Over the past four months, South Africa’s tourism industry has had to tackle insurmountable challenges as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
By the end of May, 30% of restaurants faced permanent closures, and without intervention from the department of tourism, up to 600,000 job losses could have been incurred, Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane revealed on Friday morning during a panel discussion arranged by the National Press Club (NPC) in Pretoria.
Kubayi-Ngubane said at lockdown Levels 4 and 5, the sector faced prospects of only reopening under Level 1.
September is tourism month. Just three months ago, the prospect of celebrating this was dismal.
Panellist Professor Elmarie Slabbert from the North-West University’s tourism management department said that each year, tourism month marks the start of a new tourism season. Pre-Covid-19, the international booking period would have started in earnest from now until next year.
But because international borders are yet to open for travellers, she emphasised the need for the sector to make domestic tourism offerings more attractive, in a bid to supplement some of the income that would have poured in from international tourists.
COO of Sun International hospitality, Graham Wood, said in the NPC discussion that trading levels are substantially lower than before the pandemic hit. Wood predicted that domestic travel rates would not reach last year’s levels, estimating a 20% to 25% decrease in numbers.
To make up for the inevitable loss in income, especially because the tourism industry forms a significant part of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), travel packages need to be better marketed towards domestic travellers eager to explore and seek adventure, Kubayi-Ngubane explained.
She said she was aware that for many South Africans, it is costly to travel in the country. However, she said the pandemic provided an opportunity for the sector to reevaluate their marketing and pricing to diversity their strategies to better appeal to local travellers.
Consumers are even more cash-strapped due to Covid-19 than before, so this must be emphasised.
Slabbert reiterated Kubayi-Ngubane’s sentiments, saying that pricing was one of the biggest influences for South African travellers. She suggested encouraging domestic tourists not to have to travel far to get away from their homes.
They also do not have to visit the usual iconic attractions, such as beaches in Durban or the Kruger National Park. She said there was an opportunity for people to visit destinations and do activities closer to home, for the domestic market to pick up.
She added that many South Africans may have had plans to travel overseas, and could be eager to spend their money in South Africa instead. But said there needs to be more marketing campaigns for domestic travellers.
Wood said there was no doubt that domestic tourism has to be the backbone of sustainable tourism in South Africa, but pointed out that the country was in a recession before Covid-19, meaning disposable income was not a luxury for the majority of the population.
He did allude to specials and all-inclusive packages that would be made increasingly available to domestic travellers.
The next step for South Africa’s tourism industry is to open up regional borders.
But Kubayi-Ngubane said South Africa remains a risk to other counties at the moment, and with numerous reports of non-compliance within the tourism sector, moving away from South Africa being considered a high-risk area for the virus is vital to attract prospective tourists, both from Africa and overseas.
Noncompliance risks regressing the work done by the sector, painting it as a source of the spread of the virus. Videos of noncompliance seen by the minister undermines her ability to reassure both international and African stakeholders that the country is ready to receive tourists.
She said she had even received a report alleging up to 80% in noncompliance as a sector.