Of those who tuned in at 20:00 on Monday 11 January to hear what president Cyril Ramaphosa had to say during his latest address to the nation, none were more anxious than those employed in the tourism industry.
With this being the sector hardest hit by the Covid-19 crisis, it is safe to say that the news that the adjusted level three restrictions would continue after Friday 15 January – with no clear indication as to its end – did not go down well with tourist operators and restaurant owners.
Briony Brookes, communications and public relations manager of Cape Town Tourism (CTT), says their organisation acknowledges that the president and the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) were forced to implement stricter lockdown regulations to lessen the pressure on our emergency services and in a bid to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
CTT is the City’s official regional tourism organisation, responsible for tourism marketing, visitor and industry services.
“There is no blueprint for the government to follow when it comes to lockdown restrictions. South Africa finds itself in the position of having to weigh up the cost of lives with the cost of everyone’s economic well-being. It cannot be an easy position for our officials to be in,” Brookes says.
However, she adds the impact of these restrictions on the tourism sector will be far-reaching as curfews affect restaurants, no alcohol sales affect wine farms, and the closure of public beaches, lakes, rivers, dams and parks will deter some from visiting Cape Town.
“The reality is that 2021 looks to be as tough a year as 2020 for the entire sector. Some restaurants have closed for now due to them not being able to serve alcohol as a lot of revenue comes from alcohol sales. Many restaurants have also noted that the early curfew will affect their numbers every day, which will of course result in lower revenue.”
Julie Huckle, co-owner of the iconic Pirates Steakhouse and Pub in Plumstead, can attest to this. Huckle says after the regulations were relaxed with the introduction of level two, the restaurant had slowly crawled its way up to taking in 60% of its revenue pre-lockdown. She says the moment level three restrictions kicked in on Tuesday 29 December, revenue plummeted.
“We only had two tables of two for New Year’s Eve,” Huckle says.
When People’s Post last spoke to Huckle (“Hard times for restaurants”, 09 June 2020), the restaurant was in the process of submitting its third loan application to the bank which it had banked with for the past 30 years. Despite its “sparkling-clean” record, the restaurant’s application was turned down again and no other financial institution was willing to extend it a loan either.
Huckle says they have managed to hang in there by thinking out of the box, for example, running lunch and takeout promotions. But, she says, it is getting to the point that if the level three restrictions carry on indefinitely, they might have to look at closing down. “We are also tired. We have spent the past 10 months fighting to survive, having to reduce staff.
“We went from offering people full-time employment to only being able to offer them two shifts a week. Things are really dire.”
Huckle explains the restriction on the sale of alcohol not only affects the restaurant’s profit margin negatively (only one third of a restaurant’s revenue derives from food, the rest is dependant on the sale of beverages), it is also deters people from going out for a meal. “Not being able to serve alcohol at a restaurant makes it tricky. People want to enjoy their food with a glass of wine or cold beer. If they can’t, they rather eat at home,” she says.
But Huckle says it is the curfew that is hurting their business the most. At present, restaurants have to close their doors at 20:00.
“Dinner trade starts at 19:00 in our industry. Even if the government would just consider relaxing the curfew with a few hours, it would help tremendously,” she adds.
Brookes says CTT’s stats show that international travellers are still interested in visiting Cape Town, but that the increase in the number of infections and the stricter lockdown regulations is causing some to postpone until a later date. However, even though the rate of recovery of international visitors arriving at Cape Town International Airport is slow, the organisation is seeing a steady increase in domestic visitors.
“While the closure of beaches is disappointing to some for sure, Cape Town has so much else to offer those who visit, so all is not lost in this regard,” she says.
Brookes says the tourism industry has a long road ahead of it as a sector “and the longer the lockdown regulations are in place, the more our tourism businesses will be negatively impacted”.
As to what small, medium and large players in the tourism industry can do right now in a bid to stay afloat, Brookes says, first and foremost, businesses need to ensure they are playing by the rules.
“All it takes is overlooking safety measures once for the public sentiment about them to change.”
She says the industry needs to focus on the domestic market now and encourage, even locals, to explore our communities and be safe when doing so.
“Domestic tourism is a huge focus at the moment and the truth is that locals love taking advantage of pocket-friendly experiences with great value.
“Businesses can also ensure they are continuously innovating their offerings to cater to a domestic market and together, ensure we still offer a memorable experience for visitors,” Brookes concludes.