Tourism has proven it's resilient, says minister

Inclusivity, transformation and helping small businesses will remain important for the tourism industry. (iStock)
Inclusivity, transformation and helping small businesses will remain important for the tourism industry. (iStock)
  • As SA's tourism battles to get back on its feet, the CEO of SA Tourism says transformation is crucial and ibg players must first and foremost buy from local suppliers.
  • But losses have been severe so far: Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane estimates R54.2 billion in tourism output may already have been lost between mid-March and the end of May this year.
  • The minister says the sector has, however, proven over the years that it is resilient. 

As the tourism sector tries to get back on its feet, transformation will be critical, according to Sisa Ntshona, CEO of South African Tourism.

"Enterprise development is not charity work or an afterthought, but a sustainable business relationship.

"Big players can diversify their procurement spend by first and foremost buying from local suppliers; buying from emerging black, women, youth owned enterprises," says Ntshona.

"Support for the local restaurant, tour guide and buying craft from local entrepreneurs goes a long way in empowering smaller and marginalised businesses."

South Africa's tourism sector has been devastated by Covid-19, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has listed South Africa as one of the top 15 countries that are being the most negatively impacted by the near closure of the international travel industry during the pandemic.

Now, the tourism sector is attempting to reposition the country as a preferred leisure, business and events tourism destination. But it's important to be mindful of the responsibility to foster inclusivity, says Ntshona.

Crushing losses, resilient sector

In her recent budget vote speech, Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane told Parliament that an estimated R54.2 billion in output may already have been lost between mid-March and the end of May this year. The sector now faces a potential 75% revenue reduction in 2020, with 438 000 jobs at risk.

Ntshona expects changes in traveller behaviour post-Covid-19 present an opportunity for smaller and marginalised enterprises to leverage the trends that are anticipated.

"As visitors want to explore destinations less travelled, avoid crowds and take road trips rather than risk flying there are opportunities for individual travel guides, shuttle services, and one-person operators to tailor experiences to these preferences," he said.

But Kubayi-Ngubane also says tourism has proven over the years that it is resilient. She would like to see cooperation in the sector continue in order to get more and more tourism activities to be allowed to reopen.

She announced on Thursday that Cabinet has approved an extension of the nightly curfew to 22:00 so that restaurants can serve dinner during the peak time. Leisure stays will also be allowed under certain conditions, but not yet at home sharing or short-term letting establishments.

"Working together with the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), we were able to arrange for a special dispensation such that tourism businesses could apply for TERS through the TBCSA," said the minister.

R200 million has also been redirected, which assisted 4 000 businesses through the Tourism Relief Fund.

"We ensured that the benefit was spread geographically across the country to cover even businesses in small dorpies and townships," she said. "We have further reprioritised our budget to put together the Tourist Guides Relief Fund. In this regard, we have set aside a total of R30 million to provide financial relief for freelance tourist guides over a period of two to three months."

Working together with various stakeholders, the department has put together the tourism recovery plan. It is in the final stages of consultation before it will be submitted to Cabinet for approval.

"So far, the indications are that tourism recovery will experience a number of phases, from hyper-local community attractions, through to broader domestic tourism, regional land and air markets, and resumption of world-wide international travel," she said.

For Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of Tourism Business Council of SA, it is clear that the industry needs to stick together, because all have the same goal, which is to see businesses going back to work and putting food on the tables of communities.

"Our role is to influence policy and we will continue to do this until we come out of this together," said Tshivhengwa.

The TBCSA estimates that, every day that the industry remains restrained, about R748-million in tourism expenditure is lost.

Hotels opening

Volker Heiden, area vice president for sub-Saharan Africa at Marriott International, says restrictions and social distancing efforts around the world to try and curb the spread of the virus have resulted in weaker demand and economic uncertainty.

"Due to the financial impact of the situation we took the difficult decision to cease operations of three of our properties in South Africa," he says.

"However, we continue to remain optimistic on the growth opportunities for the Protea Hotel by Marriott brand, as well as all other Marriott International brands."

For him the opening of Protea Hotel by Marriott Gaborone Masa Square is a significant milestone for Marriott and speaks to the demand for high-quality lodging in Botswana.

Over 50% of Marriott International properties across South Africa have opened their doors again.

With the gradual ease of restrictions in South Africa, Radisson Hotels have also welcomed back guests and conference attendees in line with government's directives. Each of the group's hotels have implemented the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol - a new programme of in-depth cleanliness and disinfection procedures.  

Radisson Hotel Group has announced the addition of six new hotels to its African portfolio, bringing the total to almost 100 hotels across 32 African markets.

The Radisson Hotel & Convention Centre Johannesburg, O.R. Tambo is scheduled to open before year-end and the Park Inn by Radisson, Durban Intl. Airport is scheduled to open in 2022.

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