Hein Koegelenberg

September in South Africa is more than the start of spring, the celebration of our heritage diversity and a communal love for the braai, it is also tourism month. Never before has tourism needed a dedicated month as much, but right now, this valuable industry needs much more. Does government’s recently introduced Covid-19 response tourism sector recovery plan have the answers?

With a fall of 300 million tourists and US$320 billion lost in international tourism, the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer indicated a 56% drop in year-on-year tourist arrivals between January and May. International tourism has come to a standstill, especially in a long haul destination like South Africa.

And while global tourism is under severe pressure, in a country where the foreign currency of international guests is such a valued commodity, the impact is severe. The extended lockdown, ban on alcohol and curfews have also had a serious effect on local tourism. This is no surprise. When the priority is to stop a highly contagious pandemic, socializing and travelling are risk factors and hospitality was always in trouble. But the world is slowly returning to some kind of normal and we need to find ways to stop the bleeding of a once booming industry.

How important is the economic contribution of tourism really?

Hein Koegelenberg is a well-known wine entrepreneur and CEO of La Motte Wine Estate in Franschhoek. He played a major role in pioneering the wine trade in China.

Hein Koegelenberg is a well-known wine entrepreneur and CEO of La Motte Wine Estate in Franschhoek. He played a major role in pioneering the wine trade in China.

In 2018, the tourism sector in South Africa directly accounted for 2.8% of real GDP (R139 billion), while the indirect contribution stood at 8.2%, also showing what an important role tourism plays in other sectors of the SA economy.

Unemployment has been a major challenge long before Covid-19 and with tourism under pressure, there is no respite. Tourism used to account for 4.2% of total employment in SA, with the indirect contribution being 9.2%. According to the Mail & Guardian, tourism also plays a very important role in the employment of women: “Research by the WTTC reveals that the female share of employment in travel and tourism in South Africa (53.7%) is higher than the proportion of total female employment in the economy (43.7%)…”

While these figures alone indicate the importance of the survival of tourism, it is also an industry that employs various skills sets, excel in on-the-job training, offers opportunities in both the urban environment and countryside and plays a role in the formal sector as well as informal enterprises. So, what plans do we have to try and recover?

Reopen! This seems like such an obvious and easy point, but reopening in this industry often costs money. Something that very few establishments have left. To be able to welcome guests, you need to have certain services in place (now even more with Covid-19 protocols) and stocks have to be replenished. And even when you’ve invested in all that is needed to reopen, you have to hope that the locals will support you. There are of course many people who want to get out and about and the sentiment of supporting struggling tourism establishment is definitely there.

It is, however, important to keep in mind that reopening was allowed in the heart of winter, usually such quiet months that even under normal circumstances, restaurants and accommodation are forced to close for a break – whether it is for holiday or maintenance. Even in the past, the buying power of local tourists made them less attractive than the international visitor, but financial pressure has now gone to another level. Pay cuts, retrenchments and job insecurity leave less money for weekends away or even restaurant treats. But yes, if you want to have any chance of revival, you have to at least reopen.

According to the government recovery plan, “It is therefore likely that tourism recovery will experience a number of phases, from hyper-local community attractions, through broader domestic tourism, followed potentially by regional markets and then the resumption of world-wide international travel.”  We know there is no quick fix, but it is important to stay positive and such positivity is part of the recovery plan. “As a truly aspirational destination, combining powerful social justice history, breath-taking natural beauty, and warm, welcoming and diverse people, South Africa’s tourism potential is not limited to pre-crisis performance. This recovery plan proposes a series of measures to protect and rejuvenate supply, reignite demand and strengthen enabling capability. Together, these actions can preserve some R189 billion of value, helping the sector to recover to 2019 output and employment levels in 2022 and positioning the sector for long-term sustainable growth.”

I believe in positive energy and I hope that it will not stop in the planning phase, but will actually be rolled out to the whole industry. The road ahead is going to be uphill. It will take hard work from each and every individual and Government support is crucial. “Tourism recovery depends on early, responsible resumption coupled with a compelling and carefully executed strategy for re-entry,” says the plan. Yes, we need proper planning, but survival will require more than strategy, it will also ask for guts and determination, exceptional creativity, cooperation and support.

Here are the Recovery plan’s strategic recommendations:

  • Conclude a comprehensive industry/government recovery partnership to collaborate on all aspects of tourism recovery guided by this recovery plan.
  • Government has a R200 billion facility working together with the SARB and commercial banks that tourism businesses are encouraged to apply for in order to access liquidity to protect tourism assets, and core infrastructure.
  • Introduce national norms and standards for safe tourism operations, inspired by globally recognised biosecurity protocols across the value chain to enable safe travel and rebuild traveller confidence.
  • Enhance air access and implement an air service development programme to reconnect South Africa to the world.
  • Continue to work with sister departments to build on the work already done to increase ease of access into South Africa for the purposes of stimulating the tourism industry, continue to intensify work on tourism safety using our safety monitors programme and partnership with the police and relevant stakeholders, finalise the introduction of e-visa programme for priority markets and ensure effectiveness in the licensing of tour operators.
  • Catalyse domestic demand through the phases of economic re-opening with informative and inspirational messaging that encourages safe tourism and domestic vacation experiences.
  • Execute a global marketing and travel trade programme, targeted at highest potential source markets (in terms of volume and value) and intrepid travel consumer segments, to reignite international demand.
  • Launch an investment and market-entry facilitation programme to stimulate capital investment, sector transformation and product diversification.
  • Prioritise cooperation with neighbouring destinations towards a regional value proposition and a seamless visitor experience through contributing the implementation of the SADC tourism strategy.
  • Review and transform the tourism policy and institutional architecture to deliver efficient, effective and purpose-led support for sector growth and development.

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