The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic seem to reach nearly every part of the economy, and nature-based tourism in Africa is no exception. Closed borders, grounded flights, and restricted movement have slammed this industry, leaving businesses, communities, and individuals without crucial incomes. And a loss in tourism bookings means a loss of funding for communities’ conservation efforts. This, of course, comes on top of existing stressors that have already stretched conservation budgets thin, such as climate change, habitat loss and degradation, poverty, and illegal wildlife trade.
An urgent and collaborative solution is key to keeping nature-based tourism afloat and helping the people and wildlife that benefit from it.
With $1.9 million in funding from the Global Environment Facility, an African Nature-Based Tourism Collaborative Platform is being developed to connect funders to communities and small and medium enterprises involved in nature-based tourism in eastern and southern Africa - and who are most affected by the loss of revenue due to COVID-19. The platform will serve as a tool to gather data on the impacts of the pandemic, allow people to share knowledge, help with the development of funding proposals from communities and businesses, and make those proposals available to donors. WWF will serve as the GEF implementing and executing agency, as well as host the platform.
“I’m so excited about this platform because it addresses such a critical problem, and prioritizes the needs of the most marginalized communities,” said Nikhil Advani, Director for Climate, Communities, and Wildlife at WWF. “Working with a range of partners, including national community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) networks, NGOs, government agencies, and the private sector, we’ll be taking a bottom-up approach, working with communities and small and medium enterprises to identify their needs, and connecting them with donors.”
Africa is home to some of the world’s most treasured biodiversity hotspots and the world’s most diverse and abundant large mammal populations, making it a hotspot for nature-based tourism. And many countries have worked hard to protect millions of acres of crucial habitat. However, managing those areas effectively is costly and requires a steady stream of funding. Nature-based tourism gives communities and governments a financial reason to continue to protect these special animals and places because it brings in revenue for wildlife authorities, local economies, communities, and national governments. Tourism revenue also goes into critical conservation operations, such as poaching reduction, wildlife monitoring, endangered species protection, and, often, local community benefit sharing programs.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 decimated this vital revenue stream. According to a recently published report, tourism contributed $194.2 billion or 8.5% to Africa’s GDP in 2018. And even when restrictions eventually lift, the path forward for nature-based tourism remains lengthy and unpredictable.
The impact this has on people and communities is dire. The jobs and revenue stemming from nature-based tourism provide livelihoods for millions of rural people and create incentives for protecting wildlife and wild places. With this revenue source all but dried up, many are left with limited streams of income and face extreme hardship.
This new platform will help these communities by functioning as a matchmaker between donors and people and businesses in need, resulting in the growth and well-targeted distribution of COVID-19 emergency relief funds, stimulus packages, and other financial support.
"An African community with a united voice stands a far greater chance of elevating this issue in the global agenda, amongst the many competing demands of the pandemic,” Advani said. “The platform will strive to achieve this through strong collaboration and by elevating the voices of those most in need to build back better for people, the economy, and conservation in Africa."
While the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated impacts will be felt for some time to come, the data gathered through this platform, the emergency relief funding secured, and the longer-term efforts to build the resilience of the nature-based tourism sector will benefit communities and nature in Africa well beyond the crisis.
This piece was originally published by WWF.