Government’s flip-flop on leisure travel costing tourism industry R748m a day

Picture: Brendan Seery

The tourism industry raise its concern after the current Covid-19 regulations mean that even overnight trips within a province are not allowed.

Frustrations in South Africa’s beleaguered tourism industry are raging amid the uncertainty caused over the last month related to whether or not domestic leisure travel within provinces is allowed under current Covid-19 Level 3 lockdown rules.

Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, on Monday finally confirmed government’s position on the issue during a National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) briefing.

She said that leisure travel remains prohibited under current Level 3 lockdown regulations. This is not only related to inter-provincial travel, but for people wanting to stay overnight in accommodation establishments within their own provinces.

Essential business travel between provinces has been allowed since June.

While Dlamini-Zuma’s statement clarifies the issue around domestic leisure travel, the “flip flopping” by government has added to the industry’s woes.

President Cyril Ramaphosa indicated that a relaxation of restrictions was imminent for accredited accommodation establishments (hotels, B&Bs and lodges) during his address on 17 June.

“Following further discussions with industry representatives on stringent prevention protocols, and after advice from scientists and consultation with premiers, cabinet has decided to ease restrictions on certain other economic activities,” he said.

Among the activities Ramaphosa mentioned included restaurants for ‘sit-down’ meals as well as “accredited and licensed accommodation, with the exception of home sharing accommodation like Airbnb”.

Casinos, cinemas and personal cares services, such as hairdressers, were also part of the list.

While rules for businesses like casinos and salons have been published, there has been little clarity for accommodation establishments around intra-provincial tourism until now.

With essential business travel having been allowed since early June, Ramaphosa’s 17 June statement raised hopes that the tourism industry would be allowed to “open up” further for local leisure bookings.

In fact, many tourism establishments began restarting their operations and resumed bookings for local travel. Even provincial tourism boards, such as Tourism KwaZulu-Natal began punting local travel.

On Friday, Ramaphosa’s official Twitter account posted an infographic that accommodation establishments, except for private homes for paid leisure accommodation, may operate for business and leisure travel.

The tweet was later deleted. It was replaced the next day by a statement claiming that it was posted in error and leisure travel is still not allowed.

“All this has caused intense frustration and confusion within the tourism industry, which is already reeling from the impact of Covid-19 and related restrictions,” says Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) CEO, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa.

The TBCSA, which is an umbrella body for the tourism and hospitality industry in the country, on Monday issued a statement saying that it is now considering its options “to stop the daily R748 million loss of tourism expenditure and the further permanent loss of much needed jobs” in the sector.

The council’s statement followed an urgent board meeting held to discuss the way forward for the sector. Various attempts by the TBCSA to convince government to allow a phased reopening of the tourism sector, especially the use of leisure accommodation under lockdown Level 3, has been unsuccessful.

“We have tried appealing to government since the Level 3 lockdown was announced, however, our appeals were not adequately considered. As a result, we have no choice but to weigh our options on the relief that will protect and save businesses within the sector as well as the value-chain of tourism and hospitality, otherwise the industry is facing permanent closure,” said Tshivhengwa.

Tourism Business Council of South Africa CEO, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa. Image: Supplied

He did not say what the TBCSA’s options were. However, considering the tone of the statement, the council may well follow other business bodies in taking some sort of legal action against government.

Earlier this month, Tshivhengwa hinted during a business interruption insurance briefing that the tourism industry may follow the taxi’s industry’s stance in taking on government in terms of lockdown restrictions.

“The tourism industry is being hit from all sides. Most of the industry is still closed, with only around 5% operational to cater for limited essential business travel. Hard-hit businesses in the sector are not being paid out business interruption insurance; and, now the government’s Covid-19 UIF Ters scheme has come to an end,” he told Moneyweb.

“What are we meant to do? Hundreds of businesses in the tourism industry are now fighting for survival…Over 600 000 employees within the tourism value chain have applied for the UIF Ters programme and this programme came to an end in June.

“The end of this programme means that employees will not receive any income from this month,” he added.

Meanwhile, Western Cape MEC for Finance and Economic Opportunities David Maynier, has also weighed in on the issue.

“The tourism sector has been dealt a severe blow with the publishing of the amended regulations for Alert Level 3,” Maynier said in a statement on Monday.

“While these regulations provide the clarity that I have been calling for on the opening of accommodation for leisure for travel within provinces, this decision, and the prior confusion caused by the Presidency and the Minister of Tourism, has sent an industry that is already hard hit by Covid-19 into a state of turmoil,” he noted.

“What is worse, is that many of these accommodation establishments had celebrated the original changes to Alert Level 3 and had opened up and accepted guests and must now close again. This unexplained change will cause further economic hardship for many businesses and will likely cause further job losses,” he said.

“The tourism sector has been subject to flip flopping, uncertainty and ultimately a decision made with no explanation as to why accommodation for leisure for travel within provinces  is not allowed.

“This is completely unjustifiable considering the lengths that the industry has gone to in order to put in place the necessary safety measures to stop the spread of Covid-19,” Maynier added.

He said that he would be writing to both minister Dlamini-Zuma as well as Tourism Minister, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, for government to reconsider its decision on the matter.

This article first appeared on Moneyweb and was republished with permission.

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