South Africa and the world’s tourism industry is facing its biggest crisis in history as local and international travel bans as well as trade restrictions have forced hotels, airlines, tour operators, tourist attractions, restaurants and numerous other hospitality businesses to close in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As lockdown measures are slowly being eased – the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) is lobbying government for more tourism-related businesses to be allowed to operate in lockdown Level 3 in June, but under strict health and social distancing protocols.
Under the government’s current lockdown rules most tourism businesses will only be allowed to recommence operations in lockdown Level 2 and Level 1, most likely towards the end of the year. However, much depends on the spread of the pandemic and the expected peak of infections in South Africa, with consensus being that it will most likely be around August.
The TBCSA, an umbrella body for the industry, held talks with President Cyril Ramaphosa and other government leaders last Friday, highlighting the detrimental impact the lockdown is having on the sector.
While Ramaphosa mentioned in his last Covid-19 address to the nation on Sunday night that business travel will be phased in during Level 3, details of the eased restrictions for business travel are yet to be revealed.
Speaking during a Covid-19 briefing on Level 3 regulations on Thursday, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said that inter-provincial travel is still prohibited, except for people “travelling for purposes of starting work, moving to a new residence, or caring for an immediate family member”.
She said travel will also be opened for pupils, students and teaching staff travelling between provinces and districts, given that the phased opening of schools will begin in June.
Hospitality on hold
Establishments offering entertainment, recreation and the on-site consumption of food will remain closed. “These include places such as restaurants, shebeens, taverns, night clubs, bars, cinemas, theatres, fêtes, bazaars, casinos, and similar places,” said Dlamini-Zuma.
“As will hotels, lodges, bed and breakfasts, timeshare facilities and resorts and guest houses remain closed, except those that are accommodating remaining and confined tourists, persons lodging as a result of work purposes, and persons in quarantine or isolation.”
She noted that the minister of tourism as well as other relevant ministers will give further details on the regulations.
Dlamini-Zuma’s pronouncement that inter-provincial travel will still largely not be allowed under Level 3 dashes the tourism industry’s hopes of opening up sooner.
Just last week, JSE-listed hospitality giant Tsogo Sun Hotel effectively called for the relaxation of inter-provincial travel in a Sens trading update. The group is set to release its year-end results to March 31 on Friday (May 29).
Most of the group’s more than 110 hotels countrywide are currently closed. With its own hotels and hotel management contracts, it operates more than 18 000 hotel rooms in SA.
“Inter-provincial travel is vital for the hotel industry and the group has been actively lobbying through industry bodies for the earliest relaxation of travel restrictions, so that we can begin to open our hotels,” it said.
The group added that it supports the government’s efforts around Covid-19, however the “prolonged lockdown” is having a devastating impact on the economy, and particularly the travel and tourism industry.
“No industry can survive extended periods without revenue, and we implore the government to open the economy as quickly as possible, with due regard for safety,” it said.
Speaking to Moneyweb, TBCSA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa welcomed Ramaphosa’s announcement that limited business travel will be allowed in Level 3. However, he reiterated calls for more tourism and hospitality related business to be allowed to operate.
“We urged the president to allow more businesses in tourism and its value-chain to be allowed to operate as soon as lockdown Level 3 in June. Totally restricting the tourism industry from operating, as was the case under the hard lockdown and now in Level 4, has already had a devastating impact on the sector,” he said.
“Through an internal TBCSA survey, we are aware of over 80 000 people in the sector who have applied for the Covid-19 UIF Ters benefit, but the figure is likely much higher than that as the industry directly employs more than 600 000 people,” he pointed out.
Industry being pulled apart
“We stressed to the president that if the tourism industry is only allowed to start recommencing business in levels 2 and 1 of the lockdown, we may not have much of a tourism industry left. We went to him with plans around how the industry can operate, but under strict health and safety protocols,” Tshivhengwa said.
Some of the proposals include hotels and other accommodation establishments no longer providing a buffet breakfast or food services and alternatively providing in-room dining or staggering breakfasts on an à la carte basis for guests.
These are in addition to the government’s Covid-19 screening, sanitisation, protective equipment and social distancing rules, which already apply to other industries such as the retail sector.
Tshivhengwa believes thousands of jobs in the sector are likely to have already been shed.
“The ripple effect of the tourism value chain means that the industry supports more than 1.1 million direct and indirect jobs in SA. Thousands of further jobs are on the line if most tourism businesses are not allowed to trade.
“We have seen the impact on major tourism players, such as airlines and hotel groups, but many more SMEs are facing even [more] dire financial fallouts. Things are very uncertain currently and we simply don’t know how many tourism companies will go out of business.”