Home South African SA tourism industry may face ‘permanent closure’ due to Covid-19

SA tourism industry may face ‘permanent closure’ due to Covid-19

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Urgent meeting has the tourism industry weighing its options after government's refusal to open leisure travel during Level 3

File picture: Needpix

THE TOURISM Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) held an urgent meeting to discuss the way forward for the sector. 

The organisation said the meeting on Monday followed various attempts to convince the government to allow a phased reopening of the tourism sector, especially the use of leisure accommodation under lockdown Level 3. 

The industry has decided to consider its options to stop the daily R748 million loss of tourism expenditure and the further permanent loss of jobs. TBCSA said the Level 3 regulations around leisure travel were confusing, especially when a government gazette published on June 25 stated “a person may leave his or her place of residence to travel for leisure purposes as allowed under Alert Level 3″.

Over the weekend, a tweet by the @PresidencyZA, the official account for the Presidency of the Republic of South Africa, posted an infographic suggesting leisure travel was allowed under Level 3 regulations.

This was considered a “big win” for the tourism industry which closed its business for four months due to Covid-19. A few hours later, however, the Presidency deleted the tweet, claiming it was an editorial error. The news did not sit well with many South Africans.

TBCSA chief executive Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa said attempts to appeal to the government were not adequately considered. 

“As a result, we have no choice but to weigh our options on the relief that will protect and save businesses within the sector as well as the value chain of tourism and hospitality, otherwise the industry is facing permanent closure.”

Tshivhengwa said the organisation presented a comprehensive tourism recovery plan to Ramaphosa, which was backed by health protocols developed by the industry to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. 

The plan is based on a phased approach starting with domestic travel and then the opening of international inbound travel by at least September 2020 to take advantage of the inbound summer high season, which runs from September to April and represents 60% of South Africa’s international tourism annual revenue.

According to Stats SA’s Tourism Satellite Account, in 2018 the total tourism spend in South Africa was R273.2 billion. Domestic tourism accounted for 56% of total spend and 44% was international inbound travel. This translates to roughly R22.7bn per month and R748m per day in tourism expenditure that has been lost. Tourism in South Africa supports 1.5 million jobs and contributes 8.6% to the GDP.

Over 600 000 employees within the tourism value chain applied for the UIF TERS relief programme, and this programme came to an end in June. The end of this programme means employees will not receive any income from this month. 

“The latest regulations issued on Sunday night by the president do not permit people to use hotels for leisure purposes. This further means that the employees are left with no hope and no date of when the tourism industry will be opening, many of these employees are citizens, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters who support more people within their communities.

“We believe that the protocols we developed, which are already being used for business and essential travel and accommodation, are adequate for leisure travellers as well. Our protocols are as stringent as other sectors that are already operational like mining, beauty and care, transport, retail, and many more,” added Tshivhengwa.

He said the tourism industry has been pegged as one that has the potential to create much-needed jobs in South Africa. He said the banning of leisure accommodation and domestic travel at lockdown Level 3 goes against job creation.

“Our industry has been operating safely and assisted government by providing quarantine sites, isolation spaces, as well as serving business and essential travellers, the same principles and protocols should apply for a leisure traveller, intra-provincial travel, interprovincial travel or anyone wanting to check into accommodation for personal reasons,” said Tshivhengwa.