Tourism is considered as a “transversal” sector because it affects almost all other areas of life: Agriculture, Construction, Transport, Health, Insurance and Banking, Communication, and has multiplier effects on other sectors of activity.
Tourism is among the sectors that have stopped altogether, which proved to be impractical given the crisis situation. The DRC is among the top 10 countries in the world qualified as “mega biodiversity”, with all that it contains and which would make its strength, huge tourism potential, dynamism and the significant presence of tourism actors for example.
Today, we can wonder what has become of the tourism sector in DRC, which already before the crisis linked to the Covid was faltering. We will be able, in this text, to review the table retracing the situation of the tourist sector before the arrival of the Covid, we will also present the different points of view of the organizations working in the field, to finish with the answers undertaken by these actors to raise the tourist sector after the current crisis.
The picture of tourism in the DRC
Some of the weaknesses already experienced by the tourism sector in the DRC were indeed: difficulties in accessing tourist sites and protected areas, inadequate reception and transport infrastructure, low quality tourism supply, low skills and lack of training of staff and on tourism-related professions, insufficient budget allocated to the sector, etc.
However, there is no shortage of opportunities to make this sector one of the most attractive in the country, such as the existence of sub-regional tourist circuits, strategic positioning between the circuits of Central, Eastern and Southern Africa, the rich cultural and historical heritage, etc.
On the other hand, this sector has remained threatened by various situations: The persistence of pockets of insecurity in the east of the country, poaching of emblematic species such as the mountain gorilla, okapi, rhino, elephant, the very advanced state of disrepair of basic infrastructure, mining and logging in tourist sites and protected areas, the negative perception of the level of security in some areas, the high cost of staying in the DRC.
The constraints thus identified have had the following consequences on the sector: the weak dynamics of tourist activity; the poor quality of the services provided by many local actors compared to their counterparts in neighboring countries; the low attractiveness of foreign capital; the insufficient programming of the destination by tour operators; the proliferation of clandestine travel agencies; the low impact of tourist activity on the effective improvement of the living conditions of the populations.
The arrival of the Covid, what are the repercussions on the sector?
We contacted organizations working in the field of tourism in DRC, and here are the results of our interviews:
The Virunga alliance, when questioned on this subject, stated: ”Before the COVID-19 crisis, tourism in the Virunga National Park had in fact rebounded very well and we were seeing an increase in the number of visitors. The financial damage to Virunga National Park and the local economy from the closure of tourism activities is extremely serious. The local economy and population, direct beneficiaries of the tourism industry, are already facing major economic tensions. The closure has had a very significant effect on Virunga’s finances, with about 40% of the park’s revenues disappearing overnight”.
The other observation according to them is that there is an increased risk of poaching because the sources of income for the local population and the numerous armed groups active around Virunga are being crushed. Price inflation linked to the pandemic is driving up food prices, which could fuel poaching if local armed groups see this as a lucrative business opportunity.
In this regard, Virunga states: ”We have recently seen an increase in poaching activities, which is linked to the pandemic.”
For Congo Tourism Gate, an organization working in the sector since 2017 and based in Goma, the arrival of Covid has made tourism impractical. Whether at the local, national or international level, the “stay at home” has completely wiped out the sector, since there is neither entry nor exit.
The direct consequence that this organization points out is the cessation of activities. The reality is indeed that many organizations working in the sector live only from tourism, therefore actions such as organizing trips and facilitating the movement of tourists during their stay for example
According to the organization Safari Congo Adventures, an agency working in the DRC since 2014, specializing in facilitating tourists and travelers to Congo in the process of obtaining a Congolese visa, tourism is very affected by this situation of the pandemic by the cancellation of reservations, financial losses, a situation that could worsen depending on the evolution of the pandemic of the wait-and-see behavior of travelers and the feeling of panic that could set in.
Is there a recovery plan?
Aware that after the crisis, the sector will need to be revived, organizations are planning differently for the times and actions that will follow :
For its part, Virunga said: ”The park is building additional high quality housing and facilities for tourists once they can visit the parka gain, and we are convinced that in time we will be able to welcome visitors back to the park and tourism will be successful again”.
The Virunga alliance added that for the time being, the park remains closed, but that this situation is constantly being reviewed and once it is safe, both for the park’s wildlife and for the people who live in and around the park, it looks forward to welcoming visitors once again.
Congo Tourism Gate, for its part, says it has begun to restructure some things within the organization: contact with clients has resumed, letters are being sent to partner organizations to plan activities that will take place as soon as the area is functional again.
For the part of Safari Congo Adventures, they say they want to show visitors another image of the DRC, so they are trying to change their target by making their first customers to be Congolese, and that they want to give the Congolese the chance and access to discover the tourist sites of their beautiful country.