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COVID-19 hits the tourism industry hard – Senegal

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The tourism sector in Senegal is at risk of losing its grip with the total closure of airspace as part of the response to the coronavirus.

The government, after having noted the recurrence of cases imported from COVID-19, has decided to suspend all flights to and from Senegal from 20 March 2020 to 17 April 2020.

According to a press release from the Ministry of Tourism and Air Transport, this measure applies with the maximum severity the law allows, with the exception of domestic flights between Blaise Diagne de Diass International Airport (AIBD) and Ziguinchor (south); cargo flights, medical evacuations, and special authorised flights.”

At a press conference on Thursday, Amadou Hott, the Minister of the Economy, Planning and International Cooperation announced a “contingency plan of 64 billion CFA francs” with the aim of strengthening the country’s health system.

During these in-depth exchanges with reporters,  Hott insisted on the impasse that the national economy and especially tourism will and are going through during this period. “Air transport, in particular Air Senegal, AIBD and all the structures around this platform, hotel companies, restaurants, and travel agencies will inevitably be impacted by the suspension of flights,” said the former Vice-president of the African Development Bank (AfDB).

On average, Senegal receives 1.6 million tourists a year. For this country, the health crisis shaking the world will lead to a significant drop in the turnover of companies, not only in this sector but also of their suppliers. Maintaining jobs will certainly be a daunting and permanent task.

Walking towards the unknown

Speaking under condition of anonymity, a manager of a travel agency in Dakar echoes the minister’s words saying: “I am observing (the situation) for the moment, before taking any decisions.”

These can range from partial unemployment to dismissal. In any case, this entrepreneur, employing “twenty” people, is already beginning to “feel” the effects of the closure of the air borders.

So far, the government of Senegal has not yet released its strategy to support businesses whose good health depends on the movement of people and goods. Speaking of the tax moratorium so desired by many private sector actors, Hott said that “it is not on our agenda yet.”

But the manager of the travel agency sounds the alarm: “It’s a big. Everything is on standby”. And even if he has not lowered his flag, his activities are only limited to “recoveries.” While his company offered a number of services, such as the sale of airline tickets, the pilgrim convoy to Mecca and hotel reservations, its main customers were NGOs, companies, individuals, and traders, “most of whom were going to China,” where the disease broke out in December 2019. Today, he suggests, “many workshops, meetings, flights… have been canceled.”

Closed doors

In the seaside resort of Saly Portudal (nearly eighty kilometres southeast of Dakar), hotel complexes are seeing reservations dwindle. At the Manatee beach hotel located in the department of Mbour where three positive cases of coronavirus have been registered, according to media reports, the associate director, Eric Philibert indicated that public health takes precedence over the race for turnover.

“We set up ‘dams’ with two nurses who were checking the temperature of each of our employees twice a day. The director made all of our employees aware of disinfection methods, the behaviors to adopt and the risks involved. But given the bad habits of both tourists and employees, we decided to close the hotel so as not to expose people,” he said.

Around three-hundred thousand people around the world have already contracted the virus, where more than thirteen-thousand have died, according to a report received on Sunday. According to the African Economic Commission (ECA), quoted by Minister Amadou Hott, Africa could see its growth drop from three-point two percent to around two percent only in 2020 because of the negative effects of the coronavirus.

However, “African countries can, according to ECA, mitigate these negative effects by promoting intra-African trade and making budgetary rearrangements to redefine spending priorities and reduce deficits,” said fellow economist Moubarack Lo in a column entitled “The Coronavirus and Us.”


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