While terrorism in Europe and Zika in the Americas pose hurdles to tourism in those destinations, this year is turning out to be a resurgent one for Africa and Japan, which had faced their own challenge and visitor downturns in recent years.
“People like to travel, they want to travel. And they’re going to travel where they feel safe,” Abercrombie & Kent CEO Geoffrey Kent told Travel Weekly’s Arnie Weissmann at the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit last month. “Europe, Paris and Brussels, we’re obviously feeling an impact there. However, Africa has now become safe. Before, over a year ago, it was Ebola and everyone said Africa is unsafe. So yes, now we’re finding a big influx into all of Africa.”
The deadly Ebola outbreak in western Africa in 2014 completely crippled the continent’s tourism flow, with the effects still being felt well into 2015, operators reported. But now they are confident that Africa is poised for recovery.
According to G Adventures vice president for product innovation Jeff Russill, “2016 has so far been a solid rebound year [for Africa], and together with the weak South Africa rand, sales for travel to southern Africa are doing particularly well for us.”
Russill noted that bookings for southern Africa are up between 35% and 40% compared to the same time last year and east Africa is also up 10% from last year.
“With a generally stable political climate and good value for money, we hope to see this increase even further,” Russill said.
Africa being back in vogue comes as the Caribbean, and South and Central America, have faced a bit of a setback this year due to media coverage of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
“Everybody’s numbers are off for Brazil,” said Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Big Five Tours & Expeditions, adding that the negative press Brazil has been getting about the Olympics, its political situation and now Zika has made the destination a hard sell.
However, Sanghrajka said that Africa is not necessarily picking up travelers who have diverted their plans due to Zika or because of the recent terror attacks in Brussels and Paris, but rather due to pent-up demand.
“We started seeing a bounce up even before Zika, even before Brussels, even before what happened in Paris,” he said. “I don’t know that the uptick in Africa is based on Zika. I think it’s more people who have been wanting to go. It is people who are genuinely interested in Africa. For the last two years, people have been traveling to destinations that were their Plan B.”
Another destination that travelers had been putting off for a few years, Japan, is seeing renewed interest.
Japan tourism has “recovered dramatically” following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, surging by 47%, Ryoichi Matsuyama, president of the Japan National Tourism Organization, said during the Global Summit.
Inbound tourism to Japan had plummeted by 62% following the tsunami, which claimed more than 15,000 lives.
Matsuyama reported that in 2015 Japan welcomed 19.7 million visitors, compared with just over 8 million visitors in 2010, the year before the tsunami, marking the first time in 45 years that more inbound visitors went to Japan than Japanese travelers left.
Avanti Destinations, an FIT tour operator, added Asia to its product mix last year. According to Avanti president Harry Dalgaard, its Japan bookings have been exceptionally strong since then.
“In fact, Japan is the leading destination of the seven countries we now sell in Asia,” said Dalgaard.
G Adventures’ Russill said the company saw its sales to Japan climb 25% in 2016 compared to this time last year. The company’s other highest growth destinations thus far for 2016 include Central Asia (specifically Iran and the Central Asian nations Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), Colombia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Cuba sailings.