As Covid-19 continues to challenge the survival of tourism players, businesses have had to experience various challenges. So, what does it take for a tourism industry player to survive under lockdown? What are the challenges like for those that have been in the thick of things so far and how are they coping, given the biggest players have experienced the worst ever periods of their existence?

 

The Coronavirus has shown that, for now, it can outsmart science through mutation of various forms and thereby causing huge challenges to researchers and scientists, as the risk to spread into as many humans increases. 

 

Businesses are the hardest hit, with many feeling the harshness of the Covid 19 impact to the extent of closing down or reduce staff if the business is lucky. The sector of tourism is one such that is currently on the cusp of survival, simply due to its reliance on people going out for leisure or business travel. 

 

Like most businesses, tourism industry players have had to re-imagine how they survive in a new normal, with many developing strategies and new ways to remain sustainable or just stay afloat waiting for things to return to normal.

 

Owners of hotels, safari lodges, travel companies, airlines, have come to realize that the lockdown may never end, especially given the ‘new wave’ phenomenon that is being experienced in countries like India and now South Africa where provinces like Gauteng have had officials stated in the last third and fourth week of May that the new numbers were rising.

 

David Frost, CEO of Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) agrees that, despite the recent relaxation of lockdown in South Africa, the tourism sector has continued to be at the receiving end of the virus, with the home-based travellers coming to the rescue of an industry that was caught unaware and never expected a protracted wait for the situation to ease.

 

“The tourism sector has arguably been one of the hardest-hit sectors as a result of COVID. Many of our members were very reliant on international tourism and since this has yet to recover are still heavily impacted,” Frost says. 

 

Still, he has observed that some members who had a strong domestic tourism focus have enjoyed the benefits of increasing appetite to travel amongst locals. 

 

He says that some of those heavily focused on international tourism has also managed to pivot their businesses for domestic tourism to cover some of their costs, but the numbers they are seeing are not nearly sustainable in the medium term. 

 

Interestingly and as a show of unity of purpose and timely collaboration, to the advantage of many involved, there has been a collective effort to share information by members. While still focused on competitiveness, they have realized the importance of opening up to industry colleagues to forge ahead in a trying time. Rivalries have been shelved as operators sought for sharing what they know and have gone through. 

 

“There’s been a shift towards collaboration within the sector. We have seen competitors come together to support each other through tough times, including sharing insights and lessons on virtual and live platforms. COVID has left a massive uncertainty gap, which industry is trying hard to fill by crowdsourcing information on WhatsApp, Telegram, and Facebook groups for industry,” says the SATSA head. 

 

Collaboration has been a timely buzz word yet it has not translated to tourism businesses eliminating unforeseen hurdles. There has been constant change in the form of new frontiers of the battle to win stay on top of the situation, though extremely hard due to the unpredictability of the virus, as well the global nature and connectedness of the international travel trade.  

 

SATSA’s members have encountered major challenges with putting up the best survival strategies, as corroborated by Frost, who highlighted that the most felt challenge was the damage to destination reputation in international source markets courtesy of the variant 501Y.V2 first discovered in South Africa

 

“The variant which international media and politicians erroneously refer to as the “South African variant” has received a lot of negative publicity and by association, the destination has too. Politicians have put stringent travel restrictions on returning visitors making it unattractive and scary to visit South Africa despite the situation on the ground telling a different story. Perception is the reality, unfortunately”, explained the SATSA Chief Executive Officer. 

 

Senior couple arriving in hotel room, coronavirus, holiday and new normal concept.

The association has displayed its forward-looking caliber through responding to members’ concerns in these trying times. It has been working hard, keeping its members informed through scientific data and facts. Provision of answers to the burning questions they have on everything from UIF TERS to what documents are required for international travellers has been well handled, complemented by the hosting of virtual events, such as webinars with experts to help keep everyone within the diverse membership list informed.

 

The government has not been left out in SATSA’s attempt to prop up an industry that is highly regarded for its job creation and contribution to GDP. Thus, the government has been urged by the association to intervene as is expected and within its powers, as a way to support those tourism businesses struggling to survive during this lockdown.

 

“We would also say that Tourism is an industry that requires an all-of-government approach. We need ministries like Transport, Health, Home Affairs, Environment, Tourism, etc., to come together with a serious focus on tourism growth. When one considers that tourism in South Africa’s second-biggest export and the second-highest GDP earner for the country, whatever policy measures can be put in place to drive tourism should be a key focus.” 

 

“Government should create an enabling environment and remove unnecessary obstacles that existed even before COVID like the delays in NPTR licenses, visa restrictions, etc. Anything that hinders the running of a tourism business or dampens demand from our source markets will just make the situation even worse than it is,” says Frost. 

David Frost, CEO of Southern Africa Tourism Services Association
David Frost, CEO of Southern Africa Tourism Services Association

“We would also say that Tourism is an industry that requires an all-of-government approach. We need ministries like Transport, Health, Home Affairs, Environment, Tourism, etc., to come together with a serious focus on tourism growth. When one considers that tourism in South Africa’s second-biggest export and the second-highest GDP earner for the country, whatever policy measures can be put in place to drive tourism should be a key focus.” 

 

The talk of a third wave and new variants coming has further exposed the preparedness of tourism players and the association appears well prepared to work with all members. It is upbeat in the way its readiness to lead with scientific data.

 

Science leads in this regard, as the organization makes sure to put scientific facts in front of the members, not rumour so that they are equipped to tell their customers and travellers what the situation is from a data-led perspective. 

 

Members have instituted the health and hygiene protocols that needed to be put in place. Travellers are being asked to help the entire organization adhere to these protocols, as well as the government-mandated regulations aimed at stemming the spread of COVID. They have also lobbied through the Tourism Business Council South Africa (TBCSA), for frontline hospitality and tourism workers to be vaccinated. 

 

“We are committed to doing whatever we can to keep staff and guests safe”, says Frost.

 

On whether the impending IATA Travel Pass could guarantee survival of tourism players, Frost has an interesting take. 

 

“That would entirely depend on whether the governments of the world change their thinking from ‘zero risk’ to ‘low risk’. If governments believe that the only way forward is to eradicate COVID, it won’t matter what vaccination passports are being issued because as long as there are variants, they will always have an excuse to dissuade people from travelling. If Governments reframe their goal instead of mitigating the severity of COVID, vaccine passports will be a persuasive mechanism to facilitate travel and that will certainly help to guarantee the reigniting of tourism.”

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Source: Nomad Africa Magazine