FIFI PETERS: FlySafair believes it has a solution that could help the tourism industry recover from the devastating impact of Covid-19 and the massive job losses that it brought about. FlySafair is proposing that all public holidays be made long weekends. How that would essentially work is that public holidays that fall midweek would be moved to either a Monday or a Friday so that we get a long weekend. FlySafair believes that during long weekends there is an increase in demand for travel activity that could help the industry at large recover a lot quicker.
We’ve got Kirby Gordon, the chief marketing officer at FlySafair, joining the Market Update. Kirby, I hope I got the essence of what FlySafair is trying to do correct. Just add to that, perhaps, and help us understand what your company believes the immediate effects of a proposed change to the Public Holidays Act could be for your company and the industry.
KIRBY GORDON: Hi, Fifi. I’m not sure I can hear you properly, but if I heard the question correctly you were asking for an overview of the proposal. Our suggestion at this stage is, as you mentioned, to try and orchestrate that public holidays or at least the business holidays are observed on Fridays and Mondays, and that we therefore make [them] long weekends, which we believe will ultimately support the economy – particularly the tourism economy in South Africa – while we leave, of course, the historical significance of the dates that we celebrate as days of commemoration on those actual days.
FIFI PETERS: All right. So it’s still to celebrate those significant days now in history, except just on a different day. Are you proposing that this be a permanent change or just as something that we do for as long as it does take the tourism industry to recover?
KIRBY GORDON: The idea is that it would actually be a long-term solution that could aid the domestic economy in the long run. There are two elements to this. It’s sort of a two-birds-with-one-stone kind of effect. On the one hand by creating long weekends we certainly do stimulate domestic tourism, which is fantastic, obviously, for that industry. At the same token, the research that we’ve done which the stats have illustrated [is] that not having public holidays in the middle of the week also limits disruption to the rest of the economy, as would ordinarily happen when that is the case. It’s a precedent that’s been set in many countries around the world – to rather try and at least observe the business holiday elements of a public holiday on a Monday and a Friday.
I think it’s still very important for us to bear in mind that we maintain the significance of historical days. June 16, for example, will always be June 16 and every South African should know the significance of that date. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t do business or don’t necessarily go to school on that day. We can have a corresponding day that we would then have as a business holiday.
FIFI PETERS: I agree with you in terms of the productivity element. We were speaking with my producer, Kaldora Naidoo, about this to say that when a holiday does fall midweek on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, getting the vooma to go back to work the following day can be a bit difficult. So I hear the productivity argument. But what does this mean potentially for pricing, because what tends to happen is during long weekends the price of air tickets goes up?
KIRBY GORDON: Absolutely. If we do create additional peak periods, we in tourism at large are price-takers. So if demand does increase, there is a chance that prices would increase over the period, but that’s actually important in the long run for the sustainability of our industry. I’ll use another example; if you think of a hotel, that hotel exists 365 days of the year, somebody has to pay rent on that hotel 365 days of the year. There are nights where those beds will be absolutely empty, and there are nights where everyone wants to jump into those beds.
The reality is that all of us in tourism have our low seasons and our high seasons, and during the low season you sometimes can’t give your product, your service, away. But the high season is our opportunity to make money. And so the more of those opportunities we have, the more sustainable our industry is in the long run. It’s a swings-and-roundabouts game.
FIFI PETERS: All right. Kirby, you have tabled this proposal to the Tourism Business Council, I believe, for review. Are all stakeholders on board here? What are you peers in the airline space saying about this?
KIRBY GORDON: The proposal is, of course, to make an amendment to the Public Holidays Act of 1994. What that ultimately would require is that we petition parliament. But, while preparing a petition for parliament, what we need to do is garner enough support from various industry bodies, from tourism, from labour, and of course from the public in support of this proposal, so that it’s something that we can table in parliament with a certain degree of clout.
We’ve started with the Tourism Business Council’s backing, because they received it very warmly, and certainly in another conversation today and preceding all of this we’ve had a very warm reception to the idea, and of course a lot of very interesting critical debates around the consequences of these kinds of changes.
FIFI PETERS: Like what? What are some of those are criticisms that have been levied to this proposal?
KIRBY GORDON: I think one has to bear in mind the practicalities. There are certain public holidays – for example, let’s look at something like New Year’s Day. New Year’s Day could never be on any day other than January 1. So obviously we have to consider certain exceptions and I think that’s very relevant. So there are certain limitations to the proposal.
Similarly I think what we all feel very strongly about is that in South Africa our public holidays are by no means sort of made up, they’re all largely around very significant historical events. And it’s very important for all of us, for South Africans, that those are properly commemorated and properly considered and properly given the reverence that they deserve. So I think a big consideration is that that be borne in mind. But largely the response has been very positive and very encouraging.
FIFI PETERS: In terms of timelines, can you give us an idea of when you are expecting some form of response, and perhaps this proposal actually going to parliament?
KIRBY GORDON: At this stage, as I say, we are busy engaging these various parties. So it depends on how long within those various entities they choose to debate the topic. But we have a short list of various entities that we would like to have a strong stamp of approval from before we take it to parliament – and it would be ideal to be able to do that in the new year. We think it would be a nice way to start off fresh. Then we can petition and hopefully get some review.
FIFI PETERS: Provided, as you did say, that New Year is not considered a business working day. Imagine having to work on New Year’s Day! I like the fact that there are a few exceptions to this, but I understand the economic argument and we’ll be following this story closely to see how it ends up.
Kirby, we’ll leave it there for now. Thanks so much for joining us. Kirby Gordon is the chief marketing officer at FlySafair.