Opinion: Africa must advance travel and tourism beyond Omicron

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Omicron, the new COVID-19 has got the world all guns blazing against Africa. Already unfair and needless restrictions have been initiated against some countries on the continent by the EU, UK and US.

A situation that once again exposes inequalities between the West and Africa which have only been exacerbated by the Coronavirus pandemic. The global vaccination politics which already put Africa at a disadvantage has seen only about 6% of the continent’s population so far.

Despite the gloom and doom that had been prophesied and predicted about countries in Africa’s ability to deal with the pandemic, it is an undeniable fact that best case management scenarios have happened on the continent. Again, it is worth iterating that Africa has been better at handling the pandemic than other continents.

So it is quite surprising that in less than a month that Scientists in South Africa shared information on the new variant, Omicron, other parts of the world quickly reinstate travel restrictions against some countries on the continent.

Omicron probably originated from elsewhere. As the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told CNN on November 30, “We just cannot assess where this originated. The first cases were recognized and identified in Botswana and subsequently in South Africa,” Nkengasong said. But he pointed out: “Identifying a virus, a new strain or a new variant doesn’t mean it came from there.”

Yet, the international community did not hesitate to impose travel bans on African countries with reported cases, which only affirms the disparity that exists between Africa and the rest of the world.

While these restrictions may seem proactive in protecting influx of virus carriers across borders, they actually undermine and attempt to undo the successes that have been chalked by African countries in handling the pandemic. And this is particularly true given that tourism numbers are just about picking up on the continent. Ghana for instance is expecting to close the year with 600,000 tourists, representing a hundred percent increase from last year. Seychelles has already outdone arrivals for 2020.

MICE tourism has also seen a significant rebound. Côte d’Ivoire successfully hosted the global celebration of World Tourism Day. South Africa, Ghana, Cabo Verde, Namibia, Rwanda and Kenya have all managed to host regional and international events.

For once, we can appreciate and recognise governments for showing commitment to deepen travel and tourism even when the odds were against us. Therefore, there cannot be justification and reasons plausible enough for the rest of the world to roll back the gains made with thoughtless and insensitive travel restrictions.

Indeed, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres puts its unequivocally “What’s unacceptable is to have one part of the world — one of the most vulnerable parts of the world economy — condemned to a lockout when they were the ones that revealed the existence of a new variant that, by the way, already existed in other parts of the world, including in Europe, as we know.”

Appealing to countries that have imposed travel bans on African countries, the UN Head said, “This is a very strong appeal that I launch, an appeal to common sense.

“We have the instruments to have safe travel. Let’s use those instruments to avoid this kind of, allow me to say — travel apartheid — which I think is unacceptable.”

I am particularly happy that countries such as South Africa and Nigeria have also strongly expressed in no uncertain terms, their disquiet about the restrictions.

As a continent, it is obvious that we cannot fully bank our hopes on international solidarity when situations get tough. The rest of the world won’t hesitate to cut off Africa and leave her people to their fate. And that is why, more than ever, countries on the continent need to stay united in fighting Coronavirus and whatever variant there is.

This is the time for African governments, tourism ministers, national tourism agencies and stakeholders in tourism and travel industry need to work closely together on new strategies and new ways of getting tourism going and making it relevant for the people on the continent.

Africa should not sit back as the rest of the world use Omicron or whatever Coronavirus variant there is to thwart all the efforts that have been put in resuscitating travel and tourism on the continent. In doing so, there is the need to intensify protocols to ensure that people can move around guaranteed of the health safety while deepening tourism.

By Samuel Obeng Appah
Content Editor, VoyagesAfriq

@ObengAppah

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