Riots put brand SA at risk, create 'death knell' as international tourists plan for peak season

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Global headlines about riots in SA are expected to have a big impact on important travel decisions currently being made by international tourists.
Global headlines about riots in SA are expected to have a big impact on important travel decisions currently being made by international tourists.
  • Global headlines about riots in SA are expected to have a big impact on important travel decisions currently being made by international tourists.
  • International tourism is a vital component for SA's tourism industry and has already been severely impacted by coronavirus restrictions and the slow rollout of vaccinations in SA.
  • Tourism leaders explain why it is so important to address the damage currently being done to the brand of SA as a destination. 

Looting and riots could have a lasting impact on South Africa's image – and could prove to be the final nail in the coffin of an already hammered tourism sector, industry representatives say.

Speaking at a tourism industry webinar on Tuesday, tourism experts said just the perceived threat of civil unrest could influence travellers – making them reluctant to visit.

"Even the mere threat of events such as civil unrest can cause tourists to rethink their decision to visit a destination," said Glenton De Kock, CEO of the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI). 

De Kock is also worried about the possible impact on domestic travel – which to date has been viewed as a potential bright spot in an otherwise battered industry.

"We may also witness resistance within the domestic market to travel. With the current restrictions prohibiting leisure travel in and out of Gauteng, coupled with the violence we are witnessing, we may see further delays in a recovery for the industry," said De Kock.

According to Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA), which represents the private sector, the current circumstances amount to a "double jeopardy" for the tourism industry. On the one hand, there is the negative impact of international travel restrictions due to the pandemic, and on the other hand, there will now be concerns because of the violence and looting. 

This could have serious consequences for the peak season at year end, because travellers will already be making their plans and bookings now, he says.

"People are making decisions now as to whether they are going to be travelling in the next three or four months, especially international tourists. Many of them will now reconsider whether they should travel to SA or not. We are very concerned, because stability goes a long way in supporting tourism," said Tshivhengwa. 

Rosemary Anderson, national chair of the hospitality industry body FEDHASA, said it was disheartening to see the damage being done to the image of South Africa due to "the dramatic looting and destruction being shown worldwide and specifically in the country's main international tourism markets".

She expressed frustration that SA's "top-notch" tourism environment was having trouble attracting international travellers back to the country.

Tshivhengwa agrees. "We are worried that international tourists will choose other destinations rather than coming to SA. The tourism industry is very much dependent on the brand image of the country. When international tourists consider where to travel, they look at the country stability, safety and security."

Portia Mkhize, spokesperson of the Umlazi Tourism Office, in KZN, said they are still hopeful that people will travel during SA's spring and summer season.

"We need to rebuild and - as the world is watching - safety comes first," she said.

Slow vaccine rollout

But a further challenge, according to both Anderson and De Kock, is continuing concern over the speed of national vaccine rollout.

"Negative travel advisories also continue to hamper international travel to SA as well as the country remaining on the red list for travel in most countries," said De Kock.

Anderson echoed this.

David Frost, CEO of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) said the riots could prove to be the "death knell" for the tourism sector, which – prior to the Covid-19 pandemic – provided some 1.5 million jobs in SA

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