The events industry has welcomed the easing of lockdown restrictions, but warned that regular shifting between alert levels will continue to take its toll as clients are reluctant to book in advance.
The biggest benefit of relaxed restrictions will be for small businesses, who can hold smaller events, they say.
Glenton de Kock, CEO of the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry, said on Monday that a key challenge for the sector is that unpredictable shifting between alert levels hampers planning and makes for a difficult operating environment – even after restrictions have eased.
Clients may not want to commit in advance in case restrictions are tightened again as infection rates increase, he explained.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday evening that South Africa had largely passed the peak of the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic and as a result moved the country to adjusted alert level 2 lockdown.
The number of people permitted for gatherings has been increased to 250 people for indoor and 500 people for outdoor gatherings and the times of curfew have been adjusted to between 23:00 and 04:00, daily.
But despite concerns over unpredictability, industry representatives were optimistic in light of relaxed restrictions ahead of the summer season, particularly for the sake of smaller players.
Covid-19 restrictions have effectively halted an industry contributing R75-billion to the SA economy annually before the pandemic, according to research by the Association of African Exhibition Organisers (AAXO). Exhibitions contributed R23-billion to tourism through the one million exhibition attendees visiting the country annually.
AAXO chair Projeni Pather says the industry has been shut down for the past 20 months.
"This limitation on our business activity and no financial support from the government has led to a huge loss of skilled professionals. Many of the companies that support the industry have had to close their doors," says Pather.
"We were forced to innovate and host online exhibitions and events to survive. We have all participated in numerous online platforms over the past year, and it is evident it will never replace the power of face-to-face connections."
AAXO has submitted a proposal to government for a phased reopening of the exhibition industry to ensure livelihoods can be sustained.
Dionne Domyan-Mudie, entertainment publicist at TPW, said it was still unclear which concerts and festivals would take place. But the eased restrictions were more likely to benefit "struggling musicians and artists who depend on clubs and small live music venues" rather than the festival and large concerts industry, she said.
Lee-Ann Bac, a director at the specialist tourism unit of international consulting firm BDO, similarly expects markets, small concerts and exhibitions may start to pick up, especially in light of the approaching summer season and increasing vaccination rates.
She expects mask wearing and sanitising to be enforced, but said antigen testing would be unlikely for event attendees due to the cost.
Monika Iuel, chief marketing officer of the Western Cape Tourism, Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (Wesgro), said business and leisure events as well as festivals would likely make a "strong but safe" comeback heading into the summer months.
Experts from across the industry emphasised the need for safety protocols as events reopen.
* This article was updated with comment by AAXO on Tuesday at 10:55.