September in South Africa is about a new season, new life and hope. Last year in September, we were going onto Level 1 of Covid regulations, Government introduced a Covid-19 response Tourism Sector Recovery Plan and we were optimistic that Tourism was on the road to recovery. What is the reality a year later?
While most of us realised there was no quick turnaround, I do think we hoped to be in a better place a year and a half after South Africa had its first Covid lockdown. Now, still amidst a tough third wave with talks about a fourth, we are in what we might consider a new normal. It is, however, very important that we don’t stagnate here. We need to think of our current world as an interim period. We might have to face a new normal, but I am adamant that the new normal must be something better than our current situation.
While those in the medical field are fighting a tireless battle, many other sectors are also taking serious hits. Unfortunately, despite many plans and ways of support, tourism and hospitality are one of these. In the Western Cape, the travel industry is an important contributor to the economy. According to Western Cape Provincial Minister of Finance and Economic Opportunities, David Maynier, “the tourism sector generated R15,5 billion in gross value add and supported 174 982 jobs in 2019 in the Western Cape.” (Read more)
During 2020, the Western Cape Tourism sector saw an estimated loss of 75 477 jobs as restaurants, accommodation establishments, etc. scaled down or closed their doors. Many adapted their offerings to cater to local demand and although there is good support from the domestic tourism market, the relentless pandemic, already struggling economy and lack of international tourists had a dramatic impact on the industry. But, although very slow, there are signs of recovery. Cape Town International Airport achieved a 21% recovery rate during the first three weeks of August 2021, when compared to 2019 while “international airline capacity reached the 50% recovery mark for the first time since the resumption of international services in October 2020” says Maynier.
What has changed since September 2020? While Covid has not given us any respite, it is the availability of vaccines that can be a game changer. Perhaps you will still wear a mask, sanitise your hands and have a vaccine status addition to your passport or ID card, but if vaccine programmes are successful, there is hope – especially for those of us who depend on hospitality and tourism to make a living.
Not everyone agrees on this, of course. While I am always happy to hear different opinions and like to be challenged, I must admit that for someone in the tourism industry, understanding the anti-vaccine movement is quite a challenge. While everyone surely has a right to choose, what to do if their choice impacts the safety of others and do so at your establishment – regardless of whether it is a guest or a colleague? Joining major global companies such as CitiGroup Inc. and Deutsche Bank AG, Discovery SA announced that from next year, it will be mandatory for their employees to receive Covid vaccines. (Read more). And it is not only in the private sector. According to Businesslive.co.za, “As SA’s coronavirus vaccination drive gathers pace, the government is exploring the scope for businesses and public amenities to demand proof of vaccination from patrons, health minister Joe Phaahla told parliament on Tuesday. Phaahla said he was “quite certain” that once SA had attained sufficient vaccine coverage, business owners and the government could legally require the users of their facilities to be vaccinated. “Our own preference would be for people to come voluntarily. But you can’t have your cake and eat it. If you want to enjoy your right not to be vaccinated, you can’t also say you have the right to put other people at risk,” he told the National Council of Provinces.
While there will still be much debate about this issue, at least today we have more options than a year ago. Now, our challenge is to use our new knowledge to our best advantage and to support the small improvement in tourism operations so that we can open new establishments, employ those who are still without a job and get our economy ticking over again. We might not be where we hoped to a year ago, but we have come a long way and there still is hope!