BUJUMBURA March 30th (ABP) – Tourism is still seen as a sector with high potential for growth, job creation and poverty reduction. However, Covid-19 has led to the decline of the Burundian tourist economy.
A health calamity, but also and above all, a real financial virus for businesses in general and tourism in particular, Covid-19 has today ended up paralyzing the tourist economy where international tourism has fallen significantly.
Elsewhere, to resist the consequences caused by Covid-19 on tourism, other countries had adopted the promotion of domestic tourism as a mode of response, a mode of resistance that probably did not succeed satisfactorily in Burundi, given that the Burundians do not have the tourist culture within them.
In Burundi, the losses have been considerable, as evidenced by the statistics provided for by the Director General of the National Tourist Authority (ONT), Mr. Serges Nimubona. Indeed, those statistics show that the number of tourists who visited the various tourist sites since the outbreak of the pandemic has shrunk to a trickle. He told the Burundian press on Thursday, January 20, 2022, during a news conference.
Indeed, in 2019 about 2,613,605 foreign tourists were able to visit the various tourist sites available at the time while about 15,812 local tourists were able to visit those places.
For the year 2020, there are 555,859 foreign tourists against 22,749 locals who visited various tourist sites.
In addition, Mr. Audace Ndabahawe, General Manager of Gisabo Tours, a company operating in the promotion of tourism, affirms that this Corona virus pandemic has been both an opportunity and a challenge for them. “For us, it was a challenge but also an opportunity,” he said. Covid-19 was a challenge in that it blocked foreign international tourists who could no longer travel to Burundi.
However, Mr. Ndabahawe said they took advantage of this situation to boost domestic tourism by stimulating the Burundian population to be able to consume local products. He indicates that had it not been for Covid-19, Burundians would not have had the spirit to discover the beauty of Burundi. Mr. Ndabahawe said this last February on the sidelines of a meeting with his potential and actual clients that he organized for a possible exchange of experience.
“Before the pandemic it was not so easy to interest Burundians,” he noted. They moved easily by going to foreign countries to discover other places. But today because of Covid-19, they cannot move and have no other choice. This is how “we offered them these tourist services and they accepted”. They ended up discovering that Burundi has the beauties to sell, communicate and put on the international market,” he said.
From January 7 to 18, 2022, the President of the Republic of Burundi, Mr. Evariste Ndayishimiye, had seen fit to use his recess to promote domestic tourism where he visited major tourist sites in Burundi.
On that occasion, the Head of State reiterated his appeal to local and foreign economic operators to invest massively in tourism, which is, according to him, a sector with high potential and driving economic growth.
In addition to economic interests, President Ndayishimiye sees the promotion of domestic tourism as a good way to boost national pride. He had, therefore, pointed out that this tourist tour is also a patriotic approach which participates in the transmission of knowledge and cultural values.
Here, Mr. Ndabahawe positively appreciates this initiative taken by the Head of State and calls on other high authorities to follow suit. “It is an initiative that we greatly appreciated as a promoter of tourism in Burundi”, he appreciated while considering that this gesture made by the President of the Republic will undoubtedly encourage people to invest in this sector.
According to Mr. Ndabahawe, it was a good opportunity for the Head of State to realize, himself, the major challenges facing the Burundian tourism sector. He hopes, on the other hand, that the Head of State will bet on these challenges in order to undertake actions to meet them. “Here I mention the road infrastructure which is in poor condition, the development of tourist sites and other actions that go hand in hand with the development of this sector”, he said.
As for the people of Burundi who do not have the tourist culture in them, that promoter of tourism makes a strong appeal: “The appeal that I can make to the people of Burundi is to contribute in one way or another for the promotion of this sector since there are several ways to contribute”. Here, he indicates that one can go to those tourist places but also talk about the beauties of Burundi, as a territory with beauties to boast.
According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) barometer, the almost total lockdown imposed in response to the pandemic led to a 98% drop in the number of international tourists in May 2020 compared to 2019.
The Barometer also shows a 56% year-on-year decline in tourist arrivals in the January-May period. This entails a drop of 300 million tourists and USD 320 billion in losses in international tourism revenues, more than triple the losses in international tourism revenues recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis.
UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili said these figures clearly show how important it is to restart tourism as soon as it is safe to do so. Furthermore, he points out that the collapse of international tourism is endangering the livelihoods of millions and millions of people, especially in developing countries.