PERCEPTION AND ECONOMIC RECOVERY
A few months have gone by since the outbreak of Covid-19 in the East African region and we have seen significant reduction in economic activity, in line with the rest of the African continent and the world. This shrinking has affected all sectors of all economies, bringing fear and uncertainty to many. However, mitigation and containment measures were quickly put in place in the region and have, arguably, had some positive effect. Even so, it is increasingly clear that economic recovery will take time and concerted efforts for East Africa.
A major earner, directly and indirectly, for the region is leisure and business travel, hand in hand with the hospitality industry. The challenge will be rebuilding trust among travellers because even when a vaccine is developed, many will still be leery of international and regional travel. This is based on the fact that the perception of many is that the region’s capabilities and capacity to adequately protect and care for travellers is poor.
One way to confront this negative perception will be for us to highlight the achievements and advances of medical professionals in the region as well as the institutions they work in. The region is rich with many medical professionals who specialize in diverse fields. This is the time to put the spotlight on these individuals on social media platforms and for institutions to be making every effort to get them speaking engagements on the many international forums and webinars being held online.
At the same time, National and Regional policies and how they translate into action need to be made clear and publicized aggressively. Policies such as steps being taken to handle arriving and departing passengers at airports, sanitization of aircraft and transportation to and from airports as well as other policies and guidelines being introduced need to be highlighted to bolster our regional efforts to revive economies.
Inbound travellers will also be concerned about how their accommodation and safety needs will be met. Questions will be raised about what hotels and convention centers are doing. What steps are being taken by hotels and restaurants in terms of sanitation and safe food preparation, for instance? What about staff health monitoring? As for convention centers, they need to promote how they plan to host events effectively while maintaining social distancing guidelines and other safety measures.
These are just some considerations for the travel and hospitality industry. However, these sectors are not wholly self-sufficient nor are they the only sources of the region’s economic potential. Full economic recovery will also depend on collaboration and cooperation among different sectors as well as with government institutions.
Not all travellers are tourists or conference goers; some travel for trade and investments or consultation and other employment related activities. They will all need to be reassured that the regional governments are taking adequate and appropriate steps to ensure their health and wellbeing while they are guests in the region.
Ultimately, international perception will play a key role in rebuilding trust and reviving trust and re-energizing the travel industry. Effective communication and promotion of policies and actions are a major means of influencing that perception.