Lockdown: 'No tourists, no business, no food on the table' - Franschhoek businesses fight to stay open

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  • Small businesses in the picturesque town of Franschhoek have been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Fears are now mounting that it could turn into a ghost town.
  • Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane visited Franschhoek to assess the impact of Covid-19.

Businesses in one of the Western Cape's most spectacular scenic towns are battling to stay afloat due to the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown.

And fears are mounting that it could soon turn into a ghost town if ongoing lockdown regulations persist.

Regine Theron, owner of Flambe Gallery, said she was forced to move her business into smaller premises just to keep up with the rent.

"It's been really scarily difficult, the fact that I'm still around. Sometimes I even surprise myself because we are 100% international tourism dependent. Now I'm moving into smaller premises which is slightly cheaper and I'm hoping I can stay afloat with my overheads."

Theron said she has never gone through this much hardship.

READ | Burning Fiscus | Covid-19 lockdowns leave a possible R220 billion tourism hole in SA's GDP

"We are known in Franschhoek as an art, wine and food kind of destination and the lockdown really created that even locals don't visit our destination. Everybody who owns a business in the area is affected in a negative way," she added.

The family that owns the restaurant Taki's put all their savings into the business and for them, there is so much uncertainty.

Owner Julina Abrahams said: 

This is my pension. It's my son's future and it's a family business. It's [a] scary feeling, as if it's all slipping away. I've felt so many times that I'm going to lose everything, including my pension.

Abrahams added that he knew of a few businesses that were forced to close down. They exhausted all their savings and maxed out their credit cards just to stay afloat.

"We're hanging in there. All our staff are working short time and we had to think differently because we couldn't afford to carry the cost. It is going to be a ghost town. There are no visitors in the town's restaurants. The status quo stays no tourists, no business, no food on the table," she said.

READ MORE | Counting the losses of Covid-19: Business closures, retrenchments, suicides

For the workers, the stress and anxiety around job security has left them at their wits' end.

A waiter at Taki's, Catherin Muller, said she was the only one in her family who was working and that she had to provide for her seven family members.

She said:

I have to make sure that there is bread on the table. I have to make sure school fees are paid and I have all this stress because I don't know whether we are going to be open for much longer.

Business owner Mary Ackerman from African Touch says: "We need the tourists back and if we don’t get foot traffic quickly then this won’t be Franschhoek anymore. It will be a ghost town."

According to a report released by Cape Town Tourism in December last year, Cape Town Tourism members lost more than R2 billion and almost 12 000 jobs in Cape Town.

Top Cape Town tourist attractions have reported low visitor numbers for the month of December 2020, with Robben Island seeing the largest decline in visitor numbers compared to December 2019.

The decline in visitor numbers for Robben Island was 83%. For Cape Point, it was 69%, for Table Mountain 66%, while the Two Oceans Aquarium, V&A Waterfront and Kirstenbosch Gardens saw visitor numbers drop by 56%, 50% and 48%, respectively.

Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane
Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane on a two day engagement in Franschhoek.

Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane visited the Franschhoek region on Thursday during a two-day engagement with stakeholders to assess the impact of Covid-19 on the small town. Kubayi-Ngubane told News24 that because of the pandemic, there was no guarantee for businesses.

"Because of the pandemic in its nature, you can't say this is a guarantee [for businesses]. Our best bet is to push the domestic tourism market, to assist and visit places like Franschhoek. It's not possible for me to give guarantees.

"Last year, we had R200 million for Covid-19 relief. we don't have any funds left. Government's fiscus is limited and with...limited resources our focus is to get businesses back on track."

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