Tourism business body still hopeful for wider opening by September

With an eye on preventing further severe job losses and business closures in the tourism industry, the Tourism Business Council of SA says it remains hopeful that a wider opening up of the industry is both possible and necessary. 

South Africa's tourism industry is among the country's sectors hardest hit by the travel bans linked to the coronavirus pandemic, and industry members are worried it may also be among the last to recover. In a bid to lobby for the relaxation of regulations sooner rather than later for a wider opening of the sector - including restaurants, leisure travel, inter-provincial and international travel - the TBCSA, which represents businesses in the industry, has obtained extensive feedback from its members on what is and can be done to lower risks. 

Feedback from over 2 000 businesses across nine provinces - both TBCSA members and non-members - were analysed and reasons why the industry can be ready for a wider, yet safe, opening up were submitted to SA Tourism for its Tourism Recovery Plan. The final plan will be announced by the Department of Tourism in due course.

'Not just sitting back'

Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of TBCSA, said on Thursday he is satisfied that health and operational protocols being implemented will ensure the highest level of safety protocols across all tourism sub-sectors.

"We are open for business travel and have ensured that protocols are in place across the board," Tshivhengwa said, adding that SA's safety protocols were of an international standard.

"The industry inputs and protocols we put together run though the whole value chain of tourism. It deals with how to operate in restaurants, hotels, safari lodges and more," added Tshivhengwa.

"The protocols are of international standards and create some sort of certainty to show the industry is not just sitting back. We have, furthermore, asked for leisure and inter-provincial travel to be allowed so as soon as possible to enable tourism businesses to survive and to preserve jobs in the industry.

This is because relying on business travel at this point - of which the uptake is yet uncertain - will not ensure survival of businesses.

At the same time, Tshivhengwa is optimistic that the industry body has made a good case for wider - yet safe and likely phased - reopening of tourism businesses, including casinos. He is hopeful that answers to this plea might come relatively soon.

"The implementation of the protocols can provide travellers with the necessary confidence in our industry. The next steps in the process will be absolutely crucial to the sector's recovery," he said.

Hotel prepared

The Radisson RED Hotel V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, is one of the hotels in the country which has opened for essential business and business travellers under the new lockdown rules which came into effect on 1 June.

General manager, Leonie Andereya, says so far they have only had essential business travellers. It is vetting every booking that comes in. The hotel is currently still operating with a smaller team to ensure social distancing.

"We were truly excited to re-open the hotel as shutting our doors was unreal and difficult,...but closing down provided us with the opportunity to update our standards and safety protocols to ensure we comply with the hygiene protocols that are in place, and also ensuring we have sufficient PPE that we need for our team," explained Andereya. "The protocols in place are very strict for our team and for our guests - we want to ensure everyone is protected equally and we also have very strict hygiene protocols in place and sanitising stations around the hotel."

Staff are wearing state of the art masks and screening checks are in place. The housekeeping team also strictly adheres to the hygiene protocols and work in full PPE. The hotel's in-house staff team went into isolated for two weeks to ensure they had not been exposed to the virus, and all contact points between employees and guests have been removed.

According to James Woolley, director of Totalstay, says the "new normal" for hotels will likely find guests more particular about the properties they book and feel they can trust regarding hygiene and cleanliness.

"There may also be a trend towards smaller properties, that are self=contained and professionally managed to guarantee standards," he says.

"We can assume that people will be more conscious about being in crowds or close proximity to other people."

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