On weekends, most people hit the road and find some fun activity to take part in or enjoy an evening out at a restaurant after work.
These were the heydays of the South African tourism sector, which in 2019 accounted for 1.5 million jobs and represented 8.6% of all economic activity in the country, according to an annual review by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
It was a vibrant industry primarily driven by leisure pursuits and able to lure international tourism spend as well as domestic travellers.
But things have changed, with the spread of Covid-19 not only instilling fear among many but taking over the streets of a South Africa that was once jubilant.
Not dead yet
Tourism is the hardest hit industry. Prior to the lockdown at the end of March, many had limited their movements and started to cancel their leisure bookings in fear of contracting the virus. The only places currently open in the sector are those hotels that are being used for quarantine purposes and airports receiving returning South Africans.
Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane says the industry needs to think of creative ways to revitalise the industry post Covid-19.
“One has to ensure that we have a tourism sector that can respond to the challenge. We know that we are not going to be the same and if we think that we are going to continue like we did [previously], it is not going to work.”
One of the core issues she advises the tourism sector to look into is pricing.
“Be realistic with South African’s financial situation post Covid-19 as many will have less money to spend.
“We can adapt in the sense that we look at the pricing and what are the main issues that people have been raising with us in domestic tourism,” Kubayi-Ngubane says.
She points out that in the past people have complained that travelling is expensive for them. Moving forward she advises that to attract consumers into the tourism sector there needs to be an introspection into pricing.
Those are the people we would like to bring back into the industry, she says – “are we going to be able to get them?”
She also highlighted that international marketing needs to be relooked “as foreigners spend more on travelling”.
However, based on last year’s WTTC report, 44% of SA’s tourism spend came from international travellers and 56% from domestic travel.
She emphasises that companies need to put in place “packages that will be attractive for people to get out of the house” showing that the tourism industry can still function while performing responsible social distancing and adhering to the new way of doing things post Covid-19.
Don’t despise tourism
The minister warns that many will blame the tourism sector for the spread of Covid-19 and pleads with the industry to actively work towards combating the spread of the virus.
“If we are not seen as collaborative and working together with South Africans and the teams which are trying to deal with the virus, we are going to be rejected and we are going to be seen as a [sector] that contributed to Covid-19 when people are dying,” Kubayi-Ngubane says.
According to the WTTC up to 50 million jobs worldwide in the travel and tourism industry could be lost.
It says that even when the outbreak is over, it could take up to 10 months for the tourism sector to recover. For emerging destinations like those in Africa, it could take well over a year.
This is not far-fetched at this point: Kubayi-Ngubane says airlines are likely to be grounded until the first week of December – which is adding to hotel bookings being cancelled and many restaurants shutting their doors.
“I have been in touch with the local airline industry and they are going through a tough time. We have been looking at mechanisms to try and support or help them, even though they are not directly in our portfolio.”
Kubayi-Ngubane says based on her discussions with the Department of Transport, they are bound to have issues if they are not operating by July.
Retail analyst Chris Gilmour says it will be of utmost importance for the industry to work towards rebuilding the international tourism element. “The single biggest problem will be to get people back into the swing of things.”
He agrees with the minister that tourism needs to look at other streams of creating revenue that will be reasonable for consumers as they will have limited disposable cash.