The South African tourism industry is pinning its hopes on the domestic tourism market to lead the way to recovery in a post coronavirus world.
This became clear during three webinars hosted by SA Tourism over the past two weeks. The aim of these webinars - which drew between 700 and 2 000 participants each time - is to assist SA Tourism in developing a recovery plan for the industry.
Sisa Ntshona, CEO of SA Tourism, foresees that the recovery of the local industry will likely be led by domestic tourism and business travellers.
"People will likely first start just with a walk in the park before they would gain the confidence to go for overnight stays again," he said.
For Jon Howell, CEO AviaDev Africa, who facilitated the webinars, the lockdown brings an opportunity to reset and reinvent what the tourism industry offers and to use digital platforms in the process.
He cautions that many South Africans will be cash strapped and local tourism businesses should collaborate in developing the best options to offer domestic tourists.
In the view of Septi Bukula, founder and director of the Seeza Destination Network, the domestic tourism market will not be able to recover any time soon unless government and the private sector work together on a strategy to procure from small businesses in the tourism industry.
He cautioned against the industry shooting itself in the foot by lowering prices "in a race to the bottom" once the lockdown is lifted. It is more important to ensure sustainability.
For Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, founder of Destinate, the focus should be on what South Africans would want once the lockdown is lifted.
"It is unrealistic to expect that South Africans will venture out in huge groups. They are more desperate to go into nature again and to reunite with loved ones,” she said.
"There will be a need for much more personalised experiences and people would want a lot more information and advice on what would be safe for them to do."
She suggests tourism businesses use the lockdown period to share their stories on social media platforms, not in an attempt to advertise or sell to an audience, but to make genuine connections.
"Most likely our first tourism customers will be from our own neighbourhoods or city dwellers wanting to enjoy rural spaces after the lockdown. We must rethink our value chains and work together on creating bouquets of experiences for them which appeal to their emotional side and provide safety and security as well," she suggested.
"This is domestic tourism's time to shine. It holds the potential of being a rich source during the post lockdown recovery period. Tourists want to be reassured now. Trust will be more valuable than ever in the industry."
Thomas Muller, founder and CEO of Rainmaker, thinks it is a good idea to offer virtual tours during the lockdown period in order to stimulate tourists "dreams" to want to visit once they are again able to.
"We must offer good deals to local travellers. They would want to initially visit places they can easily reach by car. We must make travel affordable for our local people again," he emphasised.
Mareike Kramper, a local tour guide, says to be ready for when the pandemic is over, she will focus on creating more of a niche for herself and look at leading smaller tours.
Her aim is to also support local tourism by trying to get deals for South Africans to travel within their own country and experience its beauty.
In her view, nurturing one's tourism partners and relationships in the industry have become more important than ever.
"Those companies that are more established and have good relationships will, in my opinion, have a head start before others," she said.
* Additional reporting by Lameez Omarjee