Travel in your backyard if you must - just travel, urges SA Tourism acting CEO

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SA Tourism's acting CEO Sthembiso Dlamini has urged South Africans to support local tourism businesses.
SA Tourism's acting CEO Sthembiso Dlamini has urged South Africans to support local tourism businesses.
  • Every bit of travel South Africans do will help the tourism industry to recover and save jobs, says SA Tourism's acting CEO.
  • She encourages South Africans to even just "travel in their own backyards" if sleepovers and interprovincial travel is not possible.
  • Before the Covid-19 pandemic, it was estimated that 700 000 people in SA were directly involved in the tourism industry and 1.5 million were involved indirectly.

Whatever travel South Africans do - whether within the country, on a sleepover or just making day trips - every bit will help the country's tourism industry to recover, sustain small businesses and save jobs, says SA Tourism's acting CEO Sthembiso Dlamini.

Dlamini made her plea as the country faces the third wave of Covid-19. President Cyril Ramaphosa will address the nation on Sunday night about the measures to be taken.

Asked about the implications of rising cases on the tourism industry, Dlamini said for now, feedback from travellers suggested their primary concern was adherence to Covid-19 protocols.

"Of course, we all have to stay safe and ensure that Covid-19 protocols are complied with - and the tourism industry has the proper measures in place," she told Fin24 on Friday, urging South Africans to "travel in their own backyards" if that was all that restrictions permitted.

She added: "It is about travelling safely. The protocols are there, and we must all ensure that everyone comply with them," she said. 

However, the pandemic has hit domestic tourism hard, with even those visiting friends and relatives highly impacted. This has been improving, however, Dlamini said, including inter-provincial travel for that purpose.

She said South Africa has an opportunity to offer green and sustainable tourism as it aims for recovery. The country should capitalise on tourists' pent-up desire to travel and offer unique experiences in a "responsible, environmentally friendly way", she says.

The rise of the conscious traveller 

A rising trend since the start of the pandemic has been that of the "conscious traveller", as tourists seek wide open spaces and a digital detox, she told Fin24.

"South Africa as destination provides an opportunity for unique experiences which are not at the expense of the planet.

"There is [also] a drive to have communities benefit from tourism activities," says Dlamini. "Tourism is, therefore, very important for job creation and that is why it is very important how we narrate SA's tourism story.

"[Tourists] want to feel that by travelling to a destination, they are also contributing to local communities - hence the demand for rural and eco-tourism."

Before the pandemic hit, it was estimated that 700 000 people in SA were directly involved in the tourism industry and 1.5 million were involved indirectly.

Dlamini said SA Tourism was "crossing fingers" despite rising cases in the country – especially given that the US recently lowered South Africa's risk rating.

She's also encouraged by more airlines resuming their SA routes – key examples being major US airlines United and Delta and Virgin Atlantic.

'Confidence booster'

She described this as a "confidence booster" for SA and said SA Tourism was undeterred in its efforts to market the country as a tourism destination.

"As SA Tourism we are taking a holistic approach. The heads of our missions abroad are actively engaging with governments to see how they can look at lifting travel restrictions for SA, especially for the UK, which is our biggest source market.

"We are crossing our fingers. There are steps in the right direction," she said.

As SA grapples with spiking Covid-19 cases, however, fears over the third wave are a reality.

In response, SA Tourism has launched a global advocacy programme with the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA), which represents the private sector. The aim is to provide source markets with up-to-date information about SA.

Even before the pandemic struck, there was bad press the local tourism industry had to address, including crime and difficulty obtaining visas in some parts of the world, Dlamini says.

"We are seeking ways to rebuild SA's tourism sector and want to disseminate real time information about statistics and the global positioning of SA. We want to provide factual information around visa applications and are working with all stakeholders to use the opportunity to reposition SA in the minds of travellers as well as those with influence over travel perceptions in order to create brand awareness for SA," she says.

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