cannot discount the fact that if vaccine take-up in Africa is slow, it will further impact guest confidence in our ability to host safely.

2. International Flight Connections

If the expectation is correct, that the airline industry will only reach pre-pandemic levels again in 2024, getting back to Africa is going to require a lot more than simply getting planes back in the air. Restoring transportation infrastructure, networks and re-establishing air routes that are sustainable is critical to the resumption of reliable international air travel.

Flying in Africa’s wilderness is often a unique and breathtaking experience

As airlines slowly build up these networks again, guests are going to have to put up with less frequent connections, longer journeys and drawn out stopovers. While there is plenty encouraging news in this space, international flight schedules to Africa have been drastically reduced, and demand for long-haul flights is expected to remain low for some time.

3. Traveller Confidence

The lingering fear of Covid-19 infections and access to good medical care, particularly here in Africa, will be the most formidable obstacle we will have to overcome for a real recovery to begin.

Travel is food for the soul, and we know the appetite for African travel remains robust. We also know that leisure travel will likely recover faster than business travel, which is good news for Africa. It remains to be seen, however, whether guests will have an appetite for the perceived risk and how quickly they adapt to the new norms and safety protocols.  

The key to bringing traveller confidence back again will be standardising safety and sanitation measures while removing the risks of government-controlled travel bans and quarantines.

Building a better future for Africa

The likely reality is that destinations across the globe will be desperate for the economic recovery tourism promises, and will therefore compete vigorously for “tourism dollars” as international travel resumes.  

If consumer behaviour trends are anything to go by, the new normal might not be too dissimilar from the old. So as travel is proven safe once again, and we begin to travel more, make sure Africa is at the top of your travel list.

Never before has travelling with a purpose been so relevant and never before has the impact of your African travel been so important. As travel looks set to resume in 2021, join us for the holiday of a lifetime that leaves a lasting legacy on the landscapes, people and wildlife of Africa.

Help to fight the plight of the rhino
Travel directly impacts the projection of our natural spaces and wild animals

At Rhino Africa we believe in experts and we believe that knowledge must inform decisions. Our Travel Experts are with you every step of the way as we navigate these times together, and plan for new adventures. As Africa’s Leading Luxury Tour Operator, we look forward to walking this journey with you.


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About the author 

David Ryan

David makes things happen! With a canny inability to sit still for a minute, it’s a miracle he actually sat down long enough to finish his degree in economics. David is a brave and pioneering entrepreneur with a true passion for Africa - especially Africa's wildlife. With his African Grey parrot by his side, there is more than a hint of the Dolittles about our intrepid leader. Before founding Rhino Africa David spent a number of years earning his stripes and cutting his teeth in the industry. David’s interests include photography and travel, and having travelled extensively through Africa most of the images on the Rhino Africa website hail from his well organised image library!

  • Thanks for your article. It pretty much supports my own thoughts regarding travel over the next few years. I just hope we get our (Canadian) vaccine in time for our Sept ’21 safari in Tanzania.

    • Hi David,

      Thank you so much for your comment, we appreciate it.

      We really hope you guys get the vaccine soon, so you will be ready for your amazing trip.

      Warm and sunny regards from Cape Town,
      The Rhino Africa Team

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