Tourism rebound only likely in 2022

Otis Daniels_Finck
Windhoek ∙ [email protected]

International tourist arrivals were down 83% in the first quarter of 2021 as widespread travel restrictions remained in place, while expectations are that a rebound will only be likely in 2022.

However, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) confidence index shows signs of a slow uptick in optimism.

Between January and March, destinations around the world welcomed 180 million fewer international arrivals compared to the first quarter of last year.

In Africa, international tourism arrivals declined by 81% during the first quarter of this year.

This all follows on from the 73% fall in worldwide international tourist arrivals recorded in 2020, making it the worst year on record for the sector.

“There is significant pent-up demand, and we see confidence slowly returning,” said UNWTO secretary general, Zurab Pololikashvili.

“Vaccinations will be key for recovery, but we must improve coordination and communication while making testing easier and more affordable if we want to see a rebound for the summer season in the northern hemisphere.”

The latest survey of the UNWTO panel of tourism experts shows prospects for the May-August period improving slightly.

Overall, 60% of countries expect a rebound in international tourism only in 2022, while the remaining 40% expect to see a potential rebound in 2021.

In Africa, 73% of countries expect a rebound in international tourism only in 2022.


Next week, from Monday to Wednesday, Namibia will host the UNWTO regional conference on ‘Strengthening Brand Africa for the Swift Recovery of the Tourism Sector’.

Meanwhile, accommodations statistics for the country indicated that occupancy rates for the first quarter of this year have dropped to below 20%; however, there are signs of recovery with almost 18% being Europeans.

In the first quarter of 2020, occupancy rates stood at 33% and 40% in 2019, while this year it was only 19.5%.

This was, however, before Namibia was hit with the third wave of Covid-19. Cases have since increased drastically.

Namibia has been put on the list of “very high risk” countries by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We from tourism do try to engage with relevant stakeholders, and reach out to the Tourism Revival Initiative Task Force that was created in August last year under the chairmanship of the tourism ministry, and we do raise all relevant concerns, developments and demands - local, regional and international - in an effort to ensure that we keep abreast of international developments and demands for global travel practices,” Gitta Paetzold, CEO of the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN), said.

She added that this is not an easy process, as measures, decisions, regulations and advice change on a weekly basis almost, and because tourism is an international business, the success of Namibia’s tourism recovery relies on decisions and grants made at international level.

Bearing fruit

Referring to the latest report on accommodation occupancy for April 2021, Paetzold said an average occupancy of just over 26% is a satisfactory result, given that there is still much anxiety and uncertainty both regionally and internationally in terms of travel by road and air. In comparison, in April 2019, occupancy stood at 54.7%.

“As was to be expected, the local market still forms the majority of guests at establishments, with almost 58% of all guests being Namibian, compared to 27% in the last normal tourism year, 2019.”

The South African market also constituted a valuable part of tourism business in April, with over 15% of guests coming from South Africa, compared to 8% in April 2019, according to Paetzold.

“Our main source market - central Europe, including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy and others - formed some 19% of all guests to establishments last month, which, if compared to the 45% they represented in April 2019 may seem low, but Namibia is thankful to see so many international travellers bracing the long-haul journey despite persistent international restrictions and uncertainties - a sign that the tourism revival initiative is bearing some fruit.”