Reopen tourism to ‘save what’s left of the industry’

‘We need the message to go out now, so that we don’t destroy our overseas business,’ said Michael Tollman, CEO of Cullinan Holdings.

Tourism in South Africa is “getting to the precipice” and if the sector isn’t opened up soon, it may never be possible to reverse the destruction done by the lockdown, says a leading hospitality industry boss.

Michael Tollman, chief executive officer of Cullinan Holdings, who is part of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), said it was important that the government reverses the message it has been sending that business will only reopen for overseas visitors next March.

“We need to say to foreign visitors that South Africa will be ready for them from September onwards,” he said.

This was critically important because South Africa’s “high season” for inbound tourism was from September to April and overseas markets were already making enquiries about when South Africa will be open again.

“If we tell them we are only going to open up in March 2021, they’re going to go elsewhere.”

While some visitors might want to come in next year’s high season, “what will there be left of our tourism industry by then?”

Tollman said that the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) had enabled employers to at least keep on some of their staff but, once this temporary relief ceased at the end of this month, he saw a situation where large employers will be forced to lay off staff.

“I’ve already heard of plans to mothball some hotels,” he added.

Further, the TBCSA has also been lobbying government to open up local tourism as soon as possible, as part of an “enhanced level 3” regulations proposal.

The government, Tollman said, had “really listened to us” and he was hopeful there would be movement, particularly in the wake of reports of possible easing of restrictions on restaurants in what a minister called “advance level 3”.

“But we need the message to go out now, so that we don’t destroy our overseas business.”

As a sector, tourism was doing far better than other parts of the economy: In the last three years, Tollman said, his group and other major players, had done record business.

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